Exit through the terminal

When CID met Andrew Linwood, Head of Design at Areen Hospitality, the man seemed to naturally emanate a candid charm.

It seems that Andrew Linwood always had his feet firmly planted on ground, no matter what direction he was heading off to. Having started his career at Richmond International, an exclusively five-star and above design company owned by Areen Design Services, Linwood didn’t take long before he was spearheading his own fraction.

While at Richmond, Linwood experienced working on projects around the world – a taste that would later prove unquenchable, bringing the designer around to both popular and remote regions to work on airports and hotels. But he noticed there was a void in the market, a void he would take upon himself to soon fill.

“During all my years of working in Asia, I used to get a lot of calls, and they’d say, ‘Right, Andrew [there’s] a project in India,’ and then I’d send them a proposal out from London and I’d never hear from them again because, frankly it was four times the price,” Linwood begins.

“So I kept talking to our managing director, saying there’s an awful lot of business in Asia. My wife is polish, so I’m very familiar with Eastern Europe. And I’d tell my partner, we should be targeting Eastern Europe and he wouldn’t go for it.

As far as he was concerned it was all China or the U.S., but it was clear that the market wanted something that we could call ‘Richmond Light’. [Potential clients] liked the professional interior design services that we could offer, but they didn’t like the price.

So, we had to find a way to do that, and we couldn’t call it Richmond because that would dilute the name. But there’s a huge market for projects five-star and below that’s not really targeted by the big design houses, because it’s just not economical.

“For them, basically, if you think about a Savile Row tailed suit, it’s expensive because it’s handmade and there’s a lot of attention to detail, but a lot of projects don’t need that. I’m not saying that we’re off the peg; we don’t recycle stuff. But the way we do it—well, it isn’t magic.”

Linwood and Areen Design Services launched Areen Hospitality in August 2008. With a focus on hotels and commercial projects, Areen Hospitality began introducing an array of services that hadn’t previously been offered by many big international companies. Linwood explains: “What we’re doing is offering two different design houses from one [parent company] to target different sectors in the market. From my experience, we’ve covered all of it.”

With the creative team based in London and the production based in cities like Delhi and Cairo, the cost of the services was chopped by an incredible amount. And though 2008 offered poor timing to start a new company, Linwood explains that three projects in Saudi Arabia saw the company through.

But with the design team in London and the projects located around the world, one wonders how the design team at Areen Hospitality remain respectful of different cultures.

When CID asked how the company combined inherent British styling with other tastes, Linwood uninhibitedly replied: “The answer is we don’t. We’re an international design company, which means we have international experience. We travel all the time, we stay in hotels and airport lounges all over the world. So, we really don’t combine British taste or style unless it’s in the brief. We’re interior designers—we’ll design what’s required.

“When we design hotels in particular, we like to give them a sense of place and most of the international operators would want that these days. There was a time when Sheraton wanted their hotels the same whether you were in Dallas or Dushanbe, but these days, they want some elements of local culture.

So we try to do that, rather than doing the typical arch, for example if it was out in the Middle East, we’d use the colours, textiles and the artwork in particular. The artwork is a great way to get the flavour of the culture in the design. Aping architectural styles is not really what we’d like to do.”

While still in its infancy, Areen Hospitality has managed to work on a number of projects and has already built an impressive portfolio.

From big brand names like Sheraton, to hotels that lodge pilgrims during their holy trip to Mecca, Linwood’s team has encountered various challenges like balancing the relationship between the operator and client, and developing design solutions to accommodate thousands of people at once.

And it’s this dynamic nature of his work that keeps Linwood on his feet, always searching for his next big project.

The team at Areen Hospitality loves to travel and experience new cultures, explains Linwood, and it seems that they’re led by the right person. Linwood notes: “It’s all about going to places that are undeveloped. I have a meeting with someone about a project in South Sudan.

I thought I’d love to go there, I’d love to see it … I like to go to all these places that people can’t usually go to and the fact that I can get paid while doing so is pretty good.
And as I said, building and taking some of that [culture] and putting it into a hotel that’s distinctive to that area without resorting to kitsch, poppy, Disneyland—well that’s what we’re trying to do.”

From the Sheraton in Zagreb, Croatia, to the Swissôtel in Bangalore, India, Areen Hospitality has taken its services around the world, with one of their latest projects to be their second airport.

Linwood explains: “We’re designing our second airport now. We did one in Senegal, which is quite a small airport mostly for pilgrims going on Hajj. The new one we’re working on is in Jeddah and it’s enormous. They call it a new terminal, but it’s really a new airport. We had to go from a staff of 3 to 300, and we had to hire airport specialists.

“We took the design concept from the architect and it was a shell then, and we’ve developed absolutely everything inside this terminal. We’re not only designing it, we’re supplying it. A big part of Areen’s business is procurement.”

Linwood describes modern airports as “sheds”, hinting at the fact that their design is highly driven by their function. Travellers arrive, circle through retail and exit through the terminal.

Any sort of creative expression can be enjoyed by the designers while creating the lounges, whereas for the rest of the airport, it’s left up to the retail tenants, as they’re the ones who add the colour, says Linwood.

Looking ahead, Areen Hospitality has a few exciting projects coming up including the new Four Points by Sheraton in the old city of Ibadan, Nigeria. A particularly special project for Linwood as he’ll be the creative one behind the pen and pad, the new Ibadan hotel is something the designer is looking forward to.

As CID began to wrap up the interview, one small detail was left unknown—we hadn’t quite understood what led Linwood into the world of design in the first place. Yet, in the designer’s forthcoming way, he explained: “Well there’s a funny thing.

When I was a child, I always said that I wanted to be an architect … I don’t remember why, and then I went off and did stuff. Then when I was about 21, I did the equivalent of running away to sea and went to Amsterdam. I ended up living there for six years; of course there was a girl in it, there always is.

“I ended up working in hotels and then after about three or four years, I had worked with the guy who was building the restaurants in the hotels … My dad was a contractor, so I knew about the building side of it, and I had done art college, so I started to design these things when I was 21 and I really enjoyed it.

When I got back to London, I went to university and got a degree in interior architecture. So now here I am, old and crusty and I’ve become what I wanted to be when I was a child. So that’s quite good, really.”

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