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Interviews

You say either/or, our designers say do it all!

conversations x eporta

Until recently, the type of projects you designed was an either/or. You were either a residential interior designer...or you were a commercial designer. Recently, however, the lines have blurred between domestic and hospitality environments for clients, resulting in a growing number of designers transitioning between the two genres of design without the historic sense of boundary - becoming less of an either/or, and more “do it all”. We spoke to four designers whose projects span the spectrum from residential to hospitality. We asked them about the key differences between the two genres, how the projects come about and what they've learnt along the way.

There are crossovers and merging between aspects of residential and hospitality interiors. For instance, there is a trend for private residential clients to desire chic ‘hotel-style’ bathrooms. And with the rise of Airbnb, hotels are becoming less corporate and focusing more on providing a welcoming home from home. - Nicola Lindsell, Boxx Creative.

First, let's meet our contributors:

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Nicola Lindsell (left) and Nicola Keenan (right), Founders of Boxx Creative

Joining forces in 2017, Nicola and Nicola brought with them a wealth of experience in interior design, branding and digital marketing. They offer clients an amazing full creative service and their knowledge of wider peripheral activities (such as branding) has helped them to seamlessly transition into hospitality and leisure design.

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Alexandra Henry, Founder of I Love Colours Design Studio

Alexandra has developed a large and wide-ranging design portfolio over the last 10 years. Having fallen into interior design when asked by a friend to design their high-end shoe boutique, Alexandra has never looked back. Working on projects throughout Europe, from residential apartments in Geneva to hotels in Bucharest, there is little she hasn't done.

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Interior photo by Jack Hardy

Kim Partridge, Founder of Kim Partridge Interiors

Award-winning designer Kim has established a name for herself in the industry for creating timeless and elegant high-end residential schemes. Her first foray into hospitality design came earlier this year with Adare Manor in Ireland, where she was tasked with delivering a luxury and elegant design for a very historic building in a matter of months.

Brief Encounter

Starting with the basics, we wanted to understand who sets the brief. With so many stakeholders involved in hotel projects - from the owner to the operator and all the way through to the general manager - who defines what a scheme needs to deliver? The general consensus is that it depends on the scale of the project. For both Boxx Creative and Kim Partridge, their hotel projects arose from clients they had worked with previously - the clients owned the hotels and were the ones setting the brief and choosing the designer. As Kim says: "I had worked with the family who own Adare Manor for a number of years on private residential projects. So when they gave me an opportunity to work with them on Adare, I was thrilled to embark on a different sphere of interior design."

The lobby of Adare Manor, designed by Kim Partridge Interiors.
The lobby of Adare Manor, designed by Kim Partridge Interiors.

Alexandra's project came about in a very different way, as she was initially engaged by the architect to deliver the interior aspect of the scheme - but when the architect resigned for personal reasons, Alexandra was left to deliver the entirety of the project alone. Her brief came from the hotel's General Manager. "He was directing the whole process, from setting the brief through to approval and execution. The owners were consulted on all the decisions but they were not directly involved." Clearly delivering a great scheme, Alexandra has been asked to come in again 11 years on to refurbish the same hotel.

In essence, the project can be briefed and controlled by the operator, in-house facilities team, General Managers or owners. Regardless of who controls the brief, however, you can be sure that they will have a keen eye for detail, great expectations - and a strong opinion on what will work within the space.

Reception of hotel designed by I Love Colours Design Studio
Reception of hotel designed by I Love Colours Design Studio

Where do you start?

We'd imagine there are lots of parts to a hotel brief - so how do our designers digest every element and pinpoint a place to start? All four highlight the importance of defining the story first. As Kim says: "We want to create a narrative that makes the guest experience special and bound up with a sense of place."

A significant part of successfully creating that experience is understanding the context of the building - the history, the location, and, above all, what makes it unique. All the designers reflect on the need to envelop elements of the locality within their scheme.

Media Room in Adare Manor designed by Kim Partridge. Photo by Jack Hardy
Media Room in Adare Manor designed by Kim Partridge. Photo by Jack Hardy

Boxx Creative spend a week on-site as a guest. "Being on-site at the hotel and travelling around the area enabled us to fully immerse ourselves in the region and locality." Boxx goes on to explain that this research manifests itself in the selection of textiles, surfaces and colour palette for a scheme.

We've seen a growing trend for hotels that truly reflect their surroundings, with projects such as Puro in Krakow and Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa seamlessly embedding the roots of the surrounding area within the scheme to give the hotel - new or old - a sense of belonging and a more meaningful guest experience.

Boxx Creative planning their scheme for Italian hotel.
Boxx Creative planning their scheme for Italian hotel.

Designing for the few, not the many

So you have a starting point, but how do you translate this into a design that successfully caters to the individual tastes and requirements of so many guests? This question was soon dismissed by all four designers, as they explain you are designing for a certain 'type' of person.

"I am not sure that this is quite the case. At the outset, the client should know if we are designing for the current guest base or a different guest profile" Kim says. Boxx goes one step further, highlighting that this is really a branding exercise. "The interiors we create for our client’s business and brands do not need to appeal to everyone. Instead, we ensure they are desirable and relevant to the wants and needs of their target market."

With the trend to ever more personalised hotel experiences, a tribe culture has emerged. When people travel, they’re now looking to stay in places that look and feel like them. As Kim points out, and the other designers agree:

That at the core, all hospitality projects should be designed with the same leitmotif – to help guests feel like they belong.- Kim Partridge, Kim Partridge Interiors.

This means that with a hotel brief you can get a good grip of who your real client is and build up a picture of them in a way analogous to a residential project.

