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EXCLUSIVE: Pre-show interview with designer of The Conscious Bedroom

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
EXCLUSIVE: Pre-show interview with designer of The Conscious Bedroom

The Founder and Creative Director of Harris & Harris London, Alex Harris, gives Hotel Designs‘ editor, Hamish Kilburn, a sneak peek of The Conscious Bedroom that he and his team are designing for The Independent Hotel Show London 2019… 

It was at the beginning of 2019 when Harris & Harris, the London based multidisciplinary design studio, were first approached by the organisers of Independent Hotel Show to work on this year’s concept room set.

The brief was simple (and came in after the show had viewed the studio’s interior design portfolio online): to design The Conscious Hotel Room for the Independent Hotel Show 2019. The design studio leaped at the opportunity to design the concept room. “It was a seamless fit for the studio and their ethos of looking at the most environmentally and socially conscious way of producing luxury interiors and products,” Alex Harris, the studio’s Founder and Creative Director, explains. Arguably most importantly, though, the space at the show would give Harris & Harris the opportunity to showcase this mentality through the design and curation of brand partners who have similar ethics.

When designing the skeleton of the room, Harris was keen to explore creating a heritage feel. “We wanted it to feel as if the room was located within a historic building instead of a new build,” he explains. “This was to prove that sustainable design practices can also be applied to older buildings, which are more prominent in the UK. This was achieved through introducing Georgian style wall panelling throughout the bedroom and including some historic design references in the interior design but with a modern twist.” 

Parallel to curating sustainable focussed products and brands in the concept room – including factoring in elements like using local suppliers to reduce milage – the studio was also focussed on ensuring the overall design felt fresh, inviting and luxurious, all of which could be achieved whilst minimising the impact on the environment.

Ahead of the official unveiling of the finished room on October 15, we caught up with Harris to understand more about the concept and his drive to design with purpose.

Hamish Kilburn: What sparked your passion for sustainability, both at university and beyond?
Alex Harris: I had the opportunity to gain work experience in 2005, prior to graduating from Bournemouth University, with the award winning furniture designer Russell Pinch (we grew up in the same tiny village in Gloucestershire). One day we traveled down to Benchmark Furniture in Berkshire as Russell was working on a new collection with them and I had the chance to see Benchmark’s incredible workshops, showroom and design office.

They are very focused on sustainability throughout their manufacturing process and the products themselves. Together with their passion for craftsmanship, this definitely resonated with me as a student and I knew that my final year project must represent this ethos that I witnessed with Pinch and Benchmark’s work.

I designed a (fully functioning) wooden wind-up LED lamp for my final year project, which I won an award for sustainability from my university. At the same time I approached the eco-design collective [RE] Design and had the opportunity to exhibit my lamp with them at the London Design Festival in 2006. Then in 2009 (after a stint living and working in Melbourne, Australia) I joined the Benchmark design team, four years after I had previously visited with Russell Pinch, so I had come full circle!

I then went to work for several interior designers in London who were focussed on luxury and not really concerned about sustainability, which was always difficult for me. I vowed that whenever I start my own design studio that we must bring together both ‘luxury’ and ‘sustainability’  to prove that they can work harmoniously.

HK: How will your concept The Conscious Hotel Room showcase environmental and social factors?
AH: We have thought about the design in terms of impact on the environment from floor to ceiling. It was very important to us that every element was considered, so we researched and approached companies that we knew could help us with this vision.

So we have organic and natural wool and linen fabrics, FSC certified timber flooring from Domus, bespoke 100 per cent recycled cardboard and plastic joinery pieces, many products that are made in the UK (to reduce ‘mileage’) such as our Harris & Harris furniture & lighting and the beautifully natural bed from Naturalmat, 100 per cent wool carpets from Axminster with their recycled car-tyres underlay (both also made in the UK). Handmade natural terracotta tiles, also from Domus, feature in the bathroom with Crosswater WC, basin mixers and showers with low water use. Edward Bulmer paint features on the bedroom walls that only uses natural ingredients. We have a boiling and chilled water tap from Quooker together with reusable water bottles at the mini bar, omitting the need for a kettle (as you only use the exact boiling water you need for a cup of tea) and of course no need for single-use plastic water bottles. Even the artwork we have curated with the art consultants ARTIQ has been chosen to minimise impact on the environment, with artists that use recycled materials and natural materials & processes.

“Natural materials are used wherever possible but in particular with the Naturalmat bed and linens from The Fine Cotton Company.” – Alex Harris, Founder and Creative Director, Harris & Harris

The social factors that we have considered include making the space as wheelchair friendly as we can, with clear space around the bed, sofa, desk and bathroom vanity and a wide doorless opening into the bathroom with no change in floor level into the shower. Plants throughout provide better air quality and general well being. Natural materials are used wherever possible but in particular with the Naturalmat bed and linens from The Fine Cotton Company, to provide the best night’s sleep possible. Snacks and beverages will be sourced as locally as possible and that contain healthy ingredients.

