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P&O Cruises’s Britannia.
P&O Cruises’s Britannia.

Richmond International | Redefining luxury spaces

The hotel's principal Fiona Thompson talks about how designing a luxury hotel is different from designing any other living space

London-based architecture firm Richmond International specializes in designing luxury hotels. The 40-member team, says their website, never follows fashion and their designs are ‘contemporary and timeless’. Mint Indulge spoke to Fiona Thompson, principal, Richmond, about what constitutes a luxury hotel and how designing a luxury hotel is different from designing any other living space. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

The term luxury hotel seems to find a different meaning almost every decade or half. And mostly, this seems to have to do with the term luxury and what it implies. At one point, this meant baroque ornamentation, and now it seems to mean almost painful minimalism. What does a luxury hotel mean to you today? What makes it luxurious? And, if less is more is the new approach, how does a luxury hotel distinguish itself from others?

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Fiona Thompson.

How do you approