Hospitality Design Is Having an 'Instagram Moment'

From designer choices to client needs, the app’s influence is now everywhere

Illustration of a woman taking a selfie in a restaurant filled with IG classic design

TripSavvy / Alison Czinkota

We’re dedicating our August features to architecture and design. After spending an unprecedented amount of time at home, we’ve never been more ready to check into a dreamy new hoteldiscover hidden architectural gems, or hit the road in luxury. Now, we’re excited to celebrate the shapes and structures that make our world beautiful with an inspiring story of how one city is restoring its most sacred monuments, a look at how historic hotels are prioritizing accessibility, an examination of how architecture could be changing the way we travel in cities, and a rundown of the most architecturally significant buildings in every state.

Let’s be honest—you probably planned a trip in the past few years after seeing a picture of the hotel on Instagram. And if not, you definitely uploaded a few pictures or stories from your last trip on the social media app, making sure to get in some Instagrammable moments: Think unique furniture pieces, interesting artwork, and original experiences, including features like selfie booths and swing sets. In fact, creating that famed Instagram moment has been so popular that Australian design studio Vale Architects has created an Instagram Design Guide, which provides a blueprint for designers about what makes a hotel or restaurant stand out on Instagram. Some key features? Think bright neons, key murals, and original furniture options.

A few years ago, London-based architect Farshid Moussavi of Les Galeries Lafayette created a stir when she posted (on Instagram, naturally!) how the social media platform has changed design for hotels. “Creating Instagram moments has now become part of architectural briefs,” she wrote. She then gave examples of hotels advertising their Instagrammable spots, including everything from picturesque nature spots to resident animals. It seems that aside from the usuals—comfortable beds, linens, and amenities—the focus is all on the photograph.

In 2021, especially due to the resurgence of travel post-pandemic, this has been seen in the slew of hotels that have opened up lately. In Los Angeles, The Downtown LA Proper, designed by Kelly Wearstler, shows off colorful wallpaper in each room, along with a stunning floral mural in the lobby, while in Austin, the buzzy new Moxy uses bright neon signs to grab one’s attention.

“Instagram certainly has become this outside element that some clients now ask for directly,” explained Michelle Bove, founder of Washington, D.C.-based firm DesignCase. “This pushes the need for special moments and vignettes throughout the space.” For her part, Base recently designed the trendy Vietnamese restaurant Doi Moi, where oversized lanterns, bright walls, and net curtains allow the space to be entirely photographed. “When we design, we now have thoughts like, ‘How will this look on Instagram?’” added Base. “We decide whether we’re designing an Instagram background or an actual element to stand alone on a post."

Since clients now request these types of bright moments, it leads designers to think out of the box. Take Sketch in London’s Mayfair neighborhood, a Michelin-starred restaurant famous for a host of Instagram moments, including egg-shaped toilets in the bathroom, a powdery pink dining area with fluffy, cloud-like chairs, the garden room complete with watercolor forests on the walls, and the entrance, which includes a hand-painted hopscotch design on the floor.

Designed by India Mahdavi in partnership with founder Mourad Mazouz, the eccentric design has several interesting pops of color that have resulted in it becoming one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in the world. But this wasn’t the goal—in fact, according to Mazouz, Sketch was designed to go against the grain because every restaurant at the time was more minimalist. His own love of eclectic design encouraged these pops of color and style, which have now led to this gallery-meets-hospitality vibe we see in restaurants today.

The reason most clients now ask for Instagram moments from design firms stems a lot to do with the rise of influencers. Basically, Instagram users who use their fame and credibility on the app to gain followers. They could be bloggers, celebrities, chefs, photographers, or any number of people, and they’re called as such because they have the power to influence a large number of people to buy a particular service or product. Since Instagram is such a visual medium, an influencer at a particular hotel or restaurant could take photos of the location and create enough buzz for several other people to go there, thus creating more business for the venue. People also are looking to revitalize their own feeds and enjoy going on vacation for the photographic memories the space can provide. In that vein, Instagram moments are becoming increasingly popular.

But this also changes the way a space is designed. As an "Instagram moment" is generally classified as a more eclectic, isolated pop in a design, it can go against a designer’s original idea when it comes to a hotel or restaurant. Instead of a sleek, minimalist look, designers will have to change things around to create a moment that may not have originally been part of the design process.

"Social media, and specifically Instagram, has 100 percent influenced the way we design," Tom Ito, founder of Gensler Hospitality, told TripSavy. "It’s about creating these camera-ready moments as guests navigate through the hotel—it connects them to a place. It’s as much about what you’re doing in the place than what it looks like and inspires future guest visits."

He also notes that what qualifies as an Instagram experience is always changing and that the rise of video now calls for more immersive experiences than existed previously. "Now, Gensler’s design for Atari Hotels brings the iconic digital brand to a physical place," he adds. "We’ve integrated digital experience design that enhances the experience in a visual and visceral way using technology. This is on trend with the explosion of people sharing videos of cool new experiences on social media platforms."

The major issue with using Instagram to influence design seems to be its constantly changing nature. Since social media is always evolving and trends can change by the minute, it forces certain designers out of the idea of timeless design, instead compelling them to focus on more fleeting trends and design moments.

To have 'Instagrammable' as a design parameter is like asking yourself as a designer, 'Will this trend?' and that's not a constraint we want to place on our process

And some designers, like Dieter Cartwright of Dutch East Design, want to stay away from that process altogether. "To have 'Instagrammable' as a design parameter is like asking yourself as a designer, 'Will this trend?' and that's not a constraint we want to place on our process," he said. "We're passionate about design, and the experience of the built environment is spatial, tactile, aural, olfactory, three-dimensional, and potentially all-encompassing. Dutch East Design creates spaces to be experienced in person, which doesn't preclude the end result from being Instagramable, but it certainly isn't our goal."

Therefore, the design world seems divided between those who are embracing the Instagram trend and using it to be more unconventional in their designs and those who want to stay more traditional in terms of the design process. However, there could be a way to infuse both.

“Instagram gives more of a feeling of a place, rather relying on professional photography that tends to be information led rather than emotional,” said designer Jacu Strauss, who designed Instagram haven The Riggs Hotel in Washington, D.C.

"I’m often asked, such as with my 20-foot encased floral installation at Riggs, whether it was designed to be an ‘Instagram moment,’" he said, referring to the stunning arrangement encompassed by glass and metal in the dining area of the hotel. "But it wasn’t entirely meant to do so. While it features heavily on our guests' social media accounts, it was designed as a playful and colorful focal point of the room. I tend to find that interesting focal points, which have always existed in design, are now being renamed as ‘Instagram moments.’ But the argument is they have always been there, simply under different guises."

Choosing to partake in them, therefore, now seems to be a matter of choice.