Feeling at ease, be you in an airport lounge, hotel or cinema, is hugely dependent on your surroundings. As these examples from around the world illustrate, intuitive interiors are a crucial part of the hospitality experience.
When it comes to airport lounges, business travellers have seen it all before: the functional furniture, soulless buffet and general froideur of modern airport architecture. What’s been missing is the warmth and character that frequent fliers so clearly crave. Please then raise your gold cards to Cathay Pacific and its new lounge at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. In the hands of London design firm Studioilse the lounge format has finally been moved out of airport-land limbo to a comfortable place that offers travellers a proper respite from life on the road.
“We really thought a lot about what a lounge is today,” says studio head Ilse Crawford. “They’re used most by people who travel like hell, the foot soldiers of the corporate world, and we had to think about addressing their needs.” Everyone agreed that lounges – and public spaces in general – tend to lack warmth. “Design either says ‘I care’ or ‘I don’t care’ and people can read that very easily,” says Crawford. “We wanted this to feel like a properly furnished room with real materials that age beautifully and pieces that will last.” The scene is set with rich cherry wood on the walls, soft grey limestone for the floors and occasional touches of bronze.
Crawford’s well-earned reputation has been forged on her ability to create enveloping spaces that people fall in love with (and frequently try to recreate). That includes everywhere from Soho House to the Ett Hem hotel in Stockholm. True to form there are some classic pieces in here: Dieter Rams’ 620 chair from Vitsoe – “Just so obviously right for an airport lounge” – and Eero Saarinen’s Womb chair from Knoll, covered in a tweedy fabric by Raf Simons for Kvadrat. The attractive wooden side tables, with drawers that slide out to reveal hidden plug sockets, were designed in the studio. “We want things to work properly but that doesn’t mean they have to look functional.”
The wooden walls require little adornment but the team hit on the bright idea of using textiles by Samiro Yunoki, the wonderful Japanese mingei (folkcraft) artist who, in his nineties, has been enjoying a fresh burst of fame with an exhibition at the Musée Guimet in Paris. “Craft has always been the perfect foil for modernism,” says Crawford. “They go together like a horse and carriage.”
Large windows on three sides offer stunning daytime views over one of the world’s busiest airports but the atmospheric lighting really comes into its own at night. Travellers will be happy to while away time perched at the bar, working on their laptops or munching on noodles. The signature Cathay noodle bar here has been tiled in green in a nod to the company colour and is staffed by Hotel Okura chefs. Wearing stylish navy uniforms, said chefs serve freshly cooked dishes on tableware that Crawford’s team bought from Japanese supplier Noritake.
Toby Smith, Cathay’s general manager, product, is the man responsible for the overhaul of the lounges. “We wanted to get away from the feeling of a waiting room,” he says. “The idea was to make it more of a living room than an airport lounge.” Picking Studioilse, he adds, was an easy decision. “We were looking to work with someone who gets the human side of interiors. Ilse’s attention to detail is amazing. She even covered the metal window mullions in wood and it does make the difference.” The Haneda template will be rolled out in Manila in February, Bangkok in March and at The Pier lounge in Hong Kong in June.
Crawford, who also teaches at the Design Academy Eindhoven, is confident the design will work in different countries. “I often say that design is a frame for life that is completed by the people and the context. There has to be room to evolve and make it specific to the location.” Looking around, Crawford adds: “A feeling of warmth and durability, that’s the holy grail. I’m sure this lounge will look even better in 10 years.”
Cathay Pacific’s Haneda lounge restores the necessary humanity to airport design. Who wouldn’t prefer folkcraft textiles and wood to the usual marble and metal? Travellers will breathe a sigh of relief: finally a lounge that offers more than a functional space to pass time in transit.
Martin McDonagh founded Birmingham’s Heritage Silverware in 1975 after his former employer, renowned silverware manufacturer Elkington & Co, closed down. The young entrepreneur began drumming up business for traditional silverware by going from one five-star hotel to the next. “It was a sad but fortunate time,” says McDonagh, noting that the city’s once booming silverware industry had all but come to a screeching halt at the time. “There were once 8,000 people making silverware in Birmingham. Now we’re the last company with about 30 people.”
Recently rebranded as Heritage Collection, the company developed an expertise in supplying hotels such as The Ritz in London with classic cutlery and afternoon tea sets.
Yet when McDonagh’s daughter and son, Nathalie and Anthony, joined their parents in the family company six years ago, it turned a corner and began crafting fresh, contemporary designs as well. “They are complementing the Heritage classics with a more modern idiom,”
says McDonagh, who is confident that his children will lead the company into the future. “I’m Jurassic; they’ll be driving it along.” Everything from fine bone China to teapots and forks are handcrafted in the factory day in day out by 27 skilled artisans. “Almost all our clients have a different shape of teapot,” says McDonagh of Heritage Collection’s bespoke designs. It has supplied the Dorchester hotel with at least 900 customised items since 1976 and recently furnished London’s highest hotel, the Shangri-la at the Shard, with thousands of pieces of silverware. Alain Ducasse’s modern French haute cuisine restaurant at the Dorchester is also a client.
