On a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, I discovered that this fascinating city of Southern charm and diverse architecture lives up to its great reputation. With its historic district paired with fabulous, over-the-top Southern cooking, elegant 18th and 19th century homes, plus a bounty of antique shops, lovely hotels, B & B’s and diversified art, Savannah more than met my expectations.
However, the trip also ignited a lively discussion with my travel companion as to what constitutes good design. We stayed in a new, boutique-type hotel, and their website stated it was, “a new hotel giving southern comfort new meaning with its collection of lavish guest rooms, and opulent public rooms, including a lobby cloaked in onyx marble.”The enticing promotional materials went on to tout that ”classic décor along with modern conveniences create a historic and indulgently luxurious hideaway”. With those adjectives, plus a personal recommendation, we signed right up.
As it turned out, my impression of the overall quality of the hotel’s design approach was so negative that I felt a need to write about my concern as to where our standards of good design are heading.
It appeared to me that the design directives of the hotel owners were to have the designer translate the flowery marketing copy into updating a historic landmark building. The end result was a trendy, funky, confusing, eclectic exercise in over-excess. The blending of the renovated 19th century red stone, turreted exterior, combined with design references from that Victorian era with hip interiors, just didn’t work. The look was a strange mix of mid-century with modern hipster type iconic items, advent guard art, high-tech material mixed with Victorian era fabrics, swags, crystals, and a lot of other decorative clichés`. The overall effect left us feeling claustrophobic rather than impressed.
Adding insult to near injury, the functional aspects of the guestroom designs left much to be desired due to a lack of practical, convenient placement of towel bars and bathroom materials, in addition to poor maintenance of the exotic, elaborate, and inappropriate choice of fragile decorative textiles.
If this hotel is promoting itself as a “new level of design elegance & comfort”, then all the great design schools, professional journals, and trade shows may as well go into retirement, because we have entered a new era of design discourse and decay.
For us who pride ourselves on staying current and relevant as we continue to create new designs in the ever-evolving creative world of trends, fashion, style, interior design and/ or new product development, we know the definition of good design has always been elusive, diverse, and subjective at best. We know that commonly used definitions for good design often include words like sustainable, lasting, well made, accessible, functional, beautiful, enduring, saleable and/or affordable. None of these words can be used to describe the Savannah hotel in which we stayed.
For those of you who like chaos over order, funk over classic, and messy over orderly, then you need not follow any future writings from yours truly. But on the other hand, if you too still hold true to the values of good design, stay tune for my future thoughts about good design. So I beg the question: What is your definition of good design? Let me know. Email me at email@example.com.
Jena Hall, ASFD, A Fellow in the American Furniture Hall of Fame, is an internationally renowned and award-winning interior and product designer, curator, public speaker and writer. She discusses related topics on emerging trends and styles that challenge the status quo, but follows the accepted principles and standards of measure for good design.