My writing surface was a picture book about Scotland. Indeed, the entire inn was decorated in a Scottish theme. This reminded me of the time I stayed in a hotel in Stirling, Scotland, in what was called the Robert Burns Suite. Legend had it that one window pane was all scratched up because Burns had used something like a diamond stickpin to compose a poem on the glass. The room may have had a desk, but maybe it had no paper or pencil. Good design is complete.
Back at the college-town inn, I found the public spaces -- as I did my room -- goodly in dimensions but crowded with furnishings. In the morning, I went to breakfast in the dining room and sat down at a table facing the window and began to read the newspaper -- until the waitress asked me to move because that table was set for dinner! I said it looked like every other table setting, but she pointed out that only the breakfast tables had coffee cups. She showed me to a table that was too small, too close to the wall, and too dimly lit for me to continue reading the paper. Breakfast was delicious, but set on plates that were too small for their burden. Good design knows bounds.
On the second evening of my stay, my host brought me back to the inn for dinner, which he promised would be a delight. We met the rest of our party in a dark-wood paneled lounge and sat down for cocktails. Shortly after we had toasted a successful day, the hostess brought the chef's amuse-bouche, which was served in small plastic plates with small plastic seafood forks. Everything was so light in weight that when lifted off the tray with a hand that expected more it threatened to fly across the room. Good design feels like it looks.
After a while, the hostess brought us leather-bound menus, which proved to be the design highlight of my stay. Opening this menu tripped a switch concealed in the binding, which caused the facing tablet screens to turn on, backlighting the paper menu pages inserted over them. The menu was thus perfectly readable in the dimly lit lounge. The locals in our party had become accustomed to this convenience, but I thought it to be as good a design idea as I had seen in a long time. Good design lights up a smile.
At dinner, I was reminded of something I had noticed at breakfast. The silverware was of a decidedly unconventional design, in that the flat of the knife handle was set at right angles to that of the blade. This enabled the knife to be set on the table blade edge down, but when rested across the side of a plate in the conventional manner with the blade edge facing in, the knife was not stable and flopped over easily. Good design is stable.
Perhaps our stays in hotels and restaurants are too fleeting for us to get used to the idiosyncrasies of their designs the way we do to the quirks of design in our own bedrooms and dining rooms. Design is a funny thing, and it is always relatively easy to find fault with something that we ourselves have not designed, arranged, or prepared. But, at the same time, the surprises of design that we can find in the most unexpected places are part of the joy of living.