Alexandra also points out that the scale of the hotel operation has a huge part to play in deciding how far you can push the brief. "If it’s a small hotel, a different approach is usually advisable, these hotels can set themselves apart from the hotel chains through innovative design." Whereas she suggests, bigger hotels need to fill rooms and so opt for a more conservative approach that appeals to the many, not the few.

Kim, Nicola and Nicola highlight that a good approach for such projects is to create a layered design. At the core, you target the ideal individual - and then you soften the design, so that every guest can identify with some element of the space.

1880 Restaurant at Hotel Capital Plaza in Bucharest, by Alexandra Henry, I Love Colours Design Studio
1880 Restaurant at Hotel Capital Plaza in Bucharest, by Alexandra Henry, I Love Colours Design Studio

Design Delivery

We can't help but assume that hospitality projects require more manpower than a typical residential project. Our designers both agree and disagree with this assumption; Nicola and Nicola from Boxx sum this up perfectly - "Although hotel projects are typically much larger in size than residential projects, they don’t require as much resource as you may initially think. Unlike a residential house where every room requires a different design, layout, furniture, lighting and accessories, hotels have specific room types, but regardless of the room type - standard double, twin or single rooms, deluxe rooms and suites - these rooms benefit from the same layout, and trimmings. Your furnishings and design style run throughout. Therefore, less design work is required per sq.ft. for a hotel than a residential project of the same size."

Concept board created for boutique hotel in Italy by Boxx Creative
Concept board created for boutique hotel in Italy by Boxx Creative

Kim and Alexandra also emphasise the need for collaboration when it comes to delivering large scale hotel schemes. Working in partnership with others and sharing knowledge allows for greater results, and also helps leverage the manpower available on a project. We've seen similar approaches on other large-scale projects with great results, such as workplace designs.

However, this does dispel one of the myths surrounding hospitality design - namely, that only large studios can deliver such projects. If you can mobilise effective collaborations - as all these designers have - no project is off limits.

Adare Manor bedroom suite, complete with living area. Designed by Kim Partridge. Photo by Jack Hardy
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Adare Manor bedroom suite, complete with living area. Designed by Kim Partridge. Photo by Jack Hardy

The Ticking Clock

An interesting aspect of hospitality design is timescales. Nicola and Nicola state "It’s not unusual for large hotel projects to last for three to five years, so as a designer you have to be very patient to see the project through to its completion. This can be one of the biggest differences compared with residential design projects. Undertaking such long-term projects can affect cash flow and have a serious impact on accounting. All four designers supplement large projects with smaller ones in order to maintain a revenue stream; but, when the project is actually in motion, the design and installation timescales can be short and sharp.

Boxx is currently working on a hotel in Italy that has two key seasons - summer (primarily for hikers and explorers) and winter (primarily for skiers and winter sports enthusiasts). This gives them small, three-month windows in which to design and install their scheme - so they phase the projects accordingly: bedrooms and leisure facilities come first, followed by a later phase where the bar, restaurant and gardens are completed.

Hotel restaurant design by I Love Colours Design Studio
Hotel restaurant design by I Love Colours Design Studio

Kim's recent project at Adare Manor took a different approach - they gave her just eight months to deliver an entire refurbishment scheme. The cadence of a hospitality project can, therefore, differ significantly from a residential scheme - short, sharp bursts of activity followed by periods of quiet - which is definitely something for designers to consider at the outset of a project.

What makes it worthwhile

All our designers agree it comes down to tangibility - unlike residential projects, the designer can actually enjoy the fruits of their labour for themselves. Kim reminisces about her realisation that she'd fallen in love with hospitality design. "I saw a guest kick off her shoes and curl up on a sofa in Adare Manor’s Great Hall. Surrounded by 180-year-old neo-Gothic grandeur, she felt she belonged in the design, she was at home."

There is something really exciting about designing a small hotel, you can try out interesting ideas, be bold and give it a lot of character. - Alexander Henry, I Love Colours Design Studio

So do our designers have a preference between hospitality and residential design... and, more importantly, do they feel they have to make a choice between the two types?

For Nicola and Nicola from Boxx, the nature of their offering - a full creative package including strategy and branding - means they identify more closely with scalable commercial projects. However, "We certainly believe it is possible, and also highly beneficial, for design firms to do both hospitality and residential projects. Creatively, it is more interesting, challenging and also rewarding."

Residential project- Living room designed by Kim Partridge
Residential project- Living room designed by Kim Partridge

Kim Partridge admits there is something special about having your designs enjoyed by a large number of people, although she believes "it makes great sense to do both since there is now so much convergence between hospitality and residential design." Noting that, "Increasingly, hotels are seeking a less corporate, more homely and individual feel, while residential clients are finding inspiration in hotels that they want to be translated into their homes."

Residential project- Spa like master bathroom by Alexandra Henry, I Love Colours Design Studio
Residential project- Spa like master bathroom by Alexandra Henry, I Love Colours Design Studio

Alexandra also shares the same opinion - that having a portfolio of both residential and hospitality projects is no bad thing, although "There is something really exciting about designing a small hotel, you can try out interesting ideas, be bold and give it a lot of character. Residential projects are much more personal. They are a different experience but nevertheless equally satisfying for a designer.”

In conclusion...

This all goes to show that designers are opting for variety in their work, and with an ever- growing number of eclectic portfolios, there are few projects perceived to be off limits for individuals and studios alike.

Dining Hall at Adare Manor by Kim Partridge Interiors. Photo by Jack Hardy
Dining Hall at Adare Manor by Kim Partridge Interiors. Photo by Jack Hardy

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into the world of hospitality design, we'll leave you with a pearl of wisdom from Kim, who says: "Learn how to listen to the client. Learn how to feel like the guest."

With over 40,000 hospitality grade products available on eporta, there are products to suit every scheme, start sourcing today.

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