“I love working in the hospitality business – I wouldn’t want to be in any other industry,” says McDonagh. “It’s demanding but at the end of the day I value the dynamic quality in the work, the ethics and professionalism. The only problem is that hotels sometimes expect things to happen overnight.”
With a small-scale factory where everything is handmade that is sometimes too much to ask. But McDonagh has high expectations. By 2017 he hopes that Heritage Collection will be more than a factory: “We’ll be a destination with a brand new state-of-the-art factory, a museum, an auberge and restaurant.” Until then the McDonaghs will continue to cut out, stamp and polish one silver spoon at a time.
Connoisseurs in hospitality know they can depend on Heritage Collection, Birmingham’s last silver and tableware business that still manufactures everything in England. Renowned for its traditional designs, it is the secret weapon of London’s fanciest hotels.
A traditionally Aussie warm welcome has been at the creative heart of Melbourne firm Mim Design’s cosy spaces for the past 15 years. Founding director Miriam Fanning says injecting charm into a venue’s design is all about capturing the quirks of its owners’ personalities - and this only comes from strong and sincere relationships.
“When a client tells us they want to recreate the feeling of their grandmother’s kitchen that’s exactly what we’ll do,” says Fanning, referencing a colourful fit-out designed for Rozzi’s, an Italian restaurant in suburban Melbourne. “We went to great lengths to find the exact colour of yellow tile of her walls and designed olive-oil-bottle-shaped lights to reference the grandfather’s olive fields.”
By achieving a sense of authenticity Fanning says clients instantly feel at home in their new spaces and are inspired to deliver hospitality to match the warmth of their fit-out. Mim Design’s custom finishes range from sleek timber cabinetry and brass pipe shelving for upmarket menswear designer Joe Black, to an eclectic pastel tiled feature wall for a cult cupcake brand. Says Fanning: “We strive to design completely unique spaces for each venue because a space with distinct character will immediately envelope a customer.”
Fanning puts her firm’s success down to a simple philosophy: designing to suit the space, the product and the patron.
At Copenhagen coffee shop Coffeecollective the cabinets that make up its counter and service area are as important to its image as the coffee it serves. Hand made by cabinetmaker Garde Hvalsøe, they are functional but have been finished meticulously, with considered placement of each piece of American elm.
Formed 25 years ago, Garde Hvalsøe creates everything from domestic kitchens to high-end projects including a Turkish hammam, boardroom tables and furniture for the city’s Nykøbing Falster Biogra cinema. The company’s seven cabinetmakers work primarily with oak, ash, brass, leather, granite and marble. “We come from the tradition of modernist Danish furniture-making and like to work with natural materials,” says co-owner Søren Lundh Aagaard.
The results come at a cost that Lundh Aagaard is happy to acknowledge. “Everything we make is produced in Denmark. Doing things properly takes time and we don’t compromise. That makes us expensive. In some situations our approach might not be right but that’s OK: we’re not for everyone.”
Garde Hvalsøe’s focus on details, finishing and craftsmanship makes their pieces timeless.
“Cinemas need to change to stay relevant to their visitors,” says Central Saint Martins-educated designer Afroditi Krassa (pictured), briefed with revamping the UK’s iconic Curzon Cinemas chain. With cinema in her blood – her grandfather designed and operated a pioneering outdoor cinema in Thessaloniki, Greece – Krassa was just the person to breathe new life into an entertainment industry facing a fight to attract audiences blessed with numerous streaming and rental options. “Designers have played with cinema’s visual language but not the whole experience,” says Krassa, whose Curzon creations so far include the brand’s flagship in London Victoria and an 1890s warehouse conversion in Canterbury. “Cinemas don’t need to be designed in terms of bums on seats any more; there should be space to do other things.”
For Canterbury, in came a far larger foyer, a basement bar and a mezzanine space that offers free access to the cinema’s rich archive. “From retail to live music events and Q&As, my vision was to turn it into a cultural hub where people can come at different times of day and experience something for free.”
Creating an incentive to stay both before and after – or even in lieu of – the film has been central to the Curzon’s new relationship with today’s cinema-goer. The manager’s office at the new flagship is now a private screening room and Curzon Canterbury has been turned into a homely environment with snugs and a cosy library area. “The furniture was chosen ad hoc and not ‘designed’,” says Krassa. “It evolved to feel like a house.”
Echoes of cinema’s iconic heritage remain with red curtains, art deco styling and elegant tones playing a key part. To avoid the screening rooms having a “cookie-cutter” aesthetic, Krassa worked with a variable red palette and custom-designed seats were brought in: “They look like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey; their retro-futuristic feel has a proper cinema language to them.” Tables, space for wine coolers and double seats complete the modern Curzon experience.
Set to take the idea further this summer is the undoubted highlight of Krassa’s Curzon Canterbury design: the planned outdoor cinema. It’s an exciting step for the expanding cinema chain although when it comes to putting it in place, Krassa doesn’t feel her touch needs to be too heavy. “The idea of being immersed in a film and feeling free is very powerful,” she says. “You don’t really need to design the experience.”
