HIX 2023 review: a design show with a unique a point of view

From design collaborations to full disclosure at a confessional box, this year HIX appeared to be characterised by a healthy sense of collaboration and community. Writer Pauline Brettell, with contribution by Editor Hamish Kilburn, takes a look at the designs and the discussions that provided guests with the threads to weave into their own unique point of view…

HIX Event 2023 Hotel Designs round-up

The theme for HIX 2023, a room with a point of view, underlines the fluidity of the design industry and the changing landscape of hospitality design, along with the demands being made on the guest experience as it discovers ways to become less prescriptive and more responsive. Stepping between informal chats on stands, to more structured conversations and panel discussions on the HIX Talks stage, there was a sense of discovery and debate during the two-day show in London, which felt like it was digging a little deeper this year.

HIX 2023

Image credit: HIX

What was apparent from all the conversations was that, just as there is no typical guest, there is so single solution. Instead, designers are discovering ways to both personalise the experience, while ensuring it remains accessible. Stepping away from the talking and onto the stands, the same sense of design optimism could be felt as brands collaborated to make stronger statements.

HIX panel discussion with Hamish Kilburn and design team from Blacksheep

Image credit: HIX

Starting small, part of the Blacksheep immersive stand, in collaboration with Botanical Boys took participants through the macro process of terrarium creation, providing touchpoints with nature and creativity in the midst of the event. Alongside the workshop and another element to the ‘Umwelt Paradigm’, was the confession box which, started off as an experiment to carve out private space in the context of a bar, by deconstructing the notion of a bar. The booth was brought to life through the artists that sat behind its veil and the confessors in the hot seats, and soon became a magnet and talking point during the course of the event.

“I think there’s something here which we would love to explore,” commented Balkaran Bassan, Senior Design Lead, Blacksheep. ” Exploring the shifting perspectives for the experiences we seek out and of championing new ways to see space by speaking to different audiences.”

The big question thrown out by this installation by Blacksheep was whether we shape our spaces, or whether they shape us. As part of the process of pulling on the threads of this conversation the installation explored questions around elements of hyperlocality, displacement and meta-modernism all in the adaptable and collaborative space.

While a lot of HIX is about broad brushstrokes and bold statements – sometimes it is the quieter voice in the crowd that commands attention. This year, there were two exhibits that were perfect examples of how the local and the handmade are potentially becoming integral to the process of storytelling in hotel design. Both Abalon and Knot My Name are tactile designs, hand-crafted and perfectly placed to add bespoke texture and local inspiration into a space.

As always at HIX, lighting in all its forms and functions was a feature – from the practical and purpose-driven to the bold architectural statements. Included this year where some options that hit both the colour trend and the shift towards personalisation of design, on the mark. The Levels pendant in warm shades of glass from LedsC4 can be used in a variety of options and of course, levels. Also in glass, the painted glass components in earthy tones of sage to terracotta by Aromas del Campo can also be put together in a beaded bespoke design. Both these lighting options give designers a level of customisation and colour.

Strong architectural statements drew designers onto the Quasar stand, while Chelsom impressed with its brand standard of design and tech integration. This year, in a seamless move, bathroom brand Crosswater blurred boundaries by introducing its own range of lighting alongside its bathroom fittings and fixtures.

Continuing the conversation along the lines of designer customisation and colour, bathroom brand Duravit made a bold statement with its new colour concept curated by designer Christian Werner. “Colour also determines how we perceive a product, ” discussed Werner. “It’s an emotion because everyone responds to it differently. Multiple colours create a kind of colour resonance, something that ideally creates harmony. And colours for an interior should never be considered in isolation, but rather in the context of the entire space.”

Aside from the warm terracotta’s on the Duravit stand, colour and texture were prevalent in all the bathroom stands, giving designers the tools to customise the bathroom which is most definitely having its moment in the design spotlight as a point of differentiation in hotels across the globe.

dark orange basin and vanity by Duravit against blue wood panelling and floral wallpaper

Image credit: Duravit

Staying with bathroom design that elevates the functional and embraces a bold palette of both colour and material, few people where able to walk past the Gessi stand without being drawn in by the sheer abstraction of its newest Perle collection and Jacqueline collection, where the everyday tap becomes a tactile work of art. And that was before the Thursday night party drew the crowds, helped slightly by the attraction of a DJ who read the room perfectly.

