You spend most of your time travelling. Do you enjoy that part of the job? "I grew up in Tasmania, which is a sweet, sleepy island state south of mainland Australia. It's pretty isolated. So from an early age, my parents were adamant that [their children] get out and explore the world beyond the borders of Tasmania. I see the connection between that and designing and creating spaces around the world."
Why did you decide to specialise in hotel design? "We started the company in 1988. We were a group of guys out of Cornell [University] and our backgrounds were in real estate, finance and hotel operations, not just design. Our view was firms that focus on just the aesthetics are in the past. We are all about the guest experience, trying to create an authentic experience depending on where the hotel is. That approach was always intriguing to me, way beyond the concepts of aesthetics and functionality."
How does that relate to your Hong Kong projects? "We worked on the revamp of The Peninsula Hong Kong in 2012. There was a sensitivity because of the landmark value of the property. We like to think we created a subtle [Chinese] chic that invites guests to relive a bygone era of travel."
What has been your most challenging project? "That would be the Al Faisaliah Rosewood Hotel, a five-star resort in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We had to work across several continents. The hotel company is based in Dallas, the property owners in Saudi Arabia, the designer in South Africa, and our vendors were in Dubai, Italy and several other countries. The project was large in scope, encompassing furnishings, fixtures and equipment for the guest rooms, royal suites, villas, some of the restaurants and the majority of the public areas."
Most designers have a specific aesthetic. Do you? "Fifteen or 20 years ago, hotels were all about delivering a consistent product, no matter where you were. A hotel of a particular group would look very similar in Australia or California or China. But we've become more evolved and sophisticated. Hotel customers today want a more authentic, local, indigenous experience. Which means hotel designers should be cultural anthropologists of sorts."
Where haven't you worked that you would like to? "Now that I have been out of Tasmania and seen the world, I would love to return and create a destination for travellers to experience that lovely, sleepy place I called home."
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