swimming pool at Regent Phu Quoc with architectural poles and shade cloth installation by BLINK

    Part 84: conversion to placemaking – a designer’s road to Damascus

    1024 640 Pauline Brettell

    Clint Nagata is the Founder and Creative Partner behind BLINK Design Group, a studio which has made its mark on the luxury hospitality realm by focussing on creating a sense of place – a layered process which results in a depth of design that makes it stand out from the crowd. In this series of a Guide to Hotel Design, Nagata talks us through his process of placemaking when confronted with conversion…

    The tabula rasa is a beautiful thing. For the designer, nothing excites more than the terrifying thrill of the blank page, the clean slate that awaits your dreams and inspiration, creating something where nothing existed before, willing what you’ve seen in your mind’s eye to life. However, where the rubber often meets the road for today’s designer is a far more practical challenge: the conversion or reimagining of an existing property, bar or restaurant while managing owners’ expectations and working within the constraints of time, space, budgets and what already stands.

    Clint Nagata - Blink Design Group

    Image credit: BLINK Design Group

    For the perfectionist, the purist and the prima donna who brooks no compromise and demands to stamp their will on the landscape, it’s not ideal. But for the pragmatist of good heart and clear vision, who can take what has gone before and embrace what could be, the conversion is a field of design that can be every bit as rewarding as the utopia of the green field.

    “Understanding what is said in luxury hotel design is akin to listening to a beautifully composed piece of music, where the pauses between notes are as essential as the melody itself. It is as a silent dialogue that envelopes guests in a world of comfort, elegance and refinement, leaving an indelible impression that words alone could never convey” – Clint Nagata, Founder and Creative Partner, BLINK Design Group.

    The move towards conversion, refurbishment and re-envisioning has been growing over the past decade. City-dwellers often prefer seeing their neighbourhoods reimagined and reinvigorated rather than demolished and totally transformed. However, there can be cost implications and practical challenges in retrofitting 21st-century demands into 19th and 20th-century structures.

    central table and seating area in beamed wooden building at Roku Kyoto

    Image credit: Blink / Ben Richards

    Everything has its place – the more I travel the world, the more convinced I am that a sense of place is everything. A deep dive into the culture, people, customs and architectural and design vernacular of a place is pivotal to what we do at BLINK. We have a name for it: Placemaking.

    Just as with the conversion, you are working within the strictures of what already exists, so with placemaking we work within the ambit of what has gone before. The challenges with conversions are myriad but they always boil down, above all, to time and money. Clients want a Rolls-Royce, on a Hyundai budget.

    central wooden bar with asian design references in Regent Phu Quoc

    Image credit: BLINK Design Group

    There are also inherent pitfalls in Placemaking; there’s a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. What may appear as the harmless dressing of a space could very easily offend locals, staff and guests; something well-intentioned but uninformed could be seen as trivialising and objectifying home-grown culture or, worse, come across as some kind of crass, condescending neo-colonialism.

    Research, knowledge and local connections are everything; it can’t be rushed or bought off a shelf. At BLINK, we invest in time and people, in Indigenous artisans and craftspeople, to make sure we get the details right; it pays dividends, fosters goodwill and feeds the local economy.

    seating and tea in Roku Kyoto designed by BLINK

    Image credit: BLINK Design Studio / Ben Richards

    Understanding the Unspoken Insight – when taking on a brief, it’s often what’s written between the lines that informs us of a client’s real requirements. Our job is to forensically interpret the unspoken wants and needs, the physical cues and the passing comments that can open a whole new field of discussion. We must never forget the power of the question mark; to always pursue lateral thinking, new ways of being and doing, presenting at all times as as a curious, prescient and empathic practice.

    colonnaded swimming pool at Regent Phu Quoc by Blink Design

    Image credit: BLINK Design Goup

    And we must not ignore the inexorable march of demographics; those born between 1981 and 2012, otherwise known as Millennials and Gen Z, will command 80 per cent of the global personal luxury goods market by 2030 (Bain & Company, 2023). The good news is that they value meaningful luxury experiences over the possession of luxury goods.

    double volume dining space with statement architectural lighting and trees for indoor planting

    Image credit: BLINK Design Group

    It starts with thinking of hotels and resorts not as places to sleep, but as environments that create memories; the wellsprings of experience. My journey as a designer began with the belief that the best buildings are designed from the inside out, which is a powerful concept when approaching a conversion. If your visions are powerful enough, the entire hotel or resort can live anew.

    Examples? Huvafen Fushi Maldives springs to mind. We’re breathing new life into an ageing resort in an incredible location with a minimalistic modern aesthetic that draws inspiration from the pristine natural surroundings. I’m very bullish on upcycling; recycling with a creative twist. Small details can make a big difference: when we converted Jumeirah Meradhoo into Raffles we made a critical decision to paint the mismatched stained millwork to a pale warm gray colour which helped to transform the resort into a colonial tropical resort aligned with the Raffles design DNA.

    louvred terrace with blue shutters under a wicker ceiling with fans at Raffles Maldives Meradhoo

    Image credit: BLINK Design Group / Raffles Hotels & Resorts

    We don’t shy away from being creative with making budgets stretch further and doing more with less, as budgets seem to shrink as each year goes by. And sustainability is so important, yet has become such an overused and abused buzzword that it pains me. We’ve seen small changes such as furniture suppliers who have invested in recycled materials in their furniture. This needs to become the norm and not the exception.

