How to create a narrative through spaces for a tailored guest experience? How to encapsulate local stories into hotels? And how to “sprinkle the gold dust” in post-pandemic times? Hospitality Insights caught up with GDC Interiors’ Design Director Joey Goei-Jones to find out more.
Hospitality Insights: How would you describe your design philosophy?
My personal aim when designing is to create memorable moments for those who experience it. Architecture and design is the backdrop of our lives and for me, it is the frame that should allow our minds to encapsulate these special moments. Through design, we can touch all our senses or even enhance them. I hope that when people experience our work, they continue to find new things that they missed last time and I hope that the way it is experienced evolve as those who experience it evolve.
Hospitality Insights: What design trends are you excited about right now?
I have to say there are too many! But in essence, I’m excited that almost anything goes right now. From the maximalist trend where colour and patterns can be combined to create unique characteristics, to the soothing zen spaces inspired by nature. The important thing, I feel, is making each space work for those who use it and to be able to tell a unique story.
Hospitality Insights: What are the key ingredients behind a distinctive hotel identity? And with hybrid hospitality on the rise, what makes a hotel a hotel?
I view hotels a bit like people. Each has its own story, its own past, present and future. The uniqueness in each hotel’s identity is the fact that it is its own evolving ‘character.’
With that, the idea of a ‘hotel’ is also evolving. For me, hotels are somewhere where someone is staying temporarily and certain hospitality services are available on site. So, regardless of what type of property it is, be it aparthotels or traditional hotels, what’s important is the idea of hospitality. It is about the welcoming relationship between the host and a guest. Making sure that the guests’ needs are catered for and they feel comfortable is key.
Hospitality Insights: What changes have you noticed in hotel operations this year that impacted the nature of design projects in your pipeline?
All surfaces in hotels are now constantly being cleaned and sanitized. This means that the finishes we use must tolerate a high frequency of cleaning. This poses a challenge in some ways, as many luxurious/decorative finishes are often more delicate than your typical contract materials. Furthermore, many hotels have removed a lot of their decorative items such as accent cushions, artwork and bric-a-brac. Therefore, we have had to think about alternative ways to ‘sprinkle the gold dust’.
It is also very important that we try to incorporate sustainable approaches in our design. It may not always be through specifying recycled materials everywhere and adding plants, but also ensuring that there is minimal wastage and the products specified last. I feel that sometimes we overlook the wastage of installations. Also, because budgets are so tight, clients may choose to use the most economical option. This results in the hotel having to replace the items in such a short amount of time, creating further waste.
We are making sure our proposals are efficient, whether it is laying tiles a certain way so there’s no wastage, or re-using and upcycling items that are historically linked with the property. Using local suppliers and manufacturers, ensuring our delivery minimises carbon footprint, there are just so many ways we can do it.
Of course, today, it helps that there is such a great range of sustainable materials available and who knew recycled plastic can be so luxurious!
Hospitality Insights: How is changing customer needs impacts guest experience through design considerations? For example, work-from-anywhere trend, expectations of seamless contactless hotel stays, extended stays etc.?
I think technology is key to this change. Ensuring that hotels have the infrastructure to house the new technologies that are constantly changing. Enabling guests to get the service their required without necessarily having human contact is getting more important. It could be as simple as being able to order room service from your phone to having a full solution that allows contactless check-in, stay and checkout.
The spaces within hotels also now need to be able to cater to a variety of guest ‘modes’. The lines between work and leisure are often blurred in hotels now, and we need to ensure our proposals are flexible enough to cater for these differing uses.
Hospitality Insights: How do you find a balance between sweating the asset, getting the most out of square footage yet creating a sense of space and wellbeing for the guests?
Every project is a balance of compromises. We always ask the client, what is their ideal end result, and based on that, which items are the non-negotiables. We would then review the financial requirements, being what ADR they hope to achieve, and any ROI requirements they have. This will help us build a budget that is in line with the absolute requirements within the project parameters.
From there, we would look at comparable properties, and understand what they feel each have done right or not. This enables us to really understand their taste and ensure our concept direction is palatable to them. At this point, we would also try to create a narrative that will tie all the spaces together as a concept. The narrative is incredibly important, as this is the ‘message’ which we tailor the guest experience upon. From then on, it’s a constant push and pull of various elements (budget, design, program, quality), and that is why each project is special in its own way.
Hospitality Insights: What one project are you most excited to work on right now?
This is a tough one – it’s like choosing a favourite child! We are lucky that we have such a wide range of projects live at the moment. We have a gorgeous boutique hotel in Jersey, Somerville Hotel, where we can explore the maximalist and country style, relating it to the local flora and fauna. At the same time, we are working with Tifco group in Ireland on a hotel & Spa where the design is contemporary to contrast the rugged coastline adjacent to it, and another with the Griffin Group where the property overlooks directly onto a river and vast countryside. There’s just too many to choose from!
Each of these is so different visually, and yet the same philosophy of encapsulating the local story is consistent throughout.
Hospitality Insights: What is the GDC Interiors design approach that sets it apart from the competition?
Even though design leads our way of working, we always make sure that what we propose is in line with the client’s operational and financial requirements. Designing smartly is important to us and luxury does not mean blowing the budget. We understand that ultimately, each hotel project is an investment, and clients require our solutions to be practical, as well as beautiful. It is important that we work closely with the clients with their budgets in mind from the beginning, giving them the ability to better forecast how the end product would perform upon re-opening.
Beyond this, we differ in the way that we have direct relationships with factories across UK, Ireland and Eastern Europe. This allows us to deliver bespoke items at an affordable price, without sacrificing quality. GDC is also able to project manage the delivery and fit-out of the project, thus providing a true ‘turn-key’ solution for the client as an option.
Hospitality Insights: You mentioned that GDC designs for timelessness rather than the current trends. How do you balance timelessness with what’s in vogue for clients and their guests?
Our approach to this is a bit like what Gianni Versace once said about fashion, "Don't be into trends. Don't make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live."
When clients love a certain trend, we always make sure we understand what about that trend is the reason they like it. Then we make sure that it fits seamlessly with the project’s location, history and narrative. This way, the concept will not become kitsch or age too quickly.