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Designers rethink hotels in Marriott's underground Innovations Lab

Saturday - 6/29/2013, 7:17am  ET

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The hallway leading to the Innovations Lab is lit with color, displaying ideas and slideshows of Marriott's concepts. (Courtesy Marriott)
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The reasoning behind the Innovations Lab

Megan Cloherty, WTOP Reporter

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BETHESDA, Md. - Hardly anyone gets to see the project going on in the 10,000- square-foot space 60 feet under Marriott Hotel headquarters.

Marriott is tweaking its brand - and its hotel rooms - based on how our daily lives are changing. The Innovations Lab, or "underground" as it's called inside Marriott, is where designers are trying out new ideas. And it's far more than updating lighting and adding outlets. They're overhauling everything from the carpet design to the size of the desk.

"Our previous customer was really focused on working the whole time in the hotel. Through technology and being untethered, the whole hotel experience is changing," says Matthew Carroll, vice president of the Marriott Hotels brand.

After working with surveys, studies and even following guests into their rooms to see where they put their bags, Marriott designers know what guests want. Now it's a matter of changing the hotels to reflect that.

So why is the underground space needed? It provides a far better way to experience the quality of the products, says Karim Khalifa, vice president of architecture for Marriott.

"The whole idea of integrative design is being part of it, not being an observer, actually stepping in and being involved in what's about to be created," Khalifa says.

A long hallway, lit with color and scattered with idea boards, leads to the Innovations Lab -- a warehouse-like space. On a recent Friday, four fully-built showers sit in the middle of the lab floor, each with different sliding doors, tile, showerheads and built-in Bluetooth-enabled speakers.

Not only are designers deciding which features have the best functionality, but housekeeping is also offering its opinions regarding which are easiest to clean, Khalifa says.

The Innovations Lab has an unfinished feel. The entire space, the rooms, even the furniture is white.

"When we start adding color and décor to the room, people start thinking about how the room feels. So when they're in white we just look at space planning and functionality," Khalifa says.

The reasoning behind building designs:

Most of Marriott's guests are business travelers. But the hotel chain is considering doing away with the idea of big conferences and catering to smaller meeting spaces for colleagues traveling together.

It's all a part of catering to what the guest wants, Carroll says. He outlines the goal of changing long-standing hotel design.

"When they walk in the hotel, they know it's a Marriott and it's totally in tune with who they are and how they want to travel," Carroll says.

Guests can offer their ideas for how the Marriott hotel rooms, lobby or general experience can improve here, or see other guests' ideas. Other visitors can vote on the ideas. The grand prize winner will travel and work with an expert to bring their idea to fruition.

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