Whether or not we want to accept it, interior design is becoming a fashion industry. Gone are the days when everybody expected a hotel to have a 10-15 years lifespan, and the refurbishment market in the region is now flourishing because everyone is hungry for that next big thing, says Patrick Bean, design director of Lacasa’s interior design department. The CID editorial team met with Bean, who identified some of the major challenges to be found at present in the hospitality market, and also reflected on how changes in consumer behaviour are now causing designers to take a different approach when it comes to the guest experience.
“We’ve become a much more world-aware market,” says Bean. “We travel a lot more, and we get to experience things that we haven’t had a chance to before. That’s why it’s becoming a lot more difficult for hotels to give that ‘wow’ factor. As designers, we really have to consider how guests are now using the space.”
It’s no longer simply a matter of making things look pretty, he explains. A real understanding of the space needs to be conveyed to guests as soon as they enter it. “Nowadays – and especially here – hotels are treated as public spaces, and they need to have that instant sense of comfort and locality. They need to express themselves as more than just a space,” Bean says, adding that, as a result, designers need to become much more “diplomatic”, in order to not only entice people into a space, but also to “let them know how to use it when they get there”.
With more than two decades of experience working on hospitality, commercial, residential, and retail projects in the UK, France, Hong Kong, Bahrain, and the UAE, Bean has found that designers have to be a lot more value-conscious nowadays.
“When I first started designing, 20 years ago, we could put anything into a concept design. That was the beauty of it. And it was actually quite rare that it got value-engineered. Nowadays, you have to be really conscious, [and know] where you can source materials for the right price.”
Today’s clients still want a particular finish and particular style, but now they are constantly challenging their designers to find ways of achieving those results for better value, Bean explains.
Given the seemingly constant state of flux in which Dubai appears to exist, the city’s inhabitants and visitors often suffer from a short attention span, driving an ever-growing demand for the biggest, tallest, newest, most expensive design concepts to be delivered in the quickest and most efficient manner. “We expect to see these great designs, cool places, but don’t want to go back there every week,” says Bean.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Middle East’s design market is enjoying steady, long-term evolution. “Let’s face it, there are not many places in the world where people are still building five-star hotels, so we are very lucky, and we have a privileged market.”
What’s the next big thing?
From a designer’s point of view, technology has brought a mixed bag of changes, for the design profession, says Bean. While the internet delivers easy access to research materials and product information, there is actually “too much information out there now”, he says. As a result, designers are under a certain amount of pressure.
“We all want to come up with the new and the latest. That’s where materials come in. I love when people in my team come up with ideas that I’ve never even though of. It makes me feel that we have the right people.”
Blurring the lines
The lines between hospitality and residential design have never been so blurred, and the influence goes both ways, says Bean.
“When you look at how fast we are developing residential projects in Dubai, there are lots of properties out there, and as designers we have to give it something different, that edge. The only way we can do it is by doing more for our clients than our nearest competitor. Amenities such as a gym, a pool, a children’s play area, or a residents’ lounge have always been around, but now we get to design it.”
Bean and his team are currently working on a number of projects, including five-star Laguna and Viva serviced apartments building in Dubai, and Al Fajer, a high-rise residential building in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers.
Bean explains: “From a design point of view, all of these properties have been treated as five-star hotels. We are not putting in the cheapest sanitary ware or laminated doors on cabinets; we are considering stone counters, great colours and finishes.”
While value-engineering still plays a role in these types of projects, they still need to feel like “proper, liveable, and approachable spaces”, says Bean
This trend will continue to gain ground now that the region’s market is beginning to mature, Bean continues, with clients becoming increasingly discerning and design-oriented, and – as a result – demanding. “Our clients are appreciating us and asking us for more.”
In a move that should help to meet this demand, Lacasa has recently employed a full-time furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) designer.
“Our senior FF&E designer has a lot of experience and understanding of the market and can bring to us the products that allow us to give that five-star feeling, and maybe not at the five-star cost.
This also allows Lacasa to offer greater insight into materials and finishes to its clients and is a direction where Bean is now taking all of company’s designs.