Why a Model Room is Needed for Your Hotel Construction Project: Learnings from Chip & Joanna Gaines

Charis Atwood

By Charis Atwood

Dec 14, 2023

Having managed the model room process for hotel projects for over two decades, imagine my appreciation for a whole show dedicated to the process! During the first episode of Magnolia Network’s newest show, Fixer Upper – The Hotel, interior design icons Joanna and Chip Gaines are impressed and thrilled with the idea of building model rooms before starting major construction on their new hotel. The episode perfectly exemplifies why and how model rooms benefit hotel projects.

While the concept of building model rooms was foreign to Chip and Joanna, it’s been an important part of the construction process for years. The following are some additional lessons learned over decades of managing hotel model room projects as well as questions that have arisen as to why model rooms are so important.

Model Rooms Save Money and Time

When the extra time needed to build and furnish model rooms is layered into a project schedule, there is usually a good amount of pushback about the timing. However, building the rooms and finding issues that can be corrected before duplicating them 200+ times in every hotel room during construction and purchasing will ultimately save money and valuable time which you might not have later! Also, model rooms are a great tool for VE (value engineering) discussions.

Brands Require Model Rooms to be Built and Approved

Brands must be confident that the hotel being built adheres to their brand standards and model rooms are the best way to determine that guestroom standards are being met. Walking through models of your rooms with pros from the industry is invaluable. Sure, you could look at pretty renderings, but that won’t help you with viewing the actual quality level of products and workmanship.

FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment)

Building model rooms is the perfect way to evaluate the FF&E specified for the project. We always suggest ordering from several vendors to compare quality between pieces and help determine final vendor selection. Just like on Fixer Upper – The Hotel, Interior Designers and Owners can select between all options to finalize selections. With help from an FF&E Consultant and Purchasing Agent, the combination of choices can be estimated in real time as the decisions are made.

In terms of extra costs, model room FF&E is not a “waste.” It can be saved as attic stock for future needs, reducing the line item in the budget for this product.

Construction

Many believe that model rooms are only useful for FF&E review, however building model rooms is an ideal opportunity for the General Contractor to reveal issues that are better discovered and addressed early rather than becoming expensive surprises later. Also, the model rooms can potentially be utilized as quality control rooms for trades to return to later in the project to review what Brand and Ownership approved.

Details such as outlet, thermostat, and fire sprinkler head locations should be assessed during the review. By including all aspects and requirements of a typical hotel room including TVs, alarm clocks, and convenience outlets during the model room review may suggest adjustments to be made for production layouts. Too many items on the nightstands and not enough outlets? Art located in the same location as a thermostat? Not enough room for the ironing board to hang in the closet? These types of small items can be worked out during the model room analysis instead of causing disruption and delays later.

All aspects of model rooms are reviewed by Brands, not just the FF&E. We once had the experience of a general contractor not taking the process seriously and because the wrong door hardware was used, our Brand reps got stuck in the model room bathroom for quite a while!

Get Operations Input

Don’t forget to include the operator! It is always suggested to invite the operations teams to bring their housekeeping staff to provide their input on model rooms. Who knows better what challenges may arise from certain design choices than the team that will be cleaning and taking care of the rooms daily? Valuable feedback from these teams during model room reviews allows for value engineering and input on materials used and cleanability.

Beyond The Build

If located well, model rooms can become one of your biggest sales tools during construction. The ability to walk potential guests or event planners through complete rooms and wow them with a preview of the end result is a great resource!

Taking the steps to build model rooms for your project is imperative for a successful project and is well worth the investment in the long run, ultimately saving time and money.

About the author

Charis Atwood

Charis Atwood is an expert in project management, from project programming, budgeting, scheduling, managing RFP’s, quality control, and installation to operational turnover and opening. She is an invaluable asset to all projects she manages. Charis focuses on FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment) and works closely with owners, purchasing agents, vendors, and interior designers to coordinate budget requirements and to assure deadlines are maintained. This includes but is not limited to, thorough reviews of architectural drawings to ensure interior design elements are represented as required, bid and contract negotiations for purchasing, warehousing, and installation of FF&E. She has been instrumental in the FF&E/OS&E Management of many timely and budget-driven projects such as resorts, hotels, casinos, country clubs and schools. She is an active member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.


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