HK: What are the challenges of creating a heritage feel from scratch?
AH: Our first approach was to introduce wall panelling and decorative mouldings throughout, this gave the feeling of a Georgian style property which also helped it feel warm, welcoming and luxurious. Materials, colours and patterns were also chosen to be simple and classic throughout and the furniture and joinery designs are pared back to give a timeless feel.

Image caption: Independent Hotel Show Conscious Hotel Room sketch

HK: What are the historic design references that are mentioned in the brief?
AH: As discussed above, the wall panelling and decorative mouldings, gave the feeling of a Georgian style interior. Our Harris & Harris furniture we have specified for the project; ‘Totterdown’ sofa, ‘Orchard’ Bench and ‘Clarke’ dining chair all have subtle references in their designs to 1920s/1930s Art Deco era and our Harris & Harris ‘Wharf’ lights (both table and pendants will be showcased) feature classic reeded glass. Cole & Son’s wallpaper ‘Flamingos’ that feature in the bathroom are a take on their archived designs from the 1960s as do the ‘Palm Jungle’ fabric on the scatter cushions. The herringbone pattern in the Axminster carpet is another classic design feature and the recycled cardboard tubing, used in the joinery and bed backdrop, gives a feeling of fluted columns that were used in Greek and Roman architecture.

“There are so many ways in which hotels can embrace the three ‘R’s (reduce, recycle and reuse).” – Alex Harris, Founder and Creative Director, Harris & Harris

HK: Can a hotel be 100 per cent fully sustainable?
AH: Unfortunately I don’t believe we as human beings can ever be 100 per cent fully sustainable unless we go back to living in a cave! We can all do our bit to help minimise our impact, but we all consume and we all produce waste. There are so many ways in which hotels can embrace the three ‘R’s (reduce, recycle and reuse) and we are excited to showcase just a selection of examples of how this can be employed in the design of The Conscious Hotel Bedroom which we hope will inspire hoteliers for their current and future projects.

HK: Let’s talk about water consumption. So many hotel groups are pledging to reduce their water consumption by ‘X’ amount.. Which suppliers would you say are allowing this to be a reality?
AH: We are working closely with the British bathroom brand Crosswater who are supplying The Conscious Hotel Bedroom with their M Pro range which have WRAS and TMV2 certification. The WC has two flush types to encourage water management and the mixer tap features a Neoperl aerator that has a flow rate of only five litres per minute.

When I lived in Australia we received an egg timer from the local water company to encourage showers of under four minutes. This was such simple idea and gave a fun challenge to try and ‘beat the clock’ whilst saving water. We will be featuring an egg timer in the bathroom of The Conscious Hotel Bedroom.

“There will be many UK produced products that will feature in The Conscious Hotel Bedroom and will be noted in our literature at the show.” – Alex Harris, Founder and Creative Director, Harris & Harris

HK: What is the value of products that have been manufactured in the UK?
AH: We have many great craftsmanship skills and traditions that are hard to find abroad. Harris & Harris are passionate about producing the UK whenever possible and keeping these skills alive. There will be many UK produced products that will feature in The Conscious Hotel Bedroom and will be noted in our literature at the show.

HK: What can designers do to ensure an eco-hotel is still a trendy and fresh hotel?
AH: I think there is no reason why an eco-hotel cannot not still be trendy and fresh. Curating the products and materials specifically for The Conscious Hotel Bedroom galvanised this idea for us. Many brands now offer products which have less impact on the environment but still look fab. It is up to the designer to track these down and encourage their client to use in place of products that could be damaging to the environment.

HK: Can you explain the benefits of Smile Plastics?
AH: Smile plastics have kindly donated their ‘Dapple’ plastic sheets to us for the joinery pieces at The Conscious Hotel Bedroom. Dapple is made from recycled chopping boards and plastic packaging and with all of their ranges, Smile Plastics are produced from waste which would otherwise end up in land fill. With Dapple we felt it had the look of a natural material such as marble, to give a touch of luxury, particularly important in the bathroom where it features on the vanity joinery. Dapple is hard, dense and rigid, 100 per cent waterproof, rot-proof and strong weather resistance. It is solid and consistent, allowing for a decorative edge. It is also UV resistance and is food-grade and can be used for preparation of wet foods.

Harris & Harris will showcase The Conscious Hotel Room at the Independent Hotel Show 2019. In addition to this, Harris will also join editor Hamish Kilburn on stage to discuss this year’s major topic in a live talk entitled The Conscious Bedroom Report, which takes place at 11:30am on October 15, 2019.

