Cathay Pacific's new Hong Kong airport lounge: less macho, more 'human-friendly'
First class customers will find a space arranged like a private apartment, says its designer, Ilse Crawford, and including 'a really good cocktail bar'
A flight delay at Hong Kong International Airport might have just become an appealing prospect - if you are flying Cathay Pacific first class and have access to the carrier's new lounge, created by London-based design firm Studioilse.
"We asked ourselves, 'Why would a passenger go into a lounge when some are like being in the office with school dinners attached?'" says studio founder Ilse Crawford, who spent time at airport lounges studying travellers and staff. "Some use the space for 20 minutes, others for hours," she says.
Crawford made her name in 1989 as the founding editor of British Elle Decoration before going on to launch Donna Karan Home in New York. She established Studioilse in 2001 and has since worked on a series of high-profile interiors, including the Ett Hem hotel in Stockholm, Duddell's restaurant-art gallery in Hong Kong, and a line of craft-inspired furniture for Ikea.
For The Pier, Crawford drew on her experience of home design to arrange the 2,000 square metre space around the idea of a private apartment, with a spacious entrance that leads to a lounge, dining room and cosy library. The layout is so intuitive Crawford says signage is almost superfluous.
"We have just gone through a century where everything is about measurable things like time and functionality. I wanted to bring the immeasurable things back into the mix so you get a sense of place again."
That probably includes things like feeling just right: the lounge features a wellness area, where head and foot massages are offered. Passengers can also retreat to a walnut-clad private room complete with a day bed, reading lamp and views of the runway.
"We thought about ways to add status like replacing rows of food on a table with a restaurant, adding a collection of Asian art, and a really good cocktail bar," Crawford says.
The designer says she was especially keen to move away from the "macho" club ambience that permeates many airline lounges. "It was not about making it female-friendly but human-friendly."
This called for an investment in what Crawford calls "proper" furniture and lighting, including a recent reissue of the Clover Leaf sofa, designed by Verner Panton in 1969. Studioilse also worked with Knoll to refine the proportions of The Metre Chair to provide solo travellers with a greater sense of privacy in a public space.
"The function is implicit in any space but you shouldn't stop there," Crawford says. "So we develop it into a space you can enjoy being in rather than being desperate to get out as fast as possible."
The biggest design challenge was how to balance a sense of luxury with materials that could withstand usage by about 800 passengers a day.
"Surfaces have to be beautiful and durable so for some of the walls we used a matte green onyx, which is also a reference to Cathay Pacific's corporate colours," she says.
Elsewhere, walnut on the ceiling of the dining room and along the face of the cocktail bar helps reduce noise in these busier zones.
"Luxury has to be about meaning, purpose and integrity," Crawford says. "That way the lounge will look as good, if not better, five years from now."