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Interviews

Boxx Creative on delivering the dream with the help of Google Translate.

Boxx Creative's recent hotel project in Italy was a dream project, let's find out why.

design stories x eporta

Read time 8 minutes

Embarking on an international project is never easy. There are logistics to consider, language barriers and time differences. There are very few designers that look back on the experience and say "It really was a dream project." Well, that is precisely how Nicola Keenan and Nicola Lindsell, describe their first design project together as Boxx Creative. With years of experience between them in commercial and residential interior design, the two have joined forces to create commercial spaces with heart, purpose and a sustainable edge. All of which they successfully achieved with the stunning Miramonti Hotel in Northern Italy.

Boxx Creative- Nicola Lindsell and Nicola Keenan photographed within the finished Miramonti Hotel. Photo by Mariel Lind Hansen.
Boxx Creative- Nicola Lindsell and Nicola Keenan photographed within the finished Miramonti Hotel. Photo by Mariel Lind Hansen.
Our real passion and focus are on sustainability, locality, and the environment. So I think that's where this project was ideal for us, its emphasis on handcrafting and sourcing locally, really tied in with our values.

The Brief

The client was taking over their family hotel, which had been in the family for years and the time had come for the younger generation to step in and steer a new direction for its future. The hotel sits in the beautiful village of Corteno Golgi, just 30 minutes from the Swiss border. Nearby is the small ski resort of Aprica where guests enjoy winter pursuits and hiking trails galore in the Summer. But there is no denying the hotel is relatively remote with swings between the high and low seasons, which is why the clients were adamant that the hotel became a stand-alone destination. Luckily the client's incredible skill sets made doing so easy, one was a chef, who wanted to run foraging and cooking courses for guests, the surrounding foothills are a foragers paradise with mushroom picking throughout the year. Whereas the other owned a cigar business and loved yoga, so a cigar room and an outdoor yoga platform in the forest behind the hotel, were planned. These elements strongly started to define what Boxx Creative would create.

A glimpse into one of the newly created bedrooms within the hotel. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.
A glimpse into one of the newly created bedrooms within the hotel. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.
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"In terms of the design, the client wanted to incorporate as many natural woods as they could into the scheme. With a low environmental footprint in mind, they wanted to source as much as they could from local suppliers. They liked the Scandi vibe, but without it feeling too utilitarian, more eclectic." At the very start of the process, Nicola and Nicola went to stay in the hotel as it was. During the recce, they scoped out the local competitors and restaurants, they even went further afield to see what other towns and villages in the region offered. "There was a certain look that you get in those chalet-esque boutique hotels- heavy on yellow-orange pine. While we wanted wood everywhere, as per the client brief, we started to consider ways of making it look less heavy and overbearing."

The view from the hotel over the mountains and forests beyond. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.
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The view from the hotel over the mountains and forests beyond. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.

Colour was also a significant consideration, the clients liked the Scandi aesthetic, but neither they nor Boxx Creative were keen on a greige scheme. The hotel needed to create a space where guests could recharge, relax and rebalance, by simply getting back to nature. With the hotel enjoying 360 degrees of views over the mountains and forests it was apparent that the interiors should complement the view outside. "The elements very much inspire the colour scheme; earth, fire, water and air." This colour selection would also differentiate them with their competitors, local and further afield.

Business Hat On

After the recce, Boxx Creative were raring to go; they knew what they wanted to deliver for their clients and how long it would take. As with many projects, especially commercial ones, there were other considerations at play. The options were- to redecorate the rooms as they were, floor by floor so that the hotel could stay running throughout. Or to do a complete overhaul from top to bottom but batch the project into phases completed in the low season. Boxx Creative's business nous came in to play if the client was going to do this level of redecoration, why not go that step further and make significant changes to better the business long-term.

We recommended having one floor re-designed on paper. Once it was right it could be mirrored on the others to achieve consistency throughout the hotel making it easier to market. We knew we could fit in more rooms and therefore generate more income for our client.

Boxx Creative consider the long-term business goals of all their clients. "For us, it's not just that our projects are designed to be aesthetically pleasing, functional, and immersive. But also, crucially, that the spaces we design are profitable for our clients, enabling them to maximise revenue and achieve a good return on investment, as well as helping them to create a business offering that’s both scalable and investable." The client was open to their suggestions, and so work began.

