Nestled between the Al Hajjar mountain range and the Gulf of Oman, the ancient Islamic port of Sohar is steeped in history and the interior design of the recently opened Mercure hotel relies on this rich heritage. Giving it a strong sense of place, a 152-key hotel was designed by Dubai-based MMAC design.
Anil Mangalat, design director and partner at MMAC Design, tells Commercial Interior Design that the hotel was originally designed as an IBIS Styles three-star hotel, an Accor brand that is known for attracting a young clientele.
“The client decided to upgrade the hotel to a Mercure (four-star) after it was constructed. They felt that the hotel design justified the advancement in the category and had universal appeal with the makings of a successful destination,” explains Mangalat.
The design team found different ways to incorporate Omani tribal patterns, ethnic artwork and architectural photography within the interiors. Sohar is known as the mythical birthplace of Sinbad the Sailor, so the design team incorporated a series of illustrated wallpapers in the public areas to tell the tale of his seven journeys. An Austrian manufacturer 360 decoro produced high-quality digital prints for these areas, including guestrooms, reception, corridors and public toilets.
“We were inspired to use this piece of folklore to infuse the interior with a humorous theme,” Mangalat continues. “Working closely with the artist Lama Khatib Daniel (through Capsule Arts) we developed custom wallpapers depicting scenes from Sindbad’s adventures.”
Be it a whale or a cyclops, the story of Sinbad subtly works its way into the background. It visually unifies the public spaces under a central theme. A deliberate attempt was made to tone down the clutter and decoration in favour of clean lines and sleek forms so as to leave the emphasis on the graphic theme.
Mangalat explains that the architectural footprint of the building was very straightforward with a rectangular zoning of areas and functions.
“We believed we needed to add a twist to the layout to create an initial spark of interest. By introducing an angle in the interiors, we created an unexpected and dynamic re-alignment of the spaces,” he says.
Visitors to the hotel would first be met with a full view of the vibrant lobby lounge and café. The appeal of the brightly coloured and hip lounge café seating is further enhanced by the serene backdrop of the pool. The bold Omani patterns in the hand-tufted wool carpets add to the visual statement.
The café wall is lined with laminated glass panels with an etched Arabic pattern. Tucked away to the side, the reception pods are dressed in white Thasos marble and set against a themed background. A diamond shaped pattern has been etched into the front faces of the white counters adding a subtle sense of detail.
Meanwhile, the visitor’s attention might stray to the adjacent wall which is completely covered in text and illustrations from an interesting excerpt from the adventures of Sinbad.
Diametrically opposite the reception is the waiting lounge and business centre, giving the visitor access to business services. Accents of fuchsia and fig green set against shades of light grey and white, give the space more youthful and contemporary vibe. The monochromatic wallpaper carries the Sinbad storyline forward depicting a scene with large eagles in mid-flight carrying their rock-like eggs.
A central spine connects the conference rooms with the reception counters and the rest of the hotel. Clad in a warm grey porcelain tile, the path cuts straight through the tilted geometry of the plan and is easily distinguishable.
A series of angled light slits in the ceiling create a sense of movement and ushers one deeper into the hotel past the lift lobby and into the all-day dining restaurant. Keeping with the strong angles, the white marble floor extends obliquely into the space. The restaurant has been laid out with Eames chairs in white ABS plastic shells and alternating black and green seats. Iconic light fixtures have been introduced into the minimalist space laying an emphasis on the food staging area.
The hotel restrooms too have been designed to reflect the quirky nature of the hotel. The walls and floors are stark white with the only accents being hot pink coloured frames around the mirrors and oversized photographic prints on the walls.
The standard rooms feature hand-drawn wallpaper that spans the party wall above the headboard. Here too, the combination of fuchsia and green in the furnishings blend with the Arabic patterns to create an impression. The tone on tone pattern on the curtain fabric and the bed throw are reminiscent of those found on the Omani headdress.
“FF&E selections were made with a deliberate attempt to not over-decorate,” says Mangalat. “White makes up a large proportion of the colour palette, and as a result, the rooms feel refreshingly airy and clutter-free. The feather-grey-coloured Axminster carpet was designed with a refined striated pattern. Natural-oiled Oak veneer has been used on the joinery and brings warmth to the colour palette. The bed frames have been made in black electroplated steel and are flanked by stainless-steel reading lamps on either side.”
The en-suite bathroom features a custom-designed vanity counter. The vivid black pattern printed on glass makes a bold design statement and perfectly complements the matte white of the porcelain floor tiles.
Discussing the current trends in hospitality, Christian Merieau, managing director and partner at MMAC, says that there is a strong movement within the design community to create products and spaces that seem less commercial and more authentic.
“This is in part driven by the demands of an increasingly sophisticated end user,” Merieau comments. “We feel that hospitality design too is undergoing such a radical shift. The traveller of today is even more discerning in his search for the unique experience. Without the emergence of the ‘boutique hotel,’ that call will go unanswered.”
Merieau believes that in an industry that’s overrun with standardised brands that leave little to the imagination, boutique hotels with their eccentricity are a welcome respite.
He continues: “Initially coined to describe non-conformist hotel properties, today the term boutique hotel is wide ranging in its meaning. A hotel could be categorised as ’boutique’ based on its distinctive design style, the unique theme under which it operates, its modest room count or even the unusual nature of its owner. We suspect that small scale hotels with their unique offerings will spring up in the coming years to meet the demands of the new age traveller,” says Merieau, concluding that these hotels will heavily rely on the creativity of interior designers to bring to their guest an authentic boutique-like experience.