David T’Kint, Partner at HBA Dubai, writes about the challenges of accessorising hotel interiors and how adding the finishing touches can give a sense of place.
Over the years, hotels have been considered a place to stay for business or leisure travellers. As most of us experienced the evolution of the industry in the past decade or so, the approach of creating a home-away-from-home has emerged, in response to the guests’ quest for authenticity and a sense of comfort.
In line with what one would expect in a residential space, pieces of furniture, light fittings and art – decorative accessories are now expected to provoke a certain character, give charm to the spaces, create a sense of familiarity and vary throughout the hotel spaces – away from the previous corporate looks.
Decorative accessories are a collection of objects which set a scene and give a sense of place. For example, a rational coffee pot will immediately put the guest into a Middle Eastern mood, or an orange blossom scented ceramic flower transports the guest to Medina of Tunis. They add charm and advocate a sense of invitation and hospitality.
One of my more recent experiences is the Four Seasons Hotel in Abu Dhabi. At some point, somewhat late in the project, the developer and operator approached me asking to look at the decorative accessories collection throughout the hotel, which had been overlooked. It had to happen fast in order to comply with project schedule constraints. However Four Seasons would not just accept something quickly put together.
The real challenge, in addition to obviously meeting the standards of the highly regarded hotel brand, was to tell a story. My approach to any project is establishing a concept narrative; this is an essential component of its success. Opening random catalogues to designate selections based on my personal taste is the exact opposite of what my teams and I do. The goal is not to be thematic, rather to create a storyline based on various aspects such as location, culture, history and brand identity, traditions and owner’s vision, amongst others.
I worked closely with Canvas, which is the art consultancy owned by HBA, as I believe art and decorative accessories are an intricate part of interior design, and these elements can make the entire hotel an inviting journey.
Creating such a collection goes far beyond going to the local shops and markets to accessorise the hotel – that would be the easy and expected approach. To make something interesting and not seen everywhere else, HBA and Canvas teamed up to approach this with a different point of view. Four Seasons pushed me to put something together which tied in furniture selection, artwork collection and decorative accessories.
Abu Dhabi is a relatively young city in which history is actually happening now. Researching the past is a challenge specifically due to the Nomadic nature of historical tribes. We, therefore, looked into the lifestyle rather than culture only. Part of this were critical components such as star gazing and its ties to religion, the atmosphere and characteristics of the souks, and the pearl business. Another aspect was the geographical setting of Abu Dhabi with its islands surrounded by water. We looked at all these aspects of the local lifestyle and used them as the basis of the inspiration to create the narrative.
Once the story was set, I started looking at placing the decorative accessories by sculpting and layering the various spaces. It is key for all of these to appear as curated collections; not just random pieces put together. With my team, I went to the site and identified the volumes of each space to understand what to put where, and create clusters which related to the function of these areas. For example, candles would not be placed in an all-day-dining cluster, rather in a spa corridor to set a certain mood.
Creating moments is another very important aspect. I have to step into the guests’ shoes and imagine his experience going through the hotel. Where is he going to stop? What do I want him to focus on? What do I want him to avoid? Sculpting the volumes and creating clusters defines moments during which we ground the eye of the guest on to something specific, on purpose.
Books are both a creative and intellectual component which contribute to the residential impression. No house can be imagined without the company of books. Similarly to the objects, a collection of books is created around a subject – for the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, this was simply the UAE. HBA and Canvas worked with a specialist supplier to ensure the aesthetic quality of each book, in addition to the content quality. The size and colour of the cover are important when books are part of a cluster.
Finally, a curated decorative accessories collection is a sensorial experience. Most guests will look at them, however some will also touch or smell them. Using the right textures to express luxury and sophistication is important. When scent is used in objects, it has to be well balanced and discreet.
Finding a fine balance between a certain residential nonchalance and a real sense of proportion is the secret. It really creates the final touch, somewhat like a woman who wears a gorgeous dress and goes through the delicate exercise of selecting the right jewellery.
The art of decorative accessories is a growing trend in the luxury as well as the mid-tier segments of hospitality, and the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi is a shining example of the movement.