    I see a shift towards what I’d call purposeful travel. It’s the journey as much as the destination. People want to experience things rather than just stay at a particular resort or hotel. This has only fueled the need for hotels in and of themselves to become unique destinations deeply rooted in the environment that they exist in.

    view from above of thatched roof and bathing platfrom over the water at Raffles Maldives Meradhoo

    Image credit: BLINK Design Group / Raffles Hotels & Resorts

    But can the centre hold as things become more fragmented? A recent article by Travel Daily resonated in defining some of the diverse groups of people we must cater to in tomorrow’s hotels and resorts. They include the Walter Mitty-ish (Alter) Ego Enthusiasts, who feel compelled to elaborate on their lives and present an inflated and polished version of themself while travelling; Cool-cationers who seek relief from scorched urban heat islands; So-called Surrender Seekers, who want to be surprised and go with the flow, letting someone else’s fingers do the planning; Culinary Excavators, the modern day food archeologists who want to eat authentically and with a sense of history and place; Reboot Retreaters seeking relief and a restart from their frazzled and frenetic life; Mindful Aesthetes, for whom wellness is not just an occasional treat but a way of life, and A La Carte Affluencers, who will employ life hacks to save costs at home but are willing to splurge on their dream holidays.

    exterior view of evening lights lighting up the interior of Roku Kyoto

    Image credit: BLINK Design Group / Ben Richards

    When I graduated from college, the western architectural community frowned upon firms that did not design new and ‘modern’ buildings and instead created buildings that embodied their environments. Similarly, all the large international hotel chains practised uniformity across the globe and wanted their hotels in Asia to look like it was in America. I’m glad all of this has changed.

    Uniformity is dead and individuality is king. More than ever, designers must not be afraid to take risks and to fail, as it’s only in testing limits that you change and grow. Dive deep, immerse yourself, ask questions, push boundaries. Live by design.

    Main image credit: BLINK Design Group

    A dark lit restaurant sheltered in brick-walled building

    Part 73: Specifying lighting for luxury restaurants

    1024 640 Hamish Kilburn
    Part 73: Specifying lighting for luxury restaurants

    For our next guide, the team at lighting manufacturer Northern Lights talk us through what’s on the menu when it comes to lighting design in luxury restaurants…

    A dark lit restaurant sheltered in brick-walled building

    When it comes to bar and restaurant design, lighting plays a critical role in influencing everything from operations and food preparation, through to guest satisfaction, length of stay and overall experience. In high-end restaurants a key goal of owner-operators is to encourage their clientele to extend their stay; to order the dessert or indulge in an extra glass of wine, which ultimately increases their spend per visit.

    Who better to converse with on the subject than the team at Northern Lights, who have been designing and manufacturing luxury lighting for the hospitality market – including award-winning bar and restaurants – for more than 35 years.

    Close-up of wall lighting that looks like an icicle on the walls

    Image credit: Michael Franke

    “All senses must be correctly stimulated to achieve an extraordinary dining experience,” explains Donna Gridley, Head of Creative. “In upscale establishments that use lower, warmer lighting conditions, people perceive a more intimate dining experience.  They’re relaxed and comfortable, tending to eat at a slower pace, and are more content with the food and their overall visit.

    Fine-dining restaurants often opt for several different lighting types to create the right balance of lighting in different areas. Layering allows for both functionality and drama. When correctly used it also highlights important design and architectural details to further add to the sensory appeal.

    There are three core types of illumination for restaurants: task, ambient and accent lighting. Each has a specific purpose and the placement of these across the spaces is equally important. Task lighting provides the functionality, allowing for specific tasks like food prep or reading of specials menus to be completed with ease. Ambient lighting is the core source of light that creates the atmosphere, usually achieved with overhead & wall fixtures, and natural light sources. Finally, accent lighting is used to create drama, tell the design narrative, and create focal points to highlight design details.  It’s usually more decorative in nature – from statement chandeliers, through to archway and table lighting.”

    Northern Lights has an impressive restaurant lighting portfolio, with several new projects launched at the end of last year. We caught up with some of the interior designers behind these latest projects, to uncover why they agree lighting plays such a vital role.

    The Libertine – Studio Found

    Restaurant in heritage building with lots of drama

    Image credit: Billy Bolton

    The historic Grade-I listed underground vaults of The Royal Exchange has been transformed over the last three years into The Libertine – a 650-square-metre F&B destination in the heart of London, brought to life by design practice Studio Found. Extensive research into the history of the building and its surroundings was required to enhance and complement this incredible space and all its curiosities. Studio Found commissioned Northern Lights to bring bespoke illumination to the intriguing interior.

