Incorporating Fresh Design Inspirations for the Hospitality Industry

In the early stages of developing a new resort, hotel, or restaurant, it is easy to compile photos of existing spaces and design components and want something similar. The idea of copy-and-paste inspiration is nothing new. Design professionals, students, and aficionados have always looked to books, catalogs, and magazines for ideas.

Now, it is easier than ever with the wealth of access to information and imagery at everyone’s fingertips to find design inspiration. With platforms like Pinterest and Houzz, mood boards can be built in just a few clicks. Popping “contemporary Mexican restaurant” into a search engine will produce thousands of photos of interiors.

But these have all been done before. At best, this strategy risks losing authenticity and innovation. At worst, it risks plagiarism. Below, explore how designers can draw inspiration for interior designs without recreating what has already been done.

Focus on Intent, Feeling, and the Human Experience

The endgame in design should not be to achieve a certain look. Instead, the process should focus on what the space should feel like and what is the intended experience.
Naturally, all clients come with some sort of intention: They have an idea of the feelings and experiences they want to provide their guests. It is up to designers to create spaces that embody their ideas and positively impact the human experience.


A feelings-first approach to design is crucial because emotional responses drive action. By focusing on evoking intent, feeling, and human experience, designers drive the ultimate goal of satisfied guests who will return and recommend clients’ destinations.

Find Inspiration

Inspiration is encouraged and necessary. By adjusting worldview, designers can proactively and continuously add to their own inspiration mentality. As a result, designers become better equipped to approach any design project.

It is not enough to simply look at two-dimensional photos of a space. Therefore, travel is one way that many designers draw inspiration, which could come from being surrounded by landscapes or even a visit to a famous landmark. This is a way to understand how the design truly feels. That said, journeying far and wide isn’t always necessary. Designers can drive or walk through a city and pretend to be a tourist seeing it for the very first time, paying attention to what they notice.

Designers can also open their eyes to new details and question their intentions. Does the pattern on a tile help or hinder the feeling of being in a space? Does a high ceiling and wall of windows create harmony between interior and exterior or cause unwelcome echo and glare? Draw from the world and designers can curate their own mental kaleidoscope over time. Memory is not infallible: It is impossible to accurately recall exactly how something looked in the mind’s eye. Design inspiration will come from feeling, not seeing.

Use Tools that Drive Fresh Designs

The two-dimensional mood board approach to design can prevent a team from fully capturing the feelings and experiences a space should inspire for its guests. Using strategies that encourage feeling first and solidifying design elements second might eliminate concerns of plagiarism or losing the individual essence of a project, delivering a guest experience that will not be replicated.

About the Author

Michele Espeland, CID, is Principal and Executive Director of Strategy at Cuningham.

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Michele Espeland, CID, is Principal and Executive Director of Strategy at Cuningham. Her expertise includes the design and management of projects in hospitality, gaming, retail, restaurant, housing, and corporate market sectors. Throughout the firm, she applies research, motivation, and inspiration to think beyond current trends and provide custom-tailored solutions for our clients and help drive their strategic vision.