World’s Top 10 hospitality designers, part 2

World?s Top 10 hospitality designers, part 2

In the 2nd instalment of my two-part blog, I?m jumping into the deep end by naming my picks of the Top 10 hospitality designers in the world today.

John Morford, Morford & Company, Hong Kong
American-born John Morford gained widespread fame in Asia when he designed the smash hit JJ?s Bar / Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong when it opened in 1988, which was widely copied in many countries as well as numerous stunning restaurants such as those in the Grand Hyatt Seoul, then created arguably Asia?s first city ?Boutique? chain hotel that broke away from vanilla standard when he designed the seminal Park Hyatt Tokyo 15 years ago in 1995, also marking the beginning of luxury, creative bathroom design in upmarket hotels in Asia and the Middle East, something that Hyatt, amongst other forward thinking hotel operators have been building on ever since, again with Asia and the Middle East leading the way.  John has recently created, what in my opinion is one of the most stunning ?hotels within a hotel? in the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong?s Plateau Spa Floor on the Hotel?s 11th floor, where he also designed a beautiful pool, spa, relaxation and F&B areas.  Check out a video interview with John and Tyler Br?l?, Editor in Chief of Monocle Magazine on for his insightful experience on hospitality design. 


John Morford, Park Hyatt Tokyo (1995)

John Morford, Plateau, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong              

John Morford, Plateau Pool Area, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong

Kerry Hill, Kerry Hill Architects, Singapore
Perth, Australia native Kerry is another rare architect that can create as much magic inside as out, with a deep understanding of how true fluidity between the 2 areas, and a subtle, understated sense of exotic drama, can create world class outcomes every time he picks up a pencil.  Kerry has designed a number of the most stunning Aman / GHM resorts, including Amanusa and The Chedi, Bali, The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia, The Lalu, Taiwan and the 1st City Aman hotel, the stunning Aman New Delhi plus numerous other groundbreaking hotels outside of Aman resorts such as the Sonar Bangla, Calcutta (Kolkata).

Kerry Hill, Aman New Delhi

Kerry Hill, The Lalu, Taiwan

Kerry Hill, The Lalu, Taiwan

Jean-Michel Gathy, Denniston International Architects and Planners, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Belgian-born Jean-Michel is another Architect that continually stuns the industry, and the public of course, with his super-rare Interior Design talent.  Designing some of the world?s most unique and dramatic resorts and city-resorts such as Reethi-Rah, Maldives for One&Only Resorts and a slew of GHM / Aman Resorts such as The Setai, Miami, The Chedi, Muscat, Amanyara, Turks & Caicos Islands and many others.  A true world-class talent and in inspiration for the industry.

Jean-Michel Gathy, The Setai, South Beach, Miami

Jean-Michel Gathy, Viceroy, Snowmass

Jean-Michel Gathy, One&Only Reethi-Rah, Maldives       

Jean-Michel Gathy, One&Only Reethi-Rah, Maldives

Tony Chi, Tonychi and Associates, New York
Taiwanese born, New York bred Tony is one of the best examples of initially being a F&B Designer (and restaurant owner), creating everything Hong Kong?s Lan Kwai Fong dining district (numerous outlets) to stunning hits for star Chefs Alain Ducasse, Wolfgang Puck and Michael Mina who has turned into a world-force in entire hotel design with his warm, elegant yet exciting creations, culminating (so far) in one of the world?s most beautiful city hotels, the Park Hyatt Shanghai, last year.  His recent Andaz 5th Avenue, NY has brought Andaz hotels to another level altogether. Another world-class, unique talent. 

Tony Chi, Spoon Restaurant/Alain Ducasse

Tony Chi, Spago Restaurant / Wolfgang Puck, Ritz-Carlton InterContinental Hong Kong
 Bachelor Gulch

Tony Chi, Park Hyatt Shanghai

Bill Bensley, Bensley Design Studios, Bangkok

American-born Bill is the reason I chose to list in ?reverse alphabetical order?, as he would have been the 1st up had I followed normal alphabetical order.  Mostly known as a Harvard-educated Landscape Architect turned Landscape Artisan creating such wondrous external environments that you almost forget that plants form a part of his designs.  A member of Architectural Digest Magazine?s prestigious AD100 list of top world architects and interior designers, Bill in recent years has begun to show that he is a world-class Interior Designer specialising in warm, elegant yet theatrical tropical designs that are unlike any other.  I had the pleasure to work with Bill on the recent St. Regis Bali, where Bill designed the gardens and pool areas and I the F&B outlets, and besides being a wonderful human being, his creativity and sense of theatre, I believe, will place him in the years to come as one of the most accomplished creative designers in the world.  Bill, almost singlehandedly has injected a sense of refined drama into the luxury Four Seasons chain with his resorts in Langkawi, Malaysia and Koh Samui and Chang Rai, Thailand, a company not known for cutting-edge excitement that, in my opinion, is hopefully the way they will continue to develop around the world, adding the sense of wonder to their already legendary service standards. Bill?s current hit book ?Paradise by Design? is an exciting visual treat for anyone who loves tropical design.