    “You should never underestimate the impact of thoughtfully designed and quality-made lighting fixtures as part of the overall design concept of any hospitality space, Ed Plumb, Founder and Design Director, Studio Found, said. “Lighting is one way to create and enhance a desired ambiance and tone within a venue, be it a luxurious, intimate, or a more homely mood you want to create. Lighting also accentuates design details, adds texture and layering to complement the overall design.

    “This is evident at the newly opened The Libertine in the City of London, where we designed a lighting concept to illuminate and enhance the magnificent, historic, Grade-I listed underground vaults of The Royal Exchange in a subtle yet considered way. We achieved this by collaborating with Northern Lights whose manufacturing expertise and attention to detail helped us to deliver exceptional, high quality lighting fixtures throughout.

    “For any hospitality design project, we always recommend working from the outset with an expert lighting manufacturer who really gets your design concepts and can produce beautiful, quality lighting products to add that extra dimension to your venue.”

    Cut & Craft – Studio Two

    Cut & Craft - Studio Two ©Stevie Campbell & Studio Two

    Image credit: Stevie Campbell / Studio Two

    The iconic Leeds site that Cut & Craft sits on is dripping with history and opulence, taking over what once was the former Collinson’s Cafe, where Wallace Hartley had played in the orchestra shortly before boarding the Titanic as Band Master. Jewelled tones instantly welcome you to decadent dining, with a show-stopping central bar plus a unique champagne bar on the first floor, while the overall design manages to effortlessly maintain the character and history of the building.

    Zoe Wheatley, Director at Studio Two, agrees that lighting is integral to the total design concept. “Without key lighting design our efforts for the overall design concept wouldn’t come to life. Carefully specified lighting not only adds layers and depth, it also helps a space transition from day to night ensuring the story of the space is being told. In luxury restaurants, the design is more than just furniture and new joinery. The building itself needs to be highlighted and often we opt for discrete lighting to celebrate architecture or key building details. The high-impact decorative fittings are our opportunity to embellish the space with quality finishes, for example we used antique brass and bronzes at The Cut & Craft Leeds.”

    There are important considerations when it comes to sourcing the right lighting supplier for your project. “High-end products and quality finishes were absolutely key, as was the need for good communication and seamless delivery,” explained Wheatley. “We chose Northern Lights due to their ability to be bespoke and creative, offer innovative solutions, and also alternative suggestions on what would work best to enhance the space.”

    Furna – Elemental Architecture Design

    Sophisticated private dining room with lavish chandelier

    Image credit: Paul Winch Furness

    Furna welcomes guests to enjoy renowned chef Dave Mothersill’s unique take on classic dining, informed by memories from his childhood, travels and extensive culinary career.  Situated on Brighton’s New Road, it offers a multi-course tasting menu that celebrates high-quality, British-grown ingredients served with creativity and consideration.  A warm and intimate fine dining restaurant, the design like the food is both classic and modern, with a welcoming atmosphere provided by the warm lighting.

    “Lighting in restaurants is one of the most important aspects in design, it can be used to highlight materiality, change the mood, add interest and drama – it’s also vital to the functionality of a space,” commented Jeremy Diaper, Founder and Director, Elemental Architecture Design. “With feature lighting, you get the source of light adding warmth or interest, but also it can elevate the design and compliment the environment.  Northern Lights came highly recommended, and we thought they would be a great fit for the Furna project. They offered us lots of options following our brief and we also had some bespoke items made to match the scheme. Working with them was a good experience, smooth design consultation through to order, the lights came when we expected and additional requests for details and specifications were answered quickly and efficiently.”

    Koyn – Fabled Studio

    Blue bench and wood walls in restaurant

    Image credit: Michael Franke

    Situated amongst the elegant location of Grosvenor Street sits KOYN, a new high-end Japanese restaurant from the name behind some of Mayfair’s top restaurants, Samyukta Nair.  It’s a magnet for interior lovers, with the design spearheaded by Samyukta and Fabled Studio’s Tom Strother.

    The restaurant is split into two distinct areas: Midori and Magma, inspired by the dual nature of Mount Fuji in Japan, both its calm slopes and its fiery centre.

    Diners enter on the ground floor at Midori, a horticultural haven channelling Japanese zen gardens – think light green leather banquette seating and iridescent oyster shell walls, with a marble sushi bar in the middle. Downstairs, meanwhile, you’ll find Magma, a subterranean space featuring black oak ceilings, focused around a charcoal-fuelled timber robata grill with burnt orange stools – a nod to the heat of the volcano.

    Award-winning international interior design practice Fabled Studio wanted to ensure the unique design principles and dining experience were carefully reflected in the lighting. Northern Lights were tasked with developing bespoke lighting for both inside and outside the venue. The most iconic fixtures are the wall sconces with tapered textured glass cones. The glass-blown cones resemble icicles, held in place using laser-cut brass support bars, and beautifully expand on the design narrative whilst adding soft illumination.

    Northern Lights is one of our Recommended Suppliers and regularly features in our Supplier News section of the website. If you are interested in becoming one of our Recommended Suppliers, please email Katy Phillips.

    Main image credit: Billy Bolton