Kirk Nix creates hotel interiors in Macau that preserve sense of provenance

Designer responsible for creating the interiors of the Venetian, the Conrad, the Holiday Inn, and the Sheraton Grand Cotai says his approach is based around preserving a sense of history in a way that encourages guests to linger

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 12:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 12:11pm

DESIGNER Kirk Nix has been behind some pretty spectacular projects: his sweeping update of the 24,000 sq ft Bel Air home, Liongate, once owned by country singer Kenny Rogers, saw it being sold last year for US$46 million.

Then there was his rendering of the Italian Renaissance-inspired Hadrian Villa, a 12,000 sq ft supersuite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas that comes with its own verdant private garden and grand indoor fountain.

And Nix, the founder of KNA Design headquartered in Los Angeles, is overseeing the design of a California home for an Asian billionaire that will be about 70,000 sq ft.

So Nix, clearly, knows a thing or two about scale – which makes him the ideal designer for the towering hotel edifices that are increasingly defining the Macau landscape. He was behind the designs of the Venetian, the Conrad, the Holiday Inn, and the Sheraton Grand Cotai – the latter of which, with its 4,001 rooms, is Macau’s largest hotel.

Given the demographic of Nix’s typical private residential client – well-heeled, extremely sophisticated, often owning multiple homes – his aesthetic is understandably luxurious. In working with major global hotel chains, he had to synthesise that vision with a more corporate one, while simultaneously pulling in something to fit the local environment.

“We had to keep the hotels as international as possible, and to adhere to their standards, while still having a little bit of provenance,” Nix says. “We tried really hard to [allow] guests to have an experience they couldn’t get somewhere else, taking some of our inspiration from old ideas and transferring them to the draperies, the artwork.”

Nix and his team took motifs reminiscent of Macau’s colonial Portuguese legacy, such as the patterns found on tiles and leather dating back as far as the 17th and 18th centuries, and transferred them onto carpets and draperies. He infused them with bright colours, to help make them “a little livelier for a casino environment.

“The idea is to keep people awake for 24 hours,” Nix says. “We have to keep in mind that it’s a casino, and most people in there have a short attention span. Good design is about capturing your audience and keeping them at your resort because if they get bored they’ll move on to the next one.”

The guest rooms, of course, are something of another story, needing to impart a relaxing and restful state, and had to be rendered in shades in keeping with the aesthetic and branding of the property; at the Conrad, these include tranquil teal and aquamarine, while at the Holiday Inn, a neutral beige palette in the rooms is enlivened by pops of coral.

The way something is designed should encourage someone to linger, to explore
Kirk Nix

Nix says his approach is to create interiors “in a language that anyone and everyone could understand – especially the Chinese nationals. You have to understand your audience, to know who is coming here, that they will enjoy it and walk away but still have memories of something being tasteful.” Those little cultural touches are everywhere: the Conrad suites boast a panel above the credenza – which holds the flat screen TV – featuring a delicate painting of a peach blossom on a gilt background.

The modern, luxurious aesthetic is a look that Nix has honed well over the decades. He has been an interior designer for 35 years, working initially with Atlanta-based Stan Topol. He eschews the trendier aspects of design, inclining towards interiors in classic overtones that can last for years, instead of those that a client might tire of in a year. His designs at The Park Residence in Taichung, for example, feature velvet furniture the colour of pale cognac and mahogany wood.

“Design should be a series of seamless experiences,” he says. “The way something is designed should encourage someone to linger, to explore.”

Because Nix wanted each of his Macau hotel projects to have a completely different vibe, he assigned separate teams to each one.

“The teams all presented to one another, but were acutely aware of what the other teams were doing,” he says. “Each one had to have a unique approach. There can’t be any overlap that will result in a generic look, because that will miss the point.”

Although Nix has visited Macau at least 30 times to oversee the various projects, he has also been able to check in remotely.

“In this day and age, technology is so great that when I couldn’t be there we would just video conference. It’s so simple and straightforward. We have zoom cameras so powerful you can zero in on finishes and drawings and get a real sense of where everything is. The only downside is that we only start our conference calls at 5pm or 6pm, when it’s morning in Macau, and then we don’t finish till 11pm.”

For his Conrad project, virtually all the furniture, lighting and fabrications were custom-designed, and fabricated in mainland China, based on drawings from Nix and his team. Those endeavours also required additional visits to mainland China to see the production in its raw state.

Still, despite the distance from Los Angeles to Macau, Nix enjoys working and travelling there. The similarities to Las Vegas are oddly comforting to him, he says – and the gathering interest in celebrity chefs and restaurants in the former Portuguese enclave is yet another draw. Ever-bigger acts continue to flock to this vibrant, busy city.

“It’s very Westernised now, but still has its own unique flavour,” says Nix. “I just wish that the sun could come out more often.”