The return to European design


by Lawrence Chalfin

As we enter an increasingly fast-paced and mechanized design industry, trends have started to run their course faster than the seasons do. Brands hop on and off the bandwagon in search of the next product, element, color, or style expected to become mainstream. And yet, our team foresees a trend that is here to stay well into 2020 – the return to European-inspired design.

To dive in a bit deeper, we are seeing hoteliers and designers celebrate the craftsmanship of traditional European furniture makers with an aesthetic that takes into account American sensibilities: warm woods, curved frames, decorative stitching, and so forth. These elements help enrich a space, acting as a storyteller with unique details that offer a balance between form and function.


Hotels are no longer “one size fits all;” instead, the approach is localized, making each property unique based on its surrounding environment. All hotels are in search of that “Instagrammable moment,” or what furniture, paint color, or other detail will help it to differentiate itself from the plethora of other available accommodations.

Part of the resurgence is the reversal of how the industry was approaching hotel design. In the past, we were seeing developers tearing buildings down in their entirety and starting anew. Now, designers, hoteliers, manufacturers, and contractors are exploring ways to uphold, maintain, and restore buildings that capture a city’s history or culture. A parking-lot-turned-medical-center or an empty warehouse transformed into a nightclub have become more appealing than a one-size-fits-all new build. Recent boutique hotel openings exhibit something old and something new, a classic tale with a fresh perspective. Marble walls from decades ago, reupholstered antique furniture, tables broken apart and pieced back together in a fresh form – all of these are being incorporated into renovation projects.


Another component to consider is the influence of residential design. Younger guests are seeking out spaces that feel more like home so that they can “live like a local” and fully immerse themselves into their surroundings. Home sharing has an inevitable “residential feel,” and in order to compete, hoteliers have to reconsider the way they are approaching the look and feel of their properties. While luxury is still top of mind, it shouldn’t be the sole design intention. Creating a space that feels like home means that guests should be able to walk in a room and kick their feet up, relax, and feel comfortable enough to spread out their belongings, call a friend, or listen to music – as if the room was truly theirs. Hoteliers have to ensure guests don’t feel as though they could be in any hotel, in any city, in any country. Hence the need to be rooted in location and have the design reflect that vision.


Bringing it back to the specifics, we see the return to European-inspired craftsmanship as it relates to furniture design. Hoteliers want quality furniture, which is why asking important questions such as how to maintain and how to avoid the inevitable “wear and tear” a piece will have in a high-traffic area is key. As a specific example, hoteliers can inquire about how the manufacturer navigates “quality assurance” and “quality control” for their products. Quality assurance is a proactive process to improve development and prevent defects during the manufacturing process. Quality control is a reactive process that seeks to identify and correct defects in finished products through testing. We believe that these two components must work in tandem to eliminate problems and provide a consistent result. Questions like these should be answered upfront so that management knows that the product is able to be maintained and can withstand all of the foot traffic in a hotel or resort property.


When evaluating these custom pieces, there are a few components hoteliers should consider in depth. For example, tufting adds a decorative, distinguished element to furniture and cushions. Stitches or blind tufts may be sewn through the upholstery to create dimension and pattern. On the functional side, tufting prevents the stuffing inside the piece from bunching or shifting. Another example is the seat suspension. Sinuous springs, cross tied to each other, or classic eight-way hand-tied coil springs connect to the frames for strength and resilience. This method provides a suspension with consistent quality throughout the seat surface, which is something hospitality spaces must be keen on.

Despite the industry’s brief “cookie-cutter” direction, with products from varying brands looking more alike and a general loss of brand identity in hotel design, designers and specifiers have rediscovered the love for the handmade, the tiny details, and spaces that reflect the design intent individually and as a whole. Though as a longstanding product manufacturer and active participant in the community, we don’t think it was ever fully lost. European-inspired design has certainly reemerged in a big way.

Lawrence Chalfin is president of Samuelson Furniture (, a Jersey-based manufacturer of high-end casegoods and seating for four- and five-star hospitality projects around the globe. For additional tips, readers can refer to the company’s white papers:

Ask manufacturers the following questions:

  • How does your company navigate quality assurance and quality control?
  • How should we maintain the furniture?
  • What steps can we take to prolong or prevent wear and tear?

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