Brand Partners (as of August 2019)
ARTIQ– art consultants and rental agency, Axminster- carpets, Cole & Son– wallpaper and fabrics, Crosswater- bathroom items including shower, basin, toilet and tapsCurran Packaging– recycled cardboard tubing, Domus – bathroom floor and wall tiles, timber flooring, Edward Bulmer – paint, The Fine Cotton Company – towels, gowns, slippers and bed linens, Harris & Harris London– furniture and decorative lighting, Naturalmat – bed, mattress and bed linens, Plant Plan – plants and moss/living wall, Quooker – boiling, filtered & chilled water mixer tap, Samsung– television and soundbarSmile Plastics– recycled plastic sheet material, Wandsworth Group – power, lighting sockets and faceplates

In Conversation With: Harriet Forde, the up-coming President of the BIID

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
In Conversation With: Harriet Forde, the up-coming President of the BIID

Editor Hamish Kilburn heads backstage to join Harriet Forde, the interior designer waiting in the wings to become the President of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID)…

As far as interviewing a leading designer goes, I have never, until now at least, agreed to meet in a converted traditional men’s public toilet in London. Surprisingly, though, The Attendant in Fitzrovia turns out to be the perfect quirky backdrop for such an occasion.

The underground coffee shop instantly tells me two things about the designer before I have even managed to ask my first question. The first being that the soon-to-be president of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), Harriet Forde, does things differently. The second is that she has a thing about meeting in outlandish – almost kooky – locations because, and I quote: “Meetings like these should be fun, completely memorable and a bit out there.”

Once I had got over the initial shock of us both sitting, propped up on statement green stools, in front of pristine-white restored urinals while listening to country-folk music, I was keen to understand how Forde plans to wear the shoes of her soon-to-be predecessor, The Brit List 2018 judge, Gilly Craft. “There’s only so much you can do and change in a year,” Forde says. “That’s why all three of us, the president elect (currently myself), the president (Gilly Craft) and past president (Charles Leon) all have an active role – and it really is a three-year commitment. Therefore Gilly, for example, will step down as president in a few months, but she will still be very much involved in decisions and responsibilities – which she never shies away from.”

“British designers especially are not afraid to be experimental and they are arguably more willing to embrace the oddities.” – Harriet Forde.

It has been said time and time again – and here it is once more for good measure – that Britain is an unparalleled design hub. Wearing her BIID hat, Forde is the first judge announced for The Brit List 2019, Hotel Designs’ nationwide search for the top interior designers, hoteliers and architects. Forde has her own opinions on why she believes the UK captures some of the world’s best design talent. “Although manufacturing is lacking in Britain, and it is very niche now, there is still a history of craft,” Forde explains. “Still to this day, while manufacturing abroad is cheaper, there are a handful of creative companies who are still making products from British factories, which is something we should encourage and celebrate more. British design has a cache, of sorts, which can be quirky. British designers especially are not afraid to be experimental and they are arguably more willing to embrace the oddities.”

As well as preparing for her Presidency to commence, Forde is also the founder of Harriet Forde Design, a leading design firm that provides comprehensive interior design services and solutions for bars, restaurants, hotels, commercial properties and residential projects. “I very much try to take it one day at a time, using my diary planner to the best of my ability,” says Forde. “It’s a constant re-evaluation to identify the priority and it’s far too easy to over commit.”

QUICK-FIRE ROUND

HK: What’s your favourite type of hotel?
HF: I love hotels that have a home-from-home feel, like Kit Kemp’s Firmdale Hotels.

HK: What’s your number-one travel item?
HF: A Cafetière and decaf grounded coffee, don’t ask.

HK: What is your biggest bugbear within the industry
HF: Lack of communication between consultants.

HK: Who was your inspiration:
HF: Olga Polizzi.

HK: What trend is really inspiring you this year?
HF: I am really into marble and to that end I am embarking on learning more about what creates different marble around the world. Italy is running dry with certain types of marble, so other stones are becoming more popular. That and thin porcelain tiles.

HK: What do you hope to bring to your presidency?
HF: What value a BIID membership can bring professionally, personally and creatively.

HK: Sketches or renders?
HF: A render with sketching, but that’s like choosing between humous and guacamole.

HK: What would you do?
HF: I would quite like to be a lighting designer.

It seems as if Forde and I are on the same page when it comes to the limitless possibilities of lighting. “When I started as an interior design, we did our own lighting design as well as specifying the fittings,” she says. “Now, though, with the explosion of LED, it’s such a big world out there full of technical know-how. Therefore, more and more, we are working with lighting designers, on projects because they know what is technically possible and equally impossible.”

Forde’s open approach to not just talking about but really discussing design is refreshing; she is a fountain of knowledge who will make for a strong yet personable president – just like her predecessor. As her choice in venue suggests, our next President of the BIID can spot a design gem from a mile away, which I am sure will stand her in good stead for the phase of her journey.

Main image credit: Harriet Forde Designs

Top 5 stories of the week

800 550 Hamish Kilburn

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Top 5 stories of the week

From an ibis insight to the three-year growth strategy for Marriott International, Hotel Designs has published some pretty juicy stories over the past five days. Editor Hamish Kilburn breaks down the headline-grabbers as he selects the top five stories of the week… 

I feel as if we are almost bidding farewell to an old friend, as this will be the last ‘Top 5 stories of the week’ to be published on the current website.

In the same week when the team at Hotel Designs HQ put the finishing touches onto the new site before launching on March 29 at 12.00 (GMT), there have been many major stories that the title has broken. Here are the top five stories of the week.