Despite Gessi giving the audience what they wanted – and expected – the energy naturally filtered around the show floor, with pretty much all brands offering mini activations on their stands. At the back the hall, though, Villeroy & Boch was celebrating something a little more permanent with the launch of its new showroom at the Business Design Centre, which collided nicely with the group marking its 275th anniversary in style.

Perle tap range from Gessi on the stand at HIX

Image credit: HIX

Taking the conversation onto the Crosswater stand, Hamish Kilburn, Editor of Hotel Designs, joined forces with designers from MUSA lab, Crosswater and LOM Architecture and Design to discuss ‘democratising design’ where the designers delved into the subject of new products, materials, bathroom design trends, blurring boundaries from details and design right through to accessories and functional bathroom solutions beyond those trends.

Sustainability was, of course, on the agenda, although encouragingly it has become an expected part of the conversation across the board, rather than a maverick stand-alone subject. On the HIX Talks stage, the socially driven conversation between Henry Reeve from IHG, Marie Soliman from Bergman Design House, Veerle Donders from Zuko and Jonathan Ashmore from Anarchitect around hyperlocal hospitality explored architecture and design’s role when creating a deeper and more meaningful hotel scene that is created not just in, but with, local communities and surrounding neighbourhoods.

panel discussion with Marie soliman Bergman at HIX 2023

Image credit: HIX

Most, if not all, brands are aware that this, the conversation around ESG, needs to be part of their narrative when taking part in an event like HIX where sustainability credentials are under scrutiny. While a lot of the big brands are consciously integrating this at all levels of production, there are still some smaller design houses making waves by attacking the problem at its source. The ReCLIPS furniture range is just one of the solutions by Danish design house HOUE with a focus on recycling, using 97 per cent of household waste for its plastic elements.

The industry has long understood the need for conscious-fuelled design and hospitality to work together. In previous articles, Hotel Designs has discussed the need for stylish design solutions that are accessible to all. It was therefore encouraging to see brands, such as KEUCO, inject this research into product development and amplify this loudly on the brand’s stand at HIX. The AXESS collection, designed in collaboration with Studio F. A. Porsche, focuses on the essentials, combining aesthetics and boundless functionality in a stylish and innovative way, without making functions visually over-powering.

recycled plastic slats on a chair with wooden handles

Image credit: HOUE

One of the strongest threads running through the event was that of collaboration – this was evident on on so many levels, from the conversations to the installations right through to the stands where brands and designers came together to compliment each other rather than compete. The power of working together, from design through to storytelling and circling back to the conversation on hyperlocality, which, from the stage to the floor, was definitely one of the buzzwords of the event.

The Lapel Collection by Ligne Roset, for example, is a result of a collaboration with Italian designers Busetti Garuti Redaelli and offers a full range of outdoor products as it includes an armchair, side chair, stool and table. The complex braiding of the Lapel elements is made in Indonesia and tells its own story of materiality and location.

ligne roset stand at HIX 2023 with Balsan carpet

Image credit: Ligne Roset

While a walk through all the levels of the exhibition is about providing designers with the tools to create unforgettable hotel experiences and interiors, the standout takeaway from HIX is always the conversations and the scrutiny through these conversations, which is placed on the agenda. This year it felt like we were stepping back from the large picture and thinking carefully about the details and the choices that were being made. In many ways, it was about breaking design down into elements to understand how we can re-build and re-think on tomorrow’s hotel scene.

The hotel is no longer seen as something apart, but needs to be woven into and a part of the environment in which it is placed. From large luxury brands to smaller boutique offerings, personalisation is now high on the agenda. The hotel experience, meanwhile, is no longer confined by a property perimeter, but needs to be part of a deeper social picture as it both responds to and challenges both its guests and its locale. Highlighting this in the best possible way was the Kindling campaign and initiative, a platform created to highlight and celebrate the work of Ukrainian students of architecture and design through a student competition created by leading hotel design firms ReardonSmith Architects, MKV Design and supported by HIX.

Launched a year ago at the show, Kindling has since engaged with architecture and interior design students across Ukraine via online mentoring sessions as well as the competition. More than 40 students from colleges across Ukraine participated in the Kindling challenge to create a concept for a new urban, rural or coastal hotel in Ukraine following the end of the war. While the closing notes of HIX were a celebratory announcement of the winners and their designs, it was also a poignant reminder of the challenges being faced by communities in climates where designing is as much about drawing inspiration from the ashes as it is about looking to the future and defining the role of design in moving forward.

Main image credit: HIX