When Four Seasons guests enters their hotel rooms and suites, close the door, unpack luggage, go to window to take in the view, take a shower or bath, rarely do they consider how the design of the room affects how they feel over a day or two or a week. The guests just know things feel right, they feel well, and move on with business or pleasure.
This sense of guest well-being is what Four Seasons architects and designers strive for, and is one of the major reasons why their newest idea, the Four Seasons Research and Discovery Studio, was developed, and was unveiled recently at the company’s global headquarters in Toronto.
Complete with wall paintings, communal meeting and workspaces, the R&D Studio is a collaborative workspace where Four Seasons considers all options –everything from table settings and lighting specs to staff wardrobes and bathroom amenities – all in pursuit of perfecting the guest experience.
The space includes work areas dedicated to the fundamental touch points that create the Four Seasons guest experience, including the Four Seasons bed, a fully-functional bar for testing coffee and cocktail equipment, an atelier to sample and model employee wardrobes, and a table-top staging area to experiment with different combinations of glassware, tableware, and cutlery. The R&D Studio also includes a dedicated area where Four Seasons can also test the scents and aesthetics of bathroom amenities, to ensure they evoke the personality of each distinct property.
The centerpiece of the R&D Studio is a space where Four Seasons builds three- dimensional replicas of guest rooms entirely of cardboard. Designed to scale and customized with beds, closets, end tables, doorways, and chairs all made of durable cardboard, the Modular Room creates the opportunity to manipulate space and test unusual layouts and particularly challenging room designs in cost-effective cardboard before moving into production of a full model room.
Pursuitist recently interviewed Dana Kalczak, Vice President, Design, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, explains more about this new idea.
Pursuitist: This is such a simple, yet compelling idea — dealing with the basic psychology of moveable space. How long as the R&D Studio been in existence before this launch?
Kalczak: We transformed office and meeting space in our Toronto headquarters into the new R&D Studio over the last several months and have been using the Studio since the end of September. While the dedicated space is new, the thinking behind the Studio is not, as collaboration, attention to detail, and a commitment to perfecting the guest experience have always been a part of what we do here at Four Seasons.
Pursuitist: The idea of design and space collaboration seems like such a root system of a sense of well-being in guest rooms. What is the timeline, approximately, from start to finish, from the conceptualization of a guest room or suite to the finish?
Kalczak: Timelines vary from project to project based on a number of factors including the complexity of the design and the location of the project. In an ideal scenario it takes about six months to complete the design of a guest room, and approximately six more months to build the room.
Pursuitist: When you discuss manipulating space and testing unusual layouts — what type of unusual layouts do you mean?
Kalczak: Our approach to design has always been very guest-centric, adapting spaces to incorporate features that our guests have told us they want, such as spaces with greater flexibility and multiple functions, using natural light as much as possible to create a sense of well-being and the ability to exercise control over their environment, which is paramount to guest comfort. Sometimes the spaces we are working with need to be manipulated to ensure we are incorporating these features and meeting the expectations of our guests.
Pursuitist: Which professions are included in discussions of the Four Seasons R&D guest rooms? interior designers? architects? Others?
Kalczak: The Studio reflects the input of many individuals and teams across the organization, teams such as Design and Construction, Capital Planning & Procurement, IT and Operations who use the space day in and day out. It also offers a space for collaboration with interior designers, architects, engineers and consultants who are integral to creating the Four Seasons guest room.
Pursuitist: What new ideas have emerged from the creation of the R&D Studio?
Kalczak: The most exciting new idea born out of the R&D Studio is the Modular room – a full-size model guest room made entirely of cardboard. The modular room allows us to manipulate space and engage with designer’s work in an entirely new way – not just in two dimensions but in three. It’s an exciting first for Four Seasons and, as far as we are aware, we are the first in our industry to use this type of approach. We have a guest room mocked up in cardboard right now for an upcoming project. Once it was installed, I walked through the space and I was instantly able to recognize configurations that needed rethinking. It allows us to make decisions much more quickly and explore the impact of these decisions in real-time.
Pursuitist: There has always been a kind of spatial psychology involved in creation of a great room, whether it is a guest room, a residence, or a playroom. How much of this kind of cognitive and affective work goes into the creation or re-creation of great FS room?
Kalczak: At Four Seasons we’ve always strived to create spaces that balance form and function with the comfort of our guests. But we also know that there’s much more to the success of a product than how it looks or how it works; there are the subtler aspects of how people feel about a product – the psychological and social touchstones.
Pursuitist: How do you see the future of the R&D Studios in creating other great hotel spaces, in addition to guest rooms?
Kalczak: The R&D Studio was designed to approach the experience in our hotels, resorts, and residences from a holistic perspective, closely examining every touch point in the guest experience –from guest rooms, to food and beverage outlets, lobby spaces, function spaces, and more. This means that the work that takes place in the Studio extends far beyond just the guest room, informing everything from how we create natural light in spaces, to the music we play in a hotel lobby, the coffee we serve in our restaurants, and the unique uniforms we design for each property.