1) In Conversation With: Damien Perrot on defining ibis Hotels’ new design era

Modern Scandinavian room with flexible living spaces

Image credit: FGMF/ibis hotels

The world’s most iconic budget hotel brand is undergoing a major redesign following the growing demands of the modern traveller. To understand all the design details of the new generation of ibis Hotels, Hotel Designs sat down with Damien Perrot, Senior Vice President, Design Solutions for Accor, to find out more about how the new ibis was conceived in three separate designs.

Continue reading.

2) Meet Up London – March 28

With less than a week to go until the industry pour into Minotti London’s fabulous showroom in Fitzrovia for Meet Up London, we have released the latest names of who will be attending.

Continue reading.

3) Editor of Hotel Designs confirmed to speak at Independent Hotel Show Amsterdam

As a proud media partner of the Independent Hotel Show AmsterdamHotel Designs has announced that it will take an active role in the two-day exhibition that takes place on May 8 – 9 with its editor now confirmed to moderate a unique and engaging panel discussion.

Title: Designing for Bleisure
When: Wednesday May 8

Time: 17.00 – 17.45
Where: Hotel Vision Stage, Amsterdam Rai Hall 5
Moderated by: Hamish Kilburn, Hotel Designs
Panelists: Hans Meyer, Zoku and Rob Wagemans, Concrete

Continue reading. 

4) Marriott International announces three-year growth plans

Image credit: Marriott International

Marriott International has presented the company’s three-year growth plan, which includes opening more than 1,700 hotels around the world, at its meeting with institutional investors and security analysts at the New York Marriott Marquis.

Continue reading.

5) Rosewood Hotels arrives in Hong Kong

Rosewood Hong Kong has opened as a magnificent new ultra-luxury property in the heart of the Victoria Dockside district on the shores of Victoria Harbour. Situated on one of Hong Kong’s most significant waterfront locations in Tsim Sha Tsui – Kowloon’s dynamic, culturally compelling heart – the property is set to become a grand icon for the city, celebrating the area’s role as Hong Kong’s new creative and cultural epicentre.

Continue reading.

! NEW WEBSITE INCOMING !

Launching on: 29.03.19 at 12.00pm (GMT)
Head over to our Hotel Designs Instagram channel for all the updates.

If you would like to contribute to new content for Hotel Designs, please contact the editorial desk. April’s features have been announced as Interior Design and Outdoor Style. 

In Conversation With: Tom Lindblom, Gensler

800 535 Hamish Kilburn

Lifting the curtain to peak inside one of the largest architecture firms in the world, editor Hamish Kilburn heads to Gensler’s UK headquarters to catch up with hospitality leader, Principal and Brit List 2018 finalist Tom Lindblom…

“Designing a hotel is a theatre production,” Tom Lindblom, hospitality leader and Principal at Gensler explains. “If you have ever been backstage at a theatre show, and have seen all the activity that’s going on, you will understand how many strings need to be pulled to ensure that what’s happening on the stage – front-of-house in our case – is going smoothly and flows seamlessly. The magic has to happen without the guests being aware how it is made.” This carefully chosen metaphor used to describe the realities – and often challenges – that modern architecture practices face is my first opportunity to really understand the man behind the vision of many projects in the UK, Europe and in the Middle East.

If we are to continue the theatre theme then I feel as if I have a front-row seat, exclusively invited to the opening night to critique Gensler’s award-winning performance. While the narrative explains how the company came to be one of the largest architecture firms in the world, the lead role is certainly up for interpretation. Lindblom, formally a museum and lighting designer, is one of 15 principals at Gensler and his stage is very much sheltered in the company’s London base in St Katherine Docks, with major plans for expansion. “Our expression is deliberately ‘one firm firm’, which suggests that we, the more than 6,000 employees at Gensler, are one team working across 48 offices around the globe,” he explains. “As a result of this shared mindset, our London office is able to share relationships with others around the world in order to eventually work on projects that would have otherwise gone to other architecture practices – it really is a key element to our global success.”

Gensler_Four Seasons_Kuwait

Image caption: Gensler’s Four Seasons Kuwait

Although the project briefs may change as the demands from operators and owners evolve, one thing remains constant in Lindblom’s eyes; team work really does make the dream work. “As an architect, the sooner you are working with an interior designer on a hotel project, the better the end result will be,” he says confidently. “Many see our industry as a triangle, but in actual fact it is a square,” he says. “That shape is between the owner, the operator, and the two designers – architecture and interiors – everyone needs to be reading off the same script.”

“The landscape of the hotel is as important as the architecture.” – Tom Lindblom

Whether we should design hotels that are Instagrammable is a topic that we are used to debating, I am keen to understand how, in Lindblom’s eyes, social media is dictating the design of the modern hotel. According to him, the pool in a resort hotel tends to be the ‘wow’ moment. “For a luxury resort hotel we designed in Croatia, for example, the ‘wow’ moments are a pool bar and grill and the water-front adult pool,” he explains. “The landscape of the hotel is as important as the architecture, and that’s why we work closely with landscape architects as well. At Gensler, we are very fortunate to have in-house landscape designers, which is often absolutely integral to the success of the project.”

