Walking into most new hotels in Nairobi, it is the furnishings, floorings and lighting that catch your eye.
Hotels are now more design-driven than ever before, thanks in part to the influence of sophisticated guests.
Hemingways in Karen, The Tribe Hotel in Village Market, Olpul Steak House in Two Rivers Mall, Caramel Lounge in Westlands, Lazizi at the airport and Sirai House in Laikipia are a few examples of hotels with eye-popping design and architecture.
Some have a feel of dining in a modern Maasai kraal while others have rich and bold colours that play a prominent role in the decor.
Alex Henderson, a business development manager at Planning Interior says art is also becoming an integral part of hotel design because of two main reasons.
First, the hotels are looking for star-grade rating so that they can attract a higher-paying calibre of clients and market themselves accordingly.
He says that whereas the star-rating agency used to look solely at aspects like number of keys and staff training among other aspects, it now takes into account the standard of interior design across the hotel.
Secondly, he says the continued influx of international hotel brands such as Radisson Blu have driven the standards of interior design much higher.
Alex says that typically, the design aspect of hotels used to focus on the entrance and the lobby, the main restaurants and the rooms but now interior designers are sprucing up conference spaces.
‘‘Conferencing has become an extremely competitive part of the hotel market, and a large source of income from many hotels. In this respect, conference rooms are becoming both attractive and functional so to maximise on use and the return on investment,’’ he says.
In Kenya, Alex says, the most dominant design feature is the African concept.
“As international tourism is the main source of income for most hotels, there is an expectation from guests that they will experience a local, African design element.”
This concept can be anything from the neo-colonial style of somewhere like Hemingways, to a more contemporary interpretation of African design in Dusit D2 or Tribe Hotel.
Planning Interiors most recently worked on the Dusit D2 Hotel located on 14 Riverside Drive which has a beautiful Pan-African element to the design.
They have also designing Serena Hotels in Mombasa and the Heritage Hotels Group in the Mara and Samburu.
“For the Osotua Tamarind Tree in Naivasha, we used only locally-sourced furniture and finishes so that this eco-lodge would blend into the surroundings. For instance, the furniture detail was borrowed from the nest of the weaverbird,” says Alex.
Shivan Patel, a director at Lazizi Premier Hotel adds that design has become one of the key elements in the evolution of the hotel product, not only for entrepreneurs but for modern travellers.
“Nairobi is attracting a wide range of tourists, transit and business travellers who demand modern designed hotels as they have been exposed to these sort of hotels all over the world and expect nothing less,” he says, adding that being the first hotel located within the JKIA.