Flexible accommodation beautifully designed in soft natural tones. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.
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Flexible accommodation beautifully designed in soft natural tones. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.

Thank Goodness For Google Translate

There was one other caveat to the brief that they would use a local contractor to make as much of the project as possible. Starting from the position of "Oh my word, how is this going to work? He only speaks Italian, which neither of us can; this is going to be impossible." Nicola and Nicola's opinion did a full 360.

He was a true artisan and master of his craft, who was hand-making everything, from the floor-boards to the doors and windows, and a lot of the bespoke wooden furniture too.

He was just an incredible, incredible guy. Who would say anything is possible, and then work to make it happen.

Boxx Creative started by creating a highly detailed and comprehensive drawing package. "It was almost like a design by numbers. Once compiled he and the client came to the UK where we went through absolutely everything. It took a long time, answering all the questions in one go, but we all knew it would help longer term." Of course, questions arise during a project, especially when someone so skilled and talented is creating from scratch. So, day to day throughout the project, the team were saved by the technological advances of Google. "We had a shared WhatsApp group which we used to communicate with Francesco, the contractor. He would send us photos of the strip out and each stage of the refurbishment with any questions written in Italian, we would copy and paste this into the Google Translate app to get the English translation. Then we would reply in English so he could do the same and translate our answers into Italian. It was actually a very quick process that worked really well."

The Italian artisanal contractor, who helped create this magical hotel. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.
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The Italian artisanal contractor, who helped create this magical hotel. Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.

As if this wasn't already a match made in heaven, the contractor was also very conscious about the environment. He also specialises in building eco-sustainable homes in the surrounding area and furthermore, all the wood chips that are leftover from his workshop; he burns in a furnace to heat the other houses in the village.

Time For Action

Time was of the essence throughout this project with no real space for contingency. The client had allowed three months for each install, to fit in with the lower seasons. As such, the project was phased, bedrooms first, restaurant and leisure facilities second. This also meant that the artisanal contractor had just three months to build from the floor up. "We were so amazed at how quickly, the contractor and his skilled team completed the full interior strip out and refurbishment of three floors of the hotel, as well as making all the wooden furniture and fitted joinery pieces."

From start to finished drawing pack, I'd say we had three months all in.

But for Boxx Creative it meant designing an entire hotel scheme in a very short window of time, from the moment the client said go, they had 3 months until work started. This is where we, eporta, were lucky enough to be able to help. "eporta helped a lot with sourcing items, particularly lighting. We could give you a mood board and come back that afternoon to a curated selection of suitable products in our lists. This saved us a lot of time." said Nicola Lindsell. "The other thing was having someone to call on if something wasn't quite right with the order or if we had questions, eporta were there to help."

Photo by Mariel Lind Hansen.
Photo by Mariel Lind Hansen.

Sourcing is a critical part of the project for Boxx Creative, as it's where their values come into play. "We strongly value the environment and being socially conscious. Sometimes it can be a cost saving or an expense, depending on what it is that we install. But there's just so much more choice now than there was even a couple of years ago. We are just gently educating clients, and making them aware of all the options available." Luckily, this client shared their values, such as limiting their footprint by sourcing or making items locally. While also making more substantial commitments where they could, such as the hallway carpets made from recycled polyester.

Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.
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Photos by Mariel Lind Hansen.

Looking back

Reflecting now on such a stunning project must feel fantastic. "I loved staying in the hotel when it was finished. We were still snagging, but it was just so exciting to stay in the rooms that you've designed, appreciating them as a guest." Noted Nicola Keenan. Both feel the pride and thrill of knowing that the hotel is in use and that people are enjoying staying there.

They set out to satisfy the brief of creating a hotel that suited its surroundings, but that became a destination in itself. It also needed to encourage guests to relax and reconnect with nature. So do the duo feel like this have accomplished this? "If I were to describe the space we've created in three words I'd say it's relaxing, eclectic and inspired by nature." We'll take that as a resounding yes then. And we couldn't agree more.

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