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Housekeeping by Design

Hotels and Labor

One of the great pleasures of staying in a hotel is spending time in a spotless, neat, and organized space that you don’t have to clean. That doesn’t, however, mean the work disappears—when we’re not looking, someone else is doing it.

With Housekeeping by Design, David Brody introduces us to those people—the housekeepers whose labor keeps the rooms clean and the guests happy. Through unprecedented access to staff at several hotels, Brody shows us just how much work goes on behind the scenes—and how much management goes out of its way to make sure that labor stays hidden. We see the incredible amount of hard physical work that is involved in cleaning and preparing a room, how spaces, furniture, and other objects are designed to facilitate a smooth flow of hidden labor, and, crucially, how that design could be improved for workers and management alike if front-line staff were involved in the design process. After reading this fascinating exposé of the ways hotels work—or don’t for housekeepers—one thing is certain: checking in will never be the same again.

216 pages | 24 halftones, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Economics and Business: Business--Business Economics and Management Studies, Business--Industry and Labor

History: American History

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work

Travel and Tourism: Tourism and History


“Design scholar and unabashed hotel fan Brody serves up a wonderfully readable mix of personal anecdote, historical overview, theoretical analysis, and ethnography in a perceptive study of the ‘invisible work’ of housekeeping.”

Times Higher Education

Housekeeping by Design is as much a call for action as it is an academic study of how design choices impact on physical labor. . . . Original, engaging, and thought-provoking, Housekeeping by Design is an essential study for anyone wishing to venture beyond design history’s usual realm of object, producer, and consumer to seriously consider designed systems, services, and experiences.”

Journal of Design History

“Most studies of hotel design as it pertains to hospitality services emanate from the social sciences and appear in hospitality industry publications rather than books published by academic presses. For the most part these studies focus on increasing the allure of the ‘servicescape’ and thereby its profits. Housekeeping by Design is very different in both content and literary quality: it deals with the ethics of design, and it is a good read. Brody argues that building design that does not attend to those who maintain the building is morally questionable and functionally/economically inefficient. In the course of this discussion he also probes other moral issues, like ‘green’ posturing that allows corporate savings only at the expense of an increased burden on the workers. Brody’s admonishments are based on substantive archival research and on-the-ground investigation, including interviews with staff at all levels. The author highlights the discussion with anecdotes from his own experience—his encounters with both the unexpected (e.g., an exploding fireplace) and the pleasurable (scenic views of Kauai). This is a thorough consideration of the physical aspects of architecture, historical conditions in the hotel services, and the all-too-often overlooked needs of the hospitality industry’s labor force. Highly recommended.”


Housekeeping by Design is a thorough and well-written study of service design, housekeeping, and labor in the hotel industry. Brody brings a designer’s sensibility and a researcher’s focus to a subject that most travelers encounter but never see. The book is a significant contribution to the study of service design and to the field of design more generally in its emerging research practices. Brody’s book provides a fascinating contrast between the vision and imagination of the world’s greatest luxury hôteliers and the service system and labor that lie behind every hotel today. One will find it but a small step from this study of the hospitality industry to the many issues of labor and patient experience in the healthcare industry. The merging of hotel hospitality and healthcare has become a model for a growing number of hospital systems. Their administrators will benefit from reading this book.”

Richard Buchanan, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University

Housekeeping by Design is a stunning achievement. It has the page-turning pace of a whodunit, the moral vigor and indignation of a utopian tract, and the practical good sense of the best design writing. It will change the way you experience hotels; if we are very lucky it will change hotels.”

Ben Highmore, University of Sussex

“In addition to his incisive history of the hotel industry’s division of labor, Brody delivers a far-reaching call for architects to collaborate with workers—the real end-users of hotels—in designing buildings. The result is a book that can and should be acted on.”

Andrew Ross, New York University

"Explores the tension between design and labor within the world of hotels, focusing on housekeeping and their role in maintaining hotel-design choices. Considers how integrating workers into the design process can improve working conditions, reduce labor unrest, and improve the relationship among guests, workers, and management."

Journal of Economic Literature


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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