With Krassa, the design language that has attracted generations of cinema-goers remains the star of the show.
“We start with one idea and then we add mistakes.” Such is the unorthodox method of Dimore Studio according to Emiliano Salci, the Tuscan designer who heads the company with Britt Moran (pictured, on right, with Salci), from North Carolina. Since 2003 the pair have distinguished themselves with their uncanny combinations of diverse design styles distilled into elegant spaces full of drama and atmosphere. The “mistakes” – an industrial lamp over an antique settee perhaps, or a 1960s globe lamp with an art deco desk – are the mix-ups that make the interiors so successful.
Their unique alchemy of colour, material and form relies on an expert mix of ingredients. Vintage furniture is transformed with rich materials: burnished brass, copper, marble or lacquer. Reupholstered chairs in gem-toned velvets contrast with walls in deep, chimerical colours that shift with the light. Sculptural lights echo Prouvé and Ponti.
This elaborate mosaic of elements adds up to a studied and spare luxury that is ever more in demand and has already led to collaborations with hoteliers Ian Schrager and Thierry Costes – and more recently with fashion duo DSquared2 – plus a restyling of the 1863 Grand Hotel et de Milan. At the latter, Dimore Studio injected warmth with touches like a space-age brass lamp by a satin-crowned antique bed.
Dimore Studio has worked across all sectors but it’s in hospitality where they are helping to define a new take on Italian glamour, which they are taking around the world. In May a hotel in Guadalajara opens with Dimore Studio interiors mixing French colonial style with some tropical Luis Barragán-esque elements. Later in the yearthe duo will complete the interiors for a new luxury hotel in the heart of Paris – a perfect match for today’s masters of understated opulence.
With its solid and sumptuous understanding of materials, Dimore Studio creates inviting and elegant interiors.
“We look after our ships from beginning to end ensuring that they’re safely sent out into the world,” says Siegfried Schindler, co-founder of Partner Ship Design, a Hamburg-based cruise ship design firm. “We are currently working on 10 projects from refurbishments to new constructions. Ships and their regulations are definitely more complex than other building projects; the process takes up to five years and it’s crucial that form follows function.”
Hapag-Lloyd hired the company to design its most contemporary model yet: the MS Europa 2. Over three years the team created the exterior and interiors, inspired by the hues of nature to create a classically good looking and innovative cruise vessel, all the while collaborating with experts in order to plan purpose-built and practical spaces.
“The majority of our creations are bespoke in-house designs,” says co-founder Kai Bunge (pictured, on right, with Schindler). “Our philosophy is to react to our client and create a quality holiday atmosphere with a focus on the technical execution of details.”
The MS Europa 2 has set the benchmark for floating modern elegance paired with state-of-the-art technology. The custom-made furniture, wooden room dividers and large veranda terraces give the ship a cosmopolitan atmosphere that resembles the hotels and restaurants of the cities it sails to.
What essentially sets apart Partner Ship Design from other firms is its breadth and its ability to tailor ships to the customer. “The cruise ship industry began to boom in the 1980s and 1990s,” says Schindler. “It’s an industry that grows 7 per cent every year. It’s positive for us and it’s exciting to be able to create designs that will sail the world’s oceans. We want our ships to be a festival of life.” To celebrate the firm’s 25th anniversary, its newest creations for Aida and Carnival will be unveiled in 2016.
The firm’s managers follow each project from start to finish and individually rack up over 270,000 air miles every year.
Hotel architecture of a 1960s ilk doesn’t come better than the lobby of the Hotel Okura in Tokyo. Built by Baron Kishichiro Okura on the site of a famed Edo-era estate in 1962, the Okura effortlessly brings together the dynamism of post-war Japan, the elegance of mid-century design and the warmth of Japanese craft.
It’s a thrilling alchemy: the paper-and-wood screens, circular armchairs and custom-designed pendant lanterns all come together to create the overall picture. Baron Okura, a renowned collector of Japanese art, dreamed of building a luxury modern hotel for Tokyo but every shape and colour was a reference to traditional Japan. Of course it helped that the creative players were a group of brilliant individuals that included architect Yoshiro Taniguchi and pioneering ceramicist Kenkichi Tomimoto. Such a commission would never happen today.
Presidents and royalty have long favoured the Okura and men with discreet ear-pieces and dark suits are as much a feature of the lobby as the attendants in kimonos. The small newspaper kiosk, the Seiko world clock and even the washrooms are all of a piece. Stray beyond the lobby and you will find the Orchid Room restaurant – where waiters can still prepare a tableside crêpe suzette with aplomb – and the Orchid Bar, which has a smoky old-school glamour.
It’s a rare experience to walk into an unadulterated modernist interior – particularly in Tokyo – but the Okura lobby continues to offer one to visitors on a daily basis. Quite how it has survived so long in a city that thrives on change and construction is a mystery. That said, hurry to see this exceptional place: it will be demolished later this year.
The Hotel Okura lobby has it all: great design, comfortable chairs and an unmistakable sense of being in Japan.