The Evolution of the Hotel Lobby


One of my favorite projects was working on The Roosevelt, Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New Orleans. I loved peeling back damp, dank lobby carpet to see the gorgeous floors that lay hidden underneath. One of my favorite things to do, as a hotel designer, is to learn about the history of the hotel and how it’s design changed over time as it’s function simultaneously shifted. One space that has seen a lot of change in the last century is the hotel lobby.

In the 15th century, aristocrats built extravagant houses in the city centers for other aristocrats to stay in. Then, hotels started to become more popular. Aided by industrialization, hotels became a place of travel for the wealthy elite. Hotel lobbies were elegant and extravagant but not much more than a means to an end--a large foyer decorated with lavish furniture and fixtures, just a space to pass through.



Today, lobbies serve a much more useful purpose. They are a place to relax, socialize, work, read or hold informal meetings. Hotel designers know that the lobby will keep a variety of groups and events, and they try to make the space versatile and multifunctional. We have changed the perspective that hotels are only a place to check in and out. The rise of competition and social nature of guests demand so much more.

Picturing a lobby as an open and welcoming, functional space is not as hard. First, minimize the architectural limits within the area and separating the purposes of the room. Then, determine how to make the lobby with technological updates. Add furniture conducive to collaboration that is easily reconfigured. Consider where you might have space to host events. Lastly, create an area to check in and access direct customer service. This might be a person, or a kiosk with technology.



We see a perfect example of the transformation of the lobby in the changes to the business center. Traditionally, “technology lounges” served both as rigid business areas. These spaces were hidden behind doors for guests with special access, and they incorporated big standard tables isolated for meetings and a small room for internet and printing.

Today, clusters of furniture sit openly in the lobby close to plenty of power sources. All guests have access to a wireless printer from anywhere. Lastly, Wi-Fi throughout the entire hotel replaces any functional need for a specific business center. The less restrictive purpose of the “business center” means it's now a socially buzzing zone for anyone.



Many hotels are taking the open-concept a bit further by opening up the space to include a cafe, happy hour lounge, a gallery and sometimes even a restaurant. Structuring and designing the space for optimum functionality can be tricky. You have to strike the right balance between public social areas and nooks to get away and relax. However, when done correctly, guests feel like a community rather than a group of strangers staying in the same hotel:

●      The Ann Arbor Sheraton utilizes the “Living room strategy” with music, art, pillows, and rugs to replicate the social spaces of a house. Guests move freely in and out of the lobby with flexibility and full functionality.

●      In the Houston Doubletree, the“Great room concept” which removes architectural barriers through a division into four areas: a welcome zone, the bar, a relaxing work zone and a social business area. Through this distribution, we personalize the guest’s involvement in public-private spaces. We also take advantage of big glass walls, natural light, and the natural surroundings to deliver a distinctive atmosphere.

Recognizing that lobbies are no longer just a pass-through area is the first step to modernize any hotel. Then, hotel designers and owners should strive to understand the needs of the hotel’s particular guests through each of their roles in daily life. Just like a businessman does not stop being a dad when he goes to work, he should not have to isolate himself from a social environment for access to essential technology.

If you are thinking about updating your lobby, we would love to know more about you and your guests. Before we begin any redesign, we always take the time to become experts in your target audience and regional influences to ensure the spaces we build together make sense for every aspect of their lives. Everything we do for you, we do for your guests.

For more contemporary hotel lobby ideas, visit our profile. If you have any questions, shoot us an email.