As Marriott’s vice president of global design strategies, Aliya Khan spends more than 75 nights a year on the road. When she’s sitting in traffic, airports, and hotels, Khan is conscious not only of her own surroundings, but also those of her fellow travelers. She notes how people interact in departure lounges, on the plane, or in the lobby and public spaces of the AC Hotels, for which she oversees design. Khan then reflects on her observations and applies them to the AC brand’s aesthetic of modern refinement. “My biggest ‘a-ha’ moment was when airlines started to charge people for checking luggage,” she says. “Suddenly you had this mass population that’s now traveling with just a carry on. So do you really need a large closet anymore?” No, which is why Khan refined AC Hotels’ small, open-closet concept to be even more efficient—specifically engineered to the needs of today’s traveler.
Founded in Spain, AC Hotels became part of the Marriott family in 2011. The company currently operates more than 160 AC Hotels throughout the world. Purposeful, thoughtful design is the driving ethos for all AC Hotels, starting with the guest’s first impression. Khan expects the hotel to be recognizable from a distance, not just because there’s an AC logo on its side, but due to its distinctive architecture and exterior lighting. Then, upon entering the lobby, guests should feel calm and relaxed. “I want you to be able to go to the front desk and not feel like it’s this barrier between you and us,” she says. “It’s a small ‘exhale’ moment, that you are being welcomed into the larger experience.”
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Hotel visitors encounter neutral colors and clean lines throughout all AC Hotels’ properties. There’s an emphasis on daylight in the public spaces—you won’t find dimly lit lounges with a DJ spinning in a corner.
The AC team is meticulous in their attention to detail, down to the gin tonic glasses for the hotel’s signature cocktail, the ACGT. “We went through a rigorous process that took years, and it sort of symbolizes how we think about design, says Toni Stoeckl, Marriott’s global brand leader for its emerging lifestyle brands. “And it’s not just the food or beverage, but all across the brand. We obsessed over the lighting system, for instance, in the guest room.”
Most travelers have experienced the frustration of walking into a darkened hotel room for the first time and searching futilely for a master switch—and then trying to figure out how the other lights integrate with it. Khan doesn’t take such matters, well, lightly. She and her design teams consider such questions as: Where is the master switch located? Is it easy to find (and use)? Should there be a light that glows underneath the bed when a guest gets up in the middle of the night? Is it next to the nightstand (which, incidentally, must also contain a charger for multiple devices)? Everything must be intuitive. “The biggest success marker of a hotel is lighting,” Khan says. “You shouldn’t have to have a PhD in order to turn off the lights before you sleep.”
A TIMELESS FUTURE
AC Hotels’ expansion plans have provided Khan and Stoeckl with an opportunity to reimagine the entire design of their rooms. They’ve toyed with altering the colors slightly while staying true to the brand’s neutral palette. They’ve considered moving the bed so it doesn’t face the wall with the TV but rather the window, which offers more direct interaction with daylight. One of Khan’s primary obsessions is the AC guest room desk. At Marriott brands that cater to a younger demographic, such as Moxy and Aloft, the rooms are smaller because their guests prefer to work in the public spaces. But Khan feels that the guest room desk plays a crucial role in spacing and productivity at AC properties. “I think every hotel room should have a surface that will allow up to two people to work together,” she says. “What do you do when there’s a couple and both have to open up a laptop? Is one person on the bed and one person at a desk? That doesn’t really work. AC solves for that.”
Uniformity in hotel design can often lead to blandness, an uninspired motif that can make it hard to discern if the guest is in Dallas or Des Moines. Khan works with individual hotel owners to bring in works by local artists that have become points of distinction. Each piece is curated to enhance the narrative of the building and its location. “I was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, last week and the owner had a series of small, welded sculptures that he wanted to hang on the wall in the room, and light them in a specific way, so that it looks one way during the day and a different way at night,” she says. “We have partners whose art complements and accentuates the hotel’s design and thoughtful detail.”
Whether it’s modern yet timeless art hanging in the room or bespoke cocktail glasses at every AC Lounge location, Khan insists on design that’s timeless. “When you’re comfortable that your [brand’s] DNA is this classic thing, it frees you to bring in different elements from city to city,” she says. “I always say that AC Hotels is like the perfect black dress or tailored suit. You change accessories or shoes for a different look, but it should always feel relevant.”
Created for and commissioned by AC Hotels by Marriott.