How understanding design trends will help FM companies long-term, according to GAJ’s Kevin McLachlan

How understanding design trends will help FM companies long-term, according to GAJ’s Kevin McLachlan

Design trends, GAJ, Kevin McLachlan, UAE interior design

1. Kevin McLachlan
Head of interior design
Godwin Austen Johnson

Kevin McLachlan has 25 years of experience in designing destinations in Europe and the Middle East, developing successful concepts for the hospitality, residential and corporate sectors – from small-scale food and beverage (F&B) outlets, to large-scale, master-planned, mixed-use developments.

After four years at Robert Matthew Johnson Marshall (RMJM), and another two years developing his own design practice, McLachlan joined Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) in 2012 as head of interior design, where he leads a 45-strong team hailing from 20 different countries. He has designed more than 200 restaurant, hotel, and leisure interiors around the world, from Glasgow’s Groucho Club Hotel to Ibiza’s Café Mambo, and Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah.

Under his leadership, McLachlan’s team recently delivered projects including the Fairmont Ajman; the Sheraton Hotel, Mall of the Emirates; the Hilton Garden Inn Dubai, Mall of the Emirates; and Ladybird Early Learning Centre in Dubai, for which they were awarded this year’s CID Award for Interior Design of the Year: Public Spaces.

The team is currently developing more than 40 restaurants and 17 hotels, and among these are projects that will transform Dubai Creek, the historic centre of the emirate.

McLachlan said: “We are particularly excited about our Dubai Creek developments. Firstly, Jewel of The Creek, next to Maktoum Bridge, where we are not only designing seven hotels and 24 F&B outlets, but importantly creating three new global and regional hotel brands in the process.

“Juxtaposed with this, we are also very much looking forward to the completion of our Marsa Al Seef project, on the opposite Bur Dubai side of the Creek, which is set to embrace and celebrate Dubai’s proud maritime traditions. This project has been designed as a culturally rich – yet thoroughly modern and vibrant – retail, hospitality, and entertainment destination.”

The current trend in the market is filling the existing gap in the market for mid to lower level hospitality projects. In fact, Godwin Austin Johnson has been involved in a lot of diverse new brands that sit on the global stage.

As designers we are constantly being asked to ensure our clients stand out whereas in the past they were more likely to fit in with the norm.

Hotels and serviced residences in general are being more flexible with regards to the use of spaces and this is one area that we feel could be done better. We have innovated by creating spaces with multiple purposes from eating to socialising. Offices are also recognising the need to rethink designs to cater to a changing workforce that is fully functional with a laptop, smart phone and a place to share ideas. Today’s workplace has ideawalls, re-configurable soft seating furniture and communal social spaces allowing for much greater flexibility and the ability to re-purpose when required.


A key factor is to identify the ideal time to undertake the refurbishment. Over the past few years as the market has matured many more buildings have aged requiring a refurbishment or upgrade to remain competitive. This is a time-critical process which requires substantial planning from hiring the right contractors and consultants to delivering the project within very constrained parameters.

A lot of these projects remain operational while the fit-out is going on which makes it challenging with limited site access. Many operators take advantage of Ramadan when it is generally a little quieter. When done well I do believe refurbished properties can compete with new properties.


Historically a building owner’s main concerns have been general wear and tear and longevity of their investment. It is necessary to refurbish properties to keep them competitive due to the fast growing residential, commercial and hospitality sector.

This is a serious concern for buildings that can quickly find themselves outdated. This is most obvious in the huge array of restaurant and dining offerings across the region. Hence, owners place a high emphasis on competing in this arena, with creative offerings and unique dining experiences.


All designers in the UAE experience indecision and constant changes in the process which is costly to both the developers and the designers. This is one area that could be better managed. In the past there was a lot more trust than there is today in terms of what the client expected from the designer.

Now clients and developers require picture perfect images of the finished product and what the final outcome will look like. And, because this is such a fast moving market they are constantly questioning the status of the project, wanting to know where it stands. Quite often because larger projects take longer they see new competitors coming online constantly eating into their market share.


One of the major challenges for many designers is that design fees have not changed in 12 years. The quality of design and deliverable and competitiveness in the market place have increased but fees have not.

Projects today are much more competitive but the deliverable and expectations are greater. The saving grace however that has allowed us to keep this somewhat in check is the advances in technology but with these advances we have also seen expectations grow. Where once we would have submitted one drawing now the client wants 12 in addition to models. This can be detrimental to the quality of design work on a project.

This piece was writing by Kevin McLachlan, a senior partner at Godwin Austen Johnson.


Most Popular