Bill Bensley, Four Seasons Langkawi, Malaysia

Bill Bensley, Four Seasons Langkawi, Malaysia

Bill Bensley, Four Seasons Koh Samui, Thailand

Bill Bensley, Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle (Chiang Rai), Thailand

Of course there are more than 10 amazing hospitality designers out there ? and there are other designers very near this level of consistent record of unique excellence or quickly building up to this record. This list has been intended to provoke thought and hopefully cause developers, owners and hotel operators who have not as yet attempted to break out of the tried and true homogenised mold that personifies the majority of the hospitality industry today to perhaps take a chance to create truly memorable and unique properties that would benefit us all, including of course the bottom line. Try at least one and see how you go.

The second point to my promoting these talents without so much as a PR retainer is to discuss money.  Ah, I hear you say, it always comes down to money, and indeed it does. Both during my development and operational career and even more acutely now that I?m designing for a living, I could never understand how seemingly intelligent owners and developers would believe that in developing an asset worth many tens, or indeed hundreds of millions of dollars it was smart business to hire a designer or designers just because they were saving a few hundred thousand dollars, sometimes even tens of thousands from quotes of superior designers.  I can?t tell you the times we?ve lost a hotel with the owner or operator saying that the selected company was cheaper, asking companies to quote that couldn?t produce the drama and excitement that we routinely achieve if their life depended on it.  It makes you want to scream.  Tell me that you think the company you?ve selected was better than us (I?ll still scream), but don?t tell me they?re cheaper; you?re only cheating yourself in the end.

Just like filming a movie, owners and operators tend to only get one shot at positioning their asset, and by bravely developing a bland, boring product they are effectively reducing the potential earning capacity of their asset – forever.  Unlike a movie a hotel or resort can be upgraded later of course, but once the reputation is set it takes a lot of time and money to attempt to reverse this perception. You could argue that it?s not worth the additional investment at a later stage as the ROI curve gets all stretched out like an old, wrinkly Jogi, if it pays off at all.

Clearly the designers I have shown in my 2 blogs are also amongst the most expensive designers in the industry, a couple on this list charge upwards of US$750,000 to US$1 Million dollars for a single restaurant, plus travel costs.  For most of the others you?d be hard pressed to sign one under US$250,000 plus costs for a restaurant.  Clearly, much better value is obtained by commissioning the designer to design an entire hotel, and hence this trend I mentioned in the 1st part of my blog. Plus you get the added benefit of their drama and excitement designed into the remainder of the property. However, a huge segment of the development market attempts to find designers who will accept a Fee of US$50,000-US$75,000 for a restaurant, hoping to compete with the hotel next door that has used world-class talent.  Good luck.

Clearly no one wants to pay a single dollar more in Design Fees than is absolutely necessary as this is seen as an intangible expense – not buying even a single chair or bed.  But in my experience, this is the most important expenditure an owner or developer will make, not the least important, as this person or company, or companies, will be the ones that will be producing your end-product, that will govern, along with the quality of the management company and oftentimes the location of the property, the average room rate, the potential average cheques in the F&B outlets, the level of local acceptance and demand for in-house F&B and banqueting facilities, spa memberships, etc. etc.

Enlightened owners and developers see these expenses as wise investments in their asset, and know that if they are able to find the right designer or firm that best excites their target markets the returns can easily out-perform the market.  But they have to invest in order to reap.

Finally, enlightened owners and developers know that allocating sufficient funding for first-class fit-outs is essential in actually achieving a first-class end result, which unfortunately costs more than bland, vanilla corporate designs.  But again, there is an investment strategy in this ? solid positioning and higher visibility in the marketplace, higher occupancies and/or higher average rates, preferably all of the above of course, because your target markets just love your place.  Hotel operational companies know this, and do their best to sell this fact-of-life to owners, but as so many properties are operated under management contracts, leases and the like, the owners believe that since the operators don?t have to put their hands in their pockets, they tend to ignore the advice as self-serving.

Clever owners who show their designers photos of top local or international competition and expect their $50 – $70,000 an outlet designer to accomplish the same at 1/3 or 1/4 the fit-out budget are not clever at all.  They?re defeated before they begin.

Have a creative week.