Render of a pool and bar area outside

Image caption: Brizenica Bay Four Seasons Croatia Pool Bar / Credit: Gensler

Some of Lindblom’s most memorable curtain-call openings include St Regis Langkawi, Malaysia and the unforgettable unveiling of Four Season Kuwait at Burj Alshaya. Closer to home, though, since becoming one of the finalists at The Brit List 2018, Lindblom has been working on the interiors for a Hilton hotel project in Woking, Surrey. “There will be a great rooftop bar and restaurant, which is our answer to the operator’s brief, wanting to create certain ‘Instagrammable moments’,” Lindblom explains. “Our aim here was to open up the public areas to amazing panoramic views that can become an attraction for both guests and outside visitors.”

Gensler’s recently published Hospitality Experience Index concludes that hotel public spaces are changing. “Single-use public spaces are dead,” Lindblom claims. The report concludes: “The best hotels know that designing for today’s everything/everywhere customer doesn’t mean being everything to everyone -but it does require a new approach to understanding what guests want that goes far beyond business vs. leisure or millennial vs. boomer.” In response to this, Lindblom says: “Before we start drawing the shape and design of the building, we should be asking what experience we are trying to create.”

Quick-fire round:

Hamish Kilburn: What would you say, in your opinion as an architect, is the best designed city in the world?
Tom Lindblom: I love Paris and New York, but the city that made a big impression on me recently was Ljubljana, the Capital of Slovenia.

HK: What would you be if you weren’t an architect?
TL: A Sculptor

HK: What, in your opinion, is the worst designed hotel?
TL: There are too many to list

HK: What is your biggest bugbear when travelling?
TL: Wheely bags! I hate them!

HK: What is your favourite colour?
TL: Anything with stripes!

HK: Do you have a favourite project?
TL: They are all special, but I am really proud of the Four Seasons in Kuwait – I feel as if we need end credits to list all the people who brought that vision to life, all led by an amazing client.

Exterior shot of the hotel

Image caption: St. Regis Langkawi / credit: Gensler

There is a certain ignorance that comes from reviewing hotels, one that typically completely ignores the foundation of what is, as Hilton Hotels puts it, the heart-of-house. “The back-of-house, or backstage of any hotel performance, has to be designed around functionality,” Lindblom explains. “Our job here is to design an area that will maximise service and overall productivity, which in turn leads to a seamless guest experience. Although these areas won’t have all the finishes that you see in front of the staging, they are a vital part of the production.”

In the backstage access-all-areas interview, I am eager to learn what it takes to be cast as one of the leads at Gensler. “Believe it or not, listening is the fundamental skill to be a good leader,” Lindblom says. “When we are failing, we are not listening, which interestingly is the same for both staff and clients”

For this interview’s dramatic final scene, Lindblom explains how his past experience as a lighting designer has helped him to sketch and create some of the world’s most impressive design hotels. “There is just way too much artificial light in the world,” he explains as he points to the light directly above our heads, which creates glare while we are speaking at the table. “The starting point for a lighting designer should be darkness. Then you build up from there, considering the light sources, the times of day, colours and finishes, and ultimately the intention for the spaces.” And like any hit Broadway or Westend show, the production fades on a cliff-hanger conclusion as we wait to witness the unveiling of Gensler’s next hotel project.

The interior designer behind Rosewood Bangkok

730 565 Hamish Kilburn

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The interior designer behind Rosewood Bangkok

As its highly anticipated opening is imminently on the horizon, the Rosewood Bangkok’s interior design story is one yet to be unveiled in detail. Editor Hamish Kilburn caught up with interior designer Celia Chu to establish the narrative told within the walls of the soon-to-open 159-key luxury hotel…

The interior designer Celia Chu has worked for many leading international hotel brands across Europe, Africa and Asia & North America including The Grand Hyatt,  Hyatt Regency, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, to name but a few.

Since establishing the design firm Celia Chu Design, the combination of inspired creativity and comprehensive design strategy has been the main driving force and much of the time its competitive edge. Chu’s reputation of being a global modern designer, who can balance trendsetting statements with timeless style, inspired Rosewood Hotels, which turned to Chu to design its next luxury statement located in the ever-changing landscape of Bangkok.

With its luxury arm expanding 24 prestigious properties around the globe, being responsible for the interior design direction of a hotel branded by Rosewood requires a tenacious mindset. Balancing the interiors to be sensitive to the heritage of the brand as well as to be an ultra-modern, timeless hotel that challenges conventional design is a hurdle faced by most designers in today’s industry. However, designing a 159-key luxury hotel within the shell of a new architectural landmark – one which takes statement architecture to new global heights – was a totally new quest. Despite the boundaries, mental and physical, that were ahead when receiving the brief in 2016, interior designer Celia Chu took it all in her stride, and her vision slowly became the Rosewood Bangkok.

