Whether it’s virtual escapes or understanding how designers should brief their at consultants, the team at Elegant Clutter have kept the pages of Hotel Designs colourful and vibrant over the last year. The art consultancy firm has been responsible for injecting personality into hotels for brands such as Hyatt, 25Hours Hotels, Bespoke Hotels, Radisson Blu and many others. To learn more about how the brand stays ahead of the curve, I caught up with Harry Pass, the Creative Director and art consultant who understands how to meaningfully amplify narrative in hotel design.
Hamish Kilburn: What sets Elegant Clutter aside from other art consultants?
Harry Pass: I think it’s how wide-ranging our work is and the fact that we create as well as curate. If you took a stroll around the place, you’d bump into product designers, paint sprayers, fine artists, carpenters, art consultants, metalworkers, researchers and picture-framers, amongst plenty of other roles – so we are very different to the agency model that you often find with art consultants. I could go on passionately about this for hours but if I can add one more difference, it’s our collective imagination!
HK: Has the role of art in hotel design changed since the pandemic?
HP: No – it hasn’t changed. Art in hotel design is mostly about narrative. There may be a shift in the type of projects that are being invested in, but the main role of art to tell stories is not going to change. I think history shows us that we will see a surge in creativity and art following the pandemic and hopefully this will also provide some powerful inspiration for hotel design.
HK: What would you say is the main pre-conception people have of art curators?
HP: There’s lot of different hats to wear but when you talk about Art Curators, people can have this idea of someone waltzing into artist studios, selecting pieces on the spot and then having the vision to instinctively point to wall locations to indicate where they should be hung. The reality is that it is of course more technical and more reliant on a team of people, working together on many details to build an experience with lots of layers.
HK: What are the main challenges when curating art for hospitality?
HP: One thing I love about art is that it is subjective. But this aspect can be one of the biggest challenges in a project. For example, following weeks of curating art options, we may present to an investor client and an interior designer who have quite different opinions on the art. In some ways this reflects the discussion a group of guests may have in the finished hotel space. At the end of the day, we all see something slightly different. A slight edge to the art collection can be a good thing and we want to keep those conversation starters…
HK: At Hotel Designs, we love art when it is outside the conventional frame. What is the most creative art project you have worked on to date?
It’s really hard to pick out one but probably the 25Hours Hotel in Düsseldorf, which we worked on with Stylt Trampoli. Our brief for that project was to imagine the hotel was the child of a German father and French mother – when your brief starts like that you know you are onto a winner! The approach in this project was very open minded and a great deal of the art we created was painted directly to the wall surfaces, including an oversized ‘sketch book’ of nude studies in the 16th floor restaurant.
HK: What projects are you working on currently?
HP: Hard Rock Hotel Madrid, Raffles Jeddah and some Curio and Indigo projects in the UK.
HK: What is the most common pitfall designers fall down when specifying art?
HP: Specifying it late instead of building it into earlier stages of project development.
HK: If (touch wood) your house was burning down and you only had time to take one piece of art, which piece would it be?
HP: An abstract artwork that my children painted that hangs in our kitchen.
HK: If you had to get rid of one piece of art in your home, which piece would it be?
HP: The ‘Chocolate box’ painting of our house that my aunt gave me (please don’t tell her!).
HK: What is the best part of your job?
HP: I could write an essay! Summed up, it’s the possibility to be creative every day within the world of art.
HK: What’s your advice for designers who are working on a tight budget?
HP: You don’t need to cover every wall! I would concentrate on the most important locations – where you know a guest will linger and take it all in. Some spotlights in these locations focused onto the art will double your impact. Regarding the content, being creative is the way to go – encourage your client to embrace the philosophy that anything can be art if it is arranged and presented imaginatively. Some of the humblest materials are the best to work with. If you have a little more budget to buy some fine art, you don’t need to go with established names – there is so much emerging art talent out there.
HK: I suppose art doesn’t really follow trends, as such. What’s your secret to keeping art current yet timeless?
HP: I think that by keeping the story telling as the main focus, the style of art is actually inspired by the story. It’s the combination of different pieces that could be from different eras and styles that builds the narrative and so you are not relying on one single trend. We want to be trend setters rather than followers and we are about to launch an Art Story student competition to help us spot and mentor emerging talent. There is a balancing act between being both aware and inspired by trends but also being confident enough to ignore them.
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Main image caption: When Harry met Henry | Image credit: Elegant Clutter