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World’s Top 10 hospitality designers, part 1

World’s Top 10 hospitality designers, part 1

In my last blog I promised to step way out on the plank and list several of the world?s top performing designers that have defined, and are continuing to define, the very best of the ?boutique? hotel industry. They have been so successful that several chains have begun to hire them to design larger properties well beyond the ?boutique? size in the hope that their magic will work equally well in traditional sized hotels and resorts, largely with excellent results.

Now this is my own personal opinion ? there has been no all-encompassing industry survey.  The top 10 designers I list below (five in this blog post and five more in the next post) have come from various backgrounds. Some are principally F&B designers that have moved into complete property design, some are architects who have a super-rare talent to be able to weave magic inside as well as outside, and there is even a landscape designer who has found, perhaps, even more talent with interiors than in the garden.

One of the fascinating trends in the last few years has been the use of creative F&B designers that have an excellent track record in producing ?wow,? unique venues to design the entire hotel or resort. This has been a marriage of necessity, in some cases, as we oftentimes hear that while many property owners have little problem in being convinced to hire an excellent architect or interior designer, when an operator then says they want a top (expensive) F&B designer and a top spa designer oftentimes all hell breaks loose, which then puts the entire property?s potential at risk. So an excellent option has been to select the more highly creative design firm to design the entire property, in itself a very creative solution. The same rings true for the creative architects who can produce an entire property with equal parts drama and intrigue, and the landscape designer who can also design amazing interiors.

However, my opinions aside, what is indisputable about these designers is that they have truly moved the hotel industry?s luxury segment by adding a dramatic sense of place, sometimes true to local cultures, sometimes totally contrived, but always unforgettable.

To anyone reading this article who is knowledgeable about hospitality design, or indeed any designers reading this who might be more than familiar with most, if not all the designers I list, you might say that they design in similar styles, making the list lop-sided toward one particular style ? warm, dramatic, unique yet superbly comfortable and welcoming, I say ?bravo? – well spotted. There are no Willy Wonka or Alice in Wonderland designers on my list, and there are some famous ones that fit into these categories, some much more famous than most on my list. This is because that I believe that most of this hyped design falls into the category of ?the king has no clothes? ? designs that won?t stand the test of time and tend to date quickly and age badly.

While variety is the spice of life, and we all want a diverse range of design styles in the market, developers, owners and operators should realize that the abundance of cold, clinical properties that are trying too hard to be ?cool? is a major contributor to the patchy performance of the ?boutique? industry to-date, irrespective of the GFC.

Going back to my previous article when I mentioned that Mexico?s (and one of the world?s) most famous architect, Luis Barrag?n, stated that ?if it (architecture) doesn?t touch the heart, it?s a mistake,? those precise qualities I list are above all what most humans want when we travel ? security and welcoming comfort mixed with excitement, drama and perhaps a little intrigue.

Ok, enough talk you say, how about some action? Here we go. As I?m writing this from Sydney, and as you know we?re essentially upside down in the world, I?m listing my 10 top designers in reverse alphabetical order (you?ll see why when I finish in my next blog).

Ed Tuttle, Paris
One of the few architects in the industry that equally master stunning interior design as well as furniture design, in addition to his defining architectural style. Ed arguably started this generation?s luxury boutique resort trend and largely set the direction around the world with his groundbreaking Amanpuri in Phuket, Thailand, in 1988 (with a nod to Australian Architect Peter Muller), the first Aman resort. He has since designed a number of other Aman resorts, including Amankila in Bali; the architecturally stunning Amanjiwo in Central Java, Indonesia, based on the adjacent Borobudur world-heritage site; and Amanjena in Marrakech, Morocco.  His stunning city hotels include The Sukhothai, Bangkok, and Park Hyatts in Milan and Paris.


Ed Tuttle, Amanpuri, Phuket


Ed Tuttle, Park Hyatt Milan

Takashi Sugimoto, Super Potato, Tokyo
Sugimoto-san created a small revolution in dramatic, theatrical restaurants in 1998 when he created Mezza9 in the Grand Hyatt Singapore that shows no sign of abating, with a version in virtually every Asian and Middle Eastern city, or so it seems, plus the odd-smash success in Western countries (Zuma, Roka in London; Stripsteak, Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, etc.) A true master in the manipulation of tactile, seemingly organic materials ? timber, rough hewn stone, salvaged iron and steel, brick and glass, all blended with dramatic, moody lighting, and you have a mixture that is 100% magic. Takashi has in recent years begun to create entire hotel masterpieces using his trademark materials ? Hyatt Regency Kyoto and the landmark Park Hyatt Seoul among them.


Takashi Sugimoto, Mezza9, Singapore


Takashi Sugimoto, Park Hyatt Seoul

Philippe Starck, Paris
Someone who clearly needs no introduction. (If you don?t know who Monsieur Starck is I recommend you close down this blog and check out the sports pages.) An industrial (product) designer who hit the world stage firstly as a restaurant/bar designer, then hotel designer/architect, residential developer and everything else in between. Philippe has had, and continues to have, a pivotal role in upmarket hospitality industry design world, starting with his prolific collaboration with Ian Schraeger, which shook up a number of previously stodgy hotel markets and was an important stimulus that for the first time spurred developers, owners and hotel operators in the 80?s and 90?s into hiring unique designers to develop unique properties in cities such as New York, London and San Francisco and placed emerging markets on the world scene such as South Beach (Miami). Just when the industry begins to whisper that Philippe photocopies his own ideas too much he turns around and calmly starts another worldwide interior, furniture or product design trend with ramifications throughout the industry. Truly a one-in-a-million talent.


Philippe Starck, Mondrian, Los Angeles


Philippe Starck, Saint Martins Lane Hotel, London

David Rockwell, David Rockwell & Associates, New York City
Another superbly creative architect mainly known for his groundbreaking restaurants, Broadway musical stage sets and even the Oscars two years ago. As with the other designers on our list, David has been asked to use his dramatic, creative talents to design entire hotels, designing Barry Sternlicht?s first W hotel in 2000, the W Union Square, New York, then only a concept, and more than 30 hotels since. More recently David and his team won a slew of international awards for their design of Belvedere Hotel in Mykonos, Greece. Yasu!


David Rockwell, Nobu, Dubai

Yabu Pushelberg, Toronto


Another superbly talented duo who are currently taking the 5-star hotel industry by storm.  Known primarily for dramatic, classy and unique hotels as well as stunning retail boutiques, they have also shown, in a type of unusual reverse-osmosis, to be able to design stunning restaurants such as their Shibuya Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas? MGM Grand Hotel.


Yabu Pushelberg, Shibuya, Las Vegas


Yabu Pushelberg, St. Regis, San Francisco

Next week I?ll feature the other five design superstars.

Have a creative week!

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