“It sometimes felt like I was writing a novel, taking one chapter of the story at a time.” – Celia Chu

Slated to open this Summer, the hotel has all the ingredients required to not only raise the awareness of the Rosewood Brand, but also to elevate the overall image of the city below. “To me, it’s important to first understand what kind of a story you want to tell and how you want the guests to feel,” says Chu. “When designing the concept, we become heavily involved with the culture, and all decisions have to come from the heart. Shanghai is a very modern city with a high population. As well as striving to achieve a more international look and feel, Bangkok is also very humble and it was therefore integral respect the nature of the area. I have kept this in mind throughout the entire project in order to create personal moments; it sometimes felt like I was writing a novel, taking one chapter of the story at a time.”

As well as the obvious, the sheer scale of the building and its angular architecture, there were other minor details of the site to consider when beginning the design journey. The first task for Chu and her team in the bustling Asian city of Bangkok, was to imagine a theme that would stand out from the other hotels in the area. While many designers would ‘go big or go home’, Chu opted for a more refined way of thinking. “Although it is hard to believe, because of the noise that the architecture renders have created, the site is actually very small,” Chu explains. “The design has always been very informed to feel, once completed, more like a luxury residence rather than a hotel. Therefore, the devil was absolutely in the detail.” Chu’s relationship with the architects, KFP Architect, became the fuel to the success of the overall project.

Exterior shot of the hotel

Image credit: KPF Architects/Rosewood Hotels

The building itself is visually striking – a bold move for Rosewood, which has traditionally decided to shelter its luxury abodes within classic buildings. The architecture of the 33-storey building was inspired by the Thai hand gesture of ‘wei’. “Working closely with the architects throughout the whole process, our goal for the interior design was to continue this theme of local gestures inside the property. “I love the building and our challenge was to ensure that both the architecture and the interior design blend into each other,” Chu says. “As an extension from the ‘wei’ on the exterior, in the interior design we have created all these different cultural areas, some more abstract on this theme than others. For example, while the architecture uses ‘wei’ as inspiration, there’s an area within the hotel that is inspired by another hand gesture used in Thai dance.” What many designers would consider a challenge when faced with the striking face of the architecture, Chu saw this as an opportunity to create an interesting chapter within the novel.

For Chu and her team, creating the residential look to create sophisticated tones throughout the hotel was key. To do this, she considered interesting surfaces, colours and textures. “I typically use a lot of materials the way that I design – I like to pile up layers from a base,” Chu explains. “For example, as a base I have used luxurious heavy materials such as marble, metal, leather, but to add layers I looked at traditional local materials such as wood carvings and textiles.”

Plush bathroom

Image credit: Rosewood Hotels

Within the design of a hotel of this scale, there is of course a larger context. Being a modern global designer is arguably more challenging than ever before. The double-edge sword that is technology and trends continue to divide opinions among the hotel designers in the 21st century. Chu’s experience highlights, like most, a challenge to establish ‘timeless décor’ in the ever-shifting landscape of design. “From the time we start a project start to time we finish can be up to eight years. With hotels that need to stand as a statement for a minimum of 15 years, this creates a variety of challenges when selecting styles and interior pieces,” says Chu. “My aim as a modern global designer is to support local artists, especially those who manufacturer locally. I believe I have an ethical duty to help establish the economy of where I am designing.”

Image caption: Celia Chu

If the beating heart of a luxury hotel is the lobby, then the soul within the body of the property is by far the guestrooms and suites. These areas within the Rosewood Bangkok will use night and day as an obvious theme. “Think modern Thai when imagining what the guestrooms and suites will look like,” explains Chu. “We have used a colour scheme to incorporate dark areas and light areas.” The result of this, I can envision, is a district residential feel, which echoes a similar style to that of the public areas.

While the surfaces will be layered, the lighting will be simple and effective. “Our aim in the lighting was to steer away from being complicated and instead create different light directions,” says Chu. “I find that designers are using more decorative lighting to make the whole system within the guestroom or suite easier to use.”

Lots of time they are trying to peruse an international look. In Bangkok we are trying to respect the humble nature of the area. Especially this client, we design the space I want to make it even more Thai with the history. Like writing a novel for a client. Maybe not on the scale of it, but we are certainly making an impact.

As Chu approaches writing the final pages of what she describes is her novel, complete with thick, textured and timeless pages, I am interested to go where few design enthusiasts dare to go. I am eager, before we say farewell, to unearth which area of the hotel Chu would consider to be her favourite. “That is so difficult to question, as all areas are so different and mean different things to me,” says Chu. “However, the living room/lobby lounge is such an interesting space. It is designed appropriately for an area where guests can enjoy afternoon tea and dinner. Locals too will enjoy this area, which I am very excited about. Therefore, I wanted to tell the story of the client’s memories and is inspired by a music box.”

The end of March will mark the grand opening of the Rosewood Bangkok. As Chu puts the finishing touches to her masterpiece ‘novel’, which will be unveiled to the world shortly, Bangkok’s presence as a rising modern design hub continues to develop in many interesting shapes, colours and sizes.

From Concept to Completion: Restoring a 19th-century house to create Plaza 18 (part two)

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In the second article in the series, From Concept to Completion, we delve deeper into the design story of Plaza 18. Interior designer Nicky Dobree speaks to editor Hamish Kilburn on the final stages of the journey to complete her first hotel…

In part two of our From Concept to Completion series, where we are closely following the design story of Plaza 18, Dobree’s first hotel project is beginning to take form. The building’s design is approaching the final stages before the grand reveal this Easter. Meanwhile, interior designer Nicky Dobree is able to step away from the project for five minutes – something I believe the designer is not accustomed to – in order to explain more about her relationship with the soon-to-be hotel.

With just a couple of months until the scheduled opening, the bulk of challenges have been rectified and Dobree’s original sketches are taking shape. However, like with many of these projects, the journey hasn’t been a simple one. “The property was a listed building and we had to apply for a change of use too,” Dobree explains. “The combination of both these requirements made it a particularly difficult process and we had to sell our vision. The process has taken a frustratingly long five years. We had a clear view of what we wanted to achieve and have managed to open up the space to work as a hotel and avoid poky corridors and dark corners,” she adds.

Through the painful months which turned to years, Dobree was able to use the time as an opportunity to connect with the project, which leads me to ask the question all designers arguably fear the most. “My favourite area of the hotel,” she considers scanning the site. “I think it is probably the patio with its sweeping staircase and communal area at the heart of the building breathing air, light and vitality into the hotel. “It invites you to rest, take a breath, look up and around to absorb the structure of the building. Another favourite area is the roof top with its incredible views across towards Morocco.”

Considering the hotel’s location, with its strong sense-of-place local architecture and colours, blending design and functionality has been the starting point of every design decision when creating Plaza 18. “We have worked with the building and the spaces that it provides, accentuating its best features and incorporating the needs of modern living,” Dobree unveils. “The overall aesthetic is pure, elegant and comfortable,” which is a description I totally conquer with.”

In part one of the series, in a quickfire round, Dobree admitted that her biggest bugbear was non-surprisingly bad lighting. Therefore, I am eager to understand the lighting direction of Plaza 18 and how she has natural and artificial elements to highlight the hotel’s unmistakable personality. “We are lucky to be in a spacious and bright building, so daytime light plays its ways through the space as the sun moves through the day,” she explains. “The large central sky light in the patio lets the light pour in. There are windows on both the north and the south of the building too so nowhere is it dark and poky. To provide a soft evening light, we have used lamps and wall lights.”

“The overall aesthetic is pure, elegant and comfortable.” – Nicky Dobree

One of the most interesting elements about Plaza 18 is the fact that it will shelter just six bedrooms. “They are not six individual personalities per se but each room has been individually designed so that they each have their own personality,” explains Dobree. “The bedrooms are not, as in so many hotels, just a repeat of the room next door.”

Lifting the lid on the suppliers that she has used for her first hotel, Dobree explains: “Combined with marble and Spanish ceramics, we have used Lefroy Brooks in the bathrooms. We have kept the reclaimed tiles in the patio and laid timber floors elsewhere.  Regarding the fabrics, we have turned to Pierre Frey, Ralph Lauren, and many of our other favourite suppliers. In the bedroom, there is exquisite bed linen from Italy in which to sink into at the end of each day. The furniture, meanwhile, is a mix of vintage finds and more contemporary pieces.”

As Dobree continues to design Plaza 18 ahead of its highly anticipated opening, I am beginning to realise the personal connection Dobree has on all projects that she sensitively touches.

Image of Miranda Martin

The director of the Independent Hotel Show’s take on Amsterdam as a design hub

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Following the Independent Hotel Show’s major announcement to take the unique exhibition overseas to Amsterdam, Hotel Designs editor Hamish Kilburn caught up with the show’s director, Miranda Martin, to find out more…

Earlier this month, the Independent Hotel Show (IHS) let the cat out of the bag that it will launch the inaugural IHS Amsterdam next year. Considering it’s the first time that the show has taken the concept abroad from London, we caught up with the show’s director Miranda Martin to find out why now is such an important time to recognise Amsterdam as well as London is a prominent design hub of the world.

Hamish Kilburn: What would you say is the most challenging part of your role?

Miranda Martin: The most challenging part of my role is translating blue sky thinking into real, tangible, transformational experiences for the communities my events serve. I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by a team of creative thinkers with big ideas. The challenge is harnessing the key components of those ideas, on schedule, in budget and then delivering them in a compelling and relevant way in a live event scenario.

“Social media presents an unrivalled brand building opportunity.”

HK: We are putting huge emphasis on social media at the moment and its place in our industry. How has social media had an impact on trade events?

MM: Social media presents an unrivalled brand building opportunity. Users belong to a digital tribe and behave in a different way digitally than they do in real life. By positioning yourself in a certain way on social platforms, you engage an audience that value a common vision and you’re able to build aspiration for your brand. Instagram is my favourite platform for the Independent Hotel Show because it allows us to share pictures that paint a thousand words and easily enables us to illustrate our brand to our community.

Image caption: Pulitzer Amsterdam

HK: What does Holland have that London does not?

MM: I don’t think it’s about what Holland has that London doesn’t but rather about broadening our support of our hotelier community to a new destination in continental Europe. We’ve had an amazing response to our event in the UK over the years and are proud to be able to serve the industry in a creative, thoughtful live event environment (not just another boring trade show!). As the world becomes smaller and more connected our ultimate goal is to take our support of the hotelier community global, connecting, sharing knowledge and creating opportunities for the global industry.

“Its unique culture and it being a European centre for innovation will be mirrored at the Independent Hotel Show.”

HK: Why expand IHS to Amsterdam now?

MM: I’ve experienced an infectious enthusiasm amongst the Dutch people with whom I’ve shared the vision of the show and it’s so exciting to be able to create a new event, when nothing like it currently exists, for such an enthusiastic audience. There’s a close community of hoteliers and hospitality professionals in Amsterdam particularly and I’m looking forward to seeing the show spread through the community in an authentic, organic way.

Aside from my excitement at being able to serve this sector, Amsterdam is an incredible destination with beautiful architecture, design and an open minded culture. It is a forward-thinking, attractive and accessible destination. It was last year’s most attractive European city for investment and celebrates a vigorous tourism industry. According to PWC, occupancy is forecast at 82 per cent in 2018, the highest level in western Europe. The industry in Amsterdam is informal, open-minded, tech savvy and driven by ideas. Its unique culture and it being a European centre for innovation will be mirrored at the Independent Hotel Show.

Image caption: Amsterdam’s iconic riverside

HK: How does IHS support collaboration in hotel design?

The show is thoughtfully curated to present the highest quality exhibitors and partners to our hotelier audience. It’s no surprise that it has a strong focus on design. I generalise here but our audience of ‘boutique’ hoteliers are very design led, with design being an easy way to differentiate from competitors in the market, creating a unique guest experience and identity. More than this, we want to build an amazing event experience for all of our customers – visitors and exhibitors alike – so the aesthetics of the show and the environment we create are important to us.

We’re essentially building an environment to inspire our hotelier community to use design to create better guest experiences, so we have to deliver exceptionally designed communal working and networking spaces at the show in line with what our discerning hotelier audience would want and expect. As such we invite amazing design brands to come on board as partners to work with us to design and deliver beautifully designed, stimulating spaces at the show. We are totally in support of collaboration in hotel design. If there are any companies out there who want to work with us, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

HK: What will be the layout of the show, how will it flow and why? 

Without giving too much away, we plan to have a dramatic entrance experience to set the scene as our guests walk through the doors. When in the show, they’ll experience a high quality curated exhibition of market-leading suppliers from across the hotel supply chain. We’ll also have a strong focus on companies and individuals with products never-seen-at-events-before to ensure we deliver true innovation.

The Lobby will be our main communal space at the heart of the show embodying qualities that the modern hotel lobby emulates such as a an inspirational work space, transitioning seamlessly to a social sharing space and bar.

The Suite is our VIP space for special events we’re hosting in collaboration with key industry partners. Our aim: to deliver great hospitality for the best minds in the business. Expect flowing champagne, speed networking and the possibility of making connections you never imagined you’d make.

“Think The Hoxton, Soho House, The Pig, Artist Residence etc. We’ve loved watching them grow.”

HK: What will the key show themes be and why? 

Design, technology, sustainability, from one to many – expanding your portfolio, recruitment and retention… these are just some of the big themes we’ll build into the show’s content. Design, because of the reasons stated above and we want the show to look beautiful and to inspire. Technology, because there’s a huge opportunity for hoteliers to grow in the tech space in line with consumer demand and we want to give them the tools to enable them to be successful in this sphere. Sustainability, because we care about the future of our planet. Because we know this is a huge topic in The Netherlands and because consumer shifts indicate deep feelings of responsibility in this area and we want to help our hoteliers capitalise on this. From one to many… we’ve seen some epic hotel brands on their journey, growing from one to many over the years as our little show has served them. Think The Hoxton, Soho House, The Pig, Artist Residence etc. We’ve loved watching them grow and despite their huge expansion plans they’ve managed to retain that special feeling that makes each and every one feel like an independent, unique, special place to stay. We love this about these hotels and we want to champion all hoteliers out there with big aspirations, but particularly those where they don’t lose sight of those things that make them so special. Recruitment and retention – because we know the hospitality industry is an amazing place to work and we want to support the industry in creating remarkable career opportunities in a challenging recruitment landscape.

HK: Will this show pave the way for a succession of other Europe based events for Fresh Montgomery? And if so, where do you have your sights on next and why? 

MM: That’s certainly the plan! But our next move will remain secret for now. Lets get the Amsterdam show to an amazing place then we can talk about how we can continue our support for this amazing industry… and where.

Hotel Designs is a proud media partner of the Independent Hotel Show