3 Design Lessons From a Dream Hotel

3 Design Lessons From a Dream Hotel

What I learned about hospitality from SingleThread Farms
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Meija Jacobs
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Where would you like your breakfast served? Your room? The study? The roof? This was the kind of tough decision I faced during my stay at the SingleThread Farms, the highly anticipated inn and restaurant that opened in Healdsburg late last year. After the 90 minute trek from San Francisco, I was welcomed by name and guided to my room, where I tapped a code I’d made up for keyless entry. I never touched a credit card during my stay.

Working in food and hospitality design, I’m always on the lookout for what's new in the space. So, the moment I heard about SingleThread, I booked a night for my husband and me as an anniversary gift.

I suppose it’s an occupational hazard that I couldn’t help but notice the thoughtfully considered details that give SingleThread its hospitality superpowers. We were swept off our feet personally, but I also walked away with design insights that I took back to work.

At IDEO, we look to extremes for inspiration—people, brands, or environments that exaggerate specific behaviors. When we designed a line of ergonomic kitchen tools, we prototyped with both sous chefs and with those suffering from arthritis. Edge cases reveal what is or is not working, helping us generate opportunities for innovation.

SingleThread is most certainly an edge case. The name says it all—their vision is highly crafted, and a thread of that vision is woven into every detail of the experience.

The dining room offers a broad view of the kitchen, creating a direct connection between the preparation and experience of the food. Less than a year after opening their doors, SingleThread has already won a James Beard Award for restaurant design.

3 lessons SingleThread Farms taught me about designing modern hospitality:

1. Don't tell your brand story, weave it in

At some hotels, the brand or theme takes over everything. Sweden’s IceHotel, Japan’s Robot Hotels, Underwater, and Disney's Star Wars hotel might be fun once or twice, but they're less about a tailored guest experience, and more about their own story.

To say that SingleThread’s theme is “farm to table” would be a gross oversimplification. The larger purpose, as its creators Kyle and Katina Connaughton shared with us, is “to be an extension of our home.” That is demonstrated in every detail, from the open kitchen serving a kaiseki-inspired menu that changes with the micro-seasonal produce Katina has pulled out of the ground that day, to the guest rooms upstairs, where the mini-bar is replaced by a curated selection of gratuit handmade snacks and beverages.

About halfway into our 11-course dining journey, we were presented with a basket of mismatched sake cups and invited to “choose one that speaks to us.” That was a first.

Dessert was inspired by "wagashi", Japanese confections served with matcha. At SingleThread, it's filled with seasonal ingredients like lemon balm & coriander medjool date & miso, and jasmine & lime, and look like beautiful eggs about to hatch; no two sake cups are alike—choose one that "speaks to you."

2. Aim for personal, not personalized

Personalization, the longstanding holy grail of the hospitality industry, is being reframed in the sharing economy. Airbnb's “belong anywhere” message is made real by guided experiences that help guests feel at home in the local culture.

SingleThread builds in degrees of freedom that make the experience feel personal, not programmed: A towel hook thoughtfully placed just outside the shower door so you aren’t left to tiptoe across the floor, a wooden ladle atop a tray over the bath, pre-filled with soaking salts.

At a nightly pre-dinner meeting, the staff reviews guests’ bios and dietary requests so they can adjust the dining experience in a seamless, subtle way.

From the moment you wake up, the luxury of choice abounds. You decide where to eat breakfast and the bath salts are measured out and ready for your soak.

3. Put smart tech in a supporting role

Tech features in hospitality are growing fast. From Disney’s MagicBands to mobile check-in apps, hospitality providers are looking for new ways to meet guests’ needs.

SingleThread has mastered hidden tech, integrating just enough to create a highly sensual, human-centered experience that connects them more deeply with their guests.

Guests prepay through a reservation ticket system called Tock, so that any transactions that might take them out of the moment—tipping the bellhop, front desk check-in—are removed from the equation.

A front door camera helps to ensure you are greeted by name when you walk inside.

For keyless entry into your room, you’re invited to create your own passcode.

Each room is equipped with a Teforia tea system that calibrates the exact time, temperature, and amount of water needed to brew you the perfect cup.

These smart tech moments aren't show-stoppers. They're there to remove friction from the experience.

This machine crafts the perfect cup of tea, every time; poached foie gras in a "tea of last year's tomatoes" paired with a Junmai Sake—culinary wizardry achieved with old techniques and new technology

Though SingleThread Farms is a boutique hotel, it doesn’t take five stars, or dollar signs, to show guests you truly understand their needs. It was the small design moments that made our stay an experience I (and my marriage) will never forget.

Have your own outstanding hospitality experience to share? Share with me on Twitter @MeijaJ with the hashtag #HospitalitySuperpower.

Header image by Garrett Rowland.

No items found.
No items found.
Meija Jacobs

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