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All the King’s men

All the King’s men

Naia Stuyck

Naia Stuyck is a descendant of famous Flemish tapestry maker, Jacobo vandergoten, former director of the renowned spanish factory, The Real Fábrica de Tapices

Some would say design runs in Naia Stuyck’s blood because she is the descendant of Jacobo Vandergoten, a renowned master tapestry maker of Antwerp, who moved his family to Madrid in the 18th century.

King Felipe V appointed Vandergoten as director of The Real Fábrica de Tapices founded in 1721. The factory was formed on the model of the Royal Factories set up in France at the beginning of the 17th century.

The King wanted to create a strong national industry so that Spain would not have to depend on the imports of French or Flemish products and the Spanish monarchy became the promoter of one of the longest-surviving tapestry factories in history. Today, it continues to produce works that are just as refined as they were 300 years ago.

Stuyck has always been interested in painting, colours, textures and design. She graduated in interior architecture at the Polytechnic University of Madrid in 2001 and has been working in the industry for over 10 years.

She joined Hyatt Hotels as design manager, working from its regional office in DIFC, Dubai, four months ago.

What is it like working as an in-house interior designer for Hyatt Hotels?
Working with Hyatt is a great professional opportunity as I am able to do what I love. I am at the heart of the hotel design process, I review designs, conduct site inspections, meet hotel owners and consultants and I learn something new every day.

What I like the most about working for a big hotel group is that I can be a part of the experience of creating designs for venues worldwide and getting to see how the end result can inspire a certain mood in people. In hospitality every detail counts, from the food and the decor when eating in a signature restaurant to the feeling you get when you open the door to your room, everything has to be well thought out and work in harmony with one another.

I feel lucky that I can work with people who know how to make this become a reality. Engineers, architects, contractors and hotel operations work together to ensure each product is delivered the way it is expected. Working for Hyatt offers me the possibility of being involved in two industries I enjoy: design and hospitality. I am honoured to work for such a prestigious hotel group.

How did you get the job at Hyatt Group and what did you do prior to the role?
I have been working in the industry for the past 10 years in Spain, the UK and the Middle East. I graduated in Spain and worked in a small studio doing residential projects in Madrid and Bilbao, which was a real eye opener when dealing with clients and contractors on-site.

Soon after, I moved to London where I worked on various projects including hospitals, educational and civic buildings, private residences, offices and hotels, until I found my niche in the hospitality sector.

I had the opportunity to work for firms such as John McAslan + Partners and David Collins. At David Collins I had my first taste of a hotel project which was the London, NYC. After this experience I was set. Hospitality was my thing.

After five years in London I thought it was time for a change and moved to Dubai. I came here to work for Woods Bagot and after this GAJ architects.

I have been involved in hotel design on projects such as the Kempinski, Inter Continental and St Regis Hotels.
After working on hotel projects for most of my career and gaining experience as a consultant and on the client side, I felt the next natural step was to work for one of the top hotel groups.

After completing a site supervision of the St. Regis Hotel in Abu Dhabi, a friend in the industry informed me that Hyatt was recruiting for its regional office in Dubai. I had an interview for the job and was delighted to get hired.

What do you have to do and what have you worked on?
My role as a design manager is to provide guidance to the owners and owner’s consultants to ensure that Hyatt design standards are implemented in all our projects, We review and oversee the designs to make sure nothing is left to chance. From the entrance and landscaping to the back of house, building materials, lighting, colour palette, and everything in between.

Last week for example, I was finalising the room count and configuration, room interconnection and suite layouts for one of the projects I work on. Each hotel is different due to client requirements, local culture and building conditions. For example, some hotels in India must be designed according to the Vastu regulations (similar to Feng Shui).

Each component of a hotel must work together to create a unique product that enables us to offer the best guest experience.

What has been your favourite project to date?
I really enjoyed designing the InterContinental Hotel in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, when I was working at GAJ architects. I had the opportunity to start designing the hotel from the very beginning of the project under the direction of my friend and colleague, Adrian Currie, from whom I have learnt more about hotels than from anyone else in my career.

His vision, creativity and the way he approaches the design of a project has been the best professional lesson ever. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose any information about the Hyatt Group projects due to a confidentiality agreement.

Working with good designers is a fantastic professional experience. I would like to have the opportunity to work with designers whose work I admire and have not worked with before, like the Spanish designer Lazaro Rosa Violan, who I follow closely.

What do you find are the main challenges in the industry today?
As a hospitality interior designer, the real challenge is to create a high quality design which is timeless. Good design for example in fashion is something you see now and will be selling soon after.

With hotels, you have to design something which will be built after three or four years and has to stand the test of time for many years after that.

A good way of doing this is always being more conservative with the interior architecture and to be more creative or trendy with elements which can be easily replacead.

Hospitality design is about taste and style and not fad and fashion. As a designer you can find inspiration in almost anything around you, from fashion, to a movie, magazine or just a conversation, but being able to translate and materialise it into a design which will last many years is a challenge.

As a hotel operator, the major challenge is not only to be innovative but to get the right balance of art, functionality and good craftsmanship.

Good design is a collaborative team effort and you need the right balance to create a good product. If any of these elements are not right, the product will either not appeal to people, not work or simply not last.

What are you working on now?
I am working on four new hotels in India, one in the GCC and some remodels. This gives me great exposure to different cultures and, by doing so, I have the chance to work with renowned consultants from all over the world like Hirsch Bedner or Wilsons Associates, who always bring something new to the table.

I like seeing how the projects progress throughout the different stages and I look forward to seeing the final results.

What are the differences between being employed in-house as opposed to working for a large design firm?
When you work in-house you get to be involved in the project from the very early stages of the process, i.e. you are coming up with the initial concept and ‘spark’ for which the rest of the creative process is based on.

You get to see, understand and be a part of the whole process, from the initial conception until the hotel opening. It is a different approach altogether as we do not design but guide the process.

We also review and analyse potential new projects. When working in-house you have to juggle many projects at the same time.

With a design firm you are more hands on as you are the one designing the architectural space, choosing finishes and specifying furniture following the guidance given to you by your client and hotel operator.

When working as a design consultant you start your concept according to the brief given, from this the project moves into design development and design schematic always seeking approvals from owners and operators. You are very likely to be involved in one or two projects full-time.

What do you look forward to most?
I am lucky that with my job I have the ability to travel and work with different people in the various projects I am involved in.

I’d go crazy if I had to do something that is not creative and repetitive every day. I love travelling to exotic destinations and exploring hotels, learning about design and the historic architecture of each place. One of my favourite destinations for its architecture, colours and inspiration is Morocco.

I am passionate of its architecture and its Riads , like the Dar Seven which is a small boutique hotel hidden in the medina or the amazing Palais Rhoul Hotel in Marrakech.

Aside from my professional career, I would like to combine hotel design with my passion for travelling, property, design and furniture. I have always been interested in the grandeur of old hotels. In the 1930s my grandfather owned the National Hotel in Madrid, a beautiful property with art deco style interiors in the heart of the old town. It always felt magical when I heard anything about it and it is something I have a passion for.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do the same job as you working for a big hotel chain?
One of the biggest challenges we face today to get the job we want, is the high level of competition.

For the kind of job that we do in a hotel it is important to have a variety of experience that enables you to stand out and understand the process of what you do. In our case this would be from architectural to site experience, working as a contractor or a supplier.

What I find difficult in our industry is that we have to learn as the market changes and evolves and we have to be constantly updated of the latest trends and developments.

As an avid traveller and an observer I always sneak into hotels when I am visitng sdifferent countries and ask to be shown around by the hotel staff.

I always try to stay somewhere new and I was amazed when I recently went to the Crosby Street Hotel in NY, designed by Kit Kemp.

It helped me to understand what is important from the viewpoint of the guest in terms of their personal experience and is my starting point whenever I have to review a design, spa layout or bathroom fitting. I believe, observing and being curious is an important quality which is reflected in our work and essential to our profession.

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