Smart Retrofit Solutions: Creating a Tech-Forward Feel in a Historical Building 


Adaptive reuse projects offer many benefits for hoteliers. Older buildings often have character or special design elements that provide a retro draw to guests, transporting them to another point in time and creating a unique, immersive experience. However, when taking on this type of project, there are considerations hotel developers must make to balance historical character with 21st century upgrades.

Read on to learn more about some of the factors that must be considered to transform a historical building into a boutique hotel that balances old world charm with the latest technological upgrades. 

Preservation codes are key, and they vary region to region. My biggest piece of advice is to research preservation codes as much as possible. It's important to ensure the planned upgrades are approved before construction begins. That way, if codes do restrict an upgrade, a back-up option can be considered without affecting other construction or design decisions. My second most important piece of advice is to select vendors that know the codes in whichever region the property is located. 

Municipalities often deem certain buildings to have historical value, and it can be impossible to make even the smallest of changes. I will never forget the project I worked on where we couldn’t even change a doorknob without getting approval from the city. These kinds of restraints vary based on the building and the local jurisdiction, so even if there have been issues with code in past projects, it may be completely different for a new building.

Electrical and power solutions can be tough to upgrade, particularly if the codes focus on a certain time period (this can be especially challenging in the Northeast). For the very strictest of codes, look for custom elements that can be built to look like old fixtures. Otherwise, my recommendation is to consider parameter systems, which are designed to hide wires. They can be designed to look like crown molding or baseboards, so they completely blend in with the design scheme. 

Another great workaround is wireless lighting control solutions; a master light switch, controlled by a remote control, can be implemented to turn lights on and off without being visually disruptive. Guests will appreciate this discreet yet tech-forward solution and the convenience that it offers. IoT solutions like this are also highly sustainable because the technology is so easy to upgrade when new innovations arise; it’s quick to download the upgrade, and the full system doesn’t have to be replaced. 

New technology, old world charm. Focusing on technology and electrical solutions that blend into the design can preserve the unique feeling of a historic building while still providing a 21st century experience for the guest. 

My team recently worked with the owners of the Quirk Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, where they  turned an old department store dating back to 1916 into a boutique hotel property. This adaptive reuse project needed electrical wiring solutions that could effectively blend with a specific style—incorporating a contemporary look and feel with a touch of historical personality—but could also be installed easily into an older building. Our adorne® line provided the perfect solution with screwless designs that feel modern and tech-forward but are sleek enough to blend into the project’s old-meets-new aesthetic. 

In addition to wiring, electronic devices and appliances including televisions, microwaves, mini-fridges and coffee makers should also be carefully selected so they blend in and don’t disrupt the atmosphere and character of the space.

Energy and lighting codes, both local and national. Looking outside of preservation codes, energy and lighting codes also tend to vary greatly across state lines, with energy conservation being a major priority in the western part of the United States. The location of a project can significantly impact every lighting, power and energy decision. Working with vendors local to the state or who have a strong regional presence—and who are also is fully up to speed on national code—is necessary to avoid major headaches down the line. 

Sustainable energy solutions, such as light switches that automatically turn off when no motion is detected after a certain amount of time, are important to consider when trying to save energy and meet local or national codes. The switches are also great in creating a hands-free experience for the guest. Having lighting that turns on automatically when they enter the room may seem like a small detail, but it can go a long way to a traveler who has their hands full with baggage. 

Hoteliers looking to transform historical buildings into hotel properties with modern technology will inevitably face many challenges when it comes to preservation codes, historical codes and local jurisdiction. However, there are a variety of technology solutions and electrical solutions that hoteliers can consider to create a comfortable guest experience that is truly memorable and can add to the building’s irreplaceable historical charm. 


About the Author:

Nancy Snyder is the Senior Manager of Hospitality Sales at Legrand, North America. With expertise in upscale hospitality segments, she is an accomplished sales leader and has a demonstrated history of success in providing solutions to the hospitality industry as well as architectural and design industry. Snyder has led numerous webinars educating specifiers and hotel executives on topics like, “Designing Delightful Hospitality Environments for Connected Guests.” She has also written articles for a variety of hospitality and design publications including LODGING, The Construction Specifier and Interiors + Sources. She can be contacted at 978-807-0515 or [email protected].


Photo courtesy of Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash.


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