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Thoughtful Design Choices Can Transform Hotels and Restaurants into Community Spaces

Location is essential to the success of a property, which in turn should be integrated into its community

Christine Gachot / Illustration: Joel Kimmel

Every brand is different—their goals, location and, most importantly, their guests. Hotels will approach me to collaborate on a project, and we talk a lot about who their guest is—their aspirations, basic requirements and what will make their day and night easier and more vibrant.

Location is essential to the success of a property, which in turn should be integrated into its community. Every aspect of designing the Shinola Hotel in Detroit centered on community advancement and human kindness. When I was traveling back and forth to Detroit, I noticed the neighborhood didn’t have a living room. I said to them, “Where does everybody meet that isn’t a bar or restaurant?” In New York, we have places like The Bowery Hotel that serve the community as living rooms. For Shinola that was my first goal, to design it as a hub for the community. The hotel is within walking distance of Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play. I said, “Put in a beer garden! After every baseball game people will want to come here and have a beer.” I pull from experiences, and this idea came from The Biergarten at The Standard High Line.

A new restaurant and bar—Jac’s on Bond—was built for the neighborhood by the neighborhood. Everyone on New York’s Bond Street was involved. Photographer Janette Beckman is a friend, her work is displayed inside, and her studio is located next door. We wanted to create a place where people could go without a velvet-rope situation. During the last presentation, I told the Authentic Hospitality team [Matt Kliegman, Carlos Quirarte and Matthew Charles] to put a pool table in the back. They said it was genius. There’s nothing like that in the neighborhood, where you can grab a martini and play pool with friends. Environments take on their own personalities, and when you see a need you fill it. I try to be thoughtful with designs and guest experiences, while also being aware of the theater. As designers we’re almost producing a film. Take the townhouse setup and stairs at Pebble Bar in Midtown. I love the idea of passing people on stairs in an intimate way. Movement through a bar is a rare opportunity. Instead of horizontal movement, Pebble Bar has verticality in an intimate way.

Thoughtful Innovations

You would be surprised how many times you’re in a hotel room trying to find something as simple as an outlet. These details aren’t necessarily innovative, but they’re thoughtful. People try to get tricky with design, and guests don’t know what to do with tricky. I offer the tools in simple, user-friendly ways and don’t overcomplicate things. Because I work on residential properties, I think about these simple functions. People say they want light switches, not tablets or systems. We listen to what our clients are doing in their personal lives and bring that into our designs.

The ’90s is a time that energizes and inspires me. The pool table at Jac’s on Bond is a nod to the East Village’s Café Tabac, Linda Evangelista and all the supermodels hanging out playing pool. Thoughtful, simple details like that make a place special. Or the piano we put in Pebble Bar—people will play spontaneously, and it gives warmth to the space. But it’s not just about a chair, or the beautiful lighting that makes people look even more beautiful because of it. Beyond the design choices, it’s because Carlos is at Jac’s on Bond every night, it’s because Andrew Carmellini is cooking at San Morello in the Shinola, and it’s because Mark Ronson made the playlist for Pebble Bar. The people in operations make the magic—design is just another component.

Christine Gachot is a principal member of the award-winning design studio Gachot along with her husband, John. Gachot’s projects include the Shinola Hotel in Detroit, the Pendry Manhattan West, Glossier’s SoHo flagship boutique, and Authentic Hospitality’s Pebble Bar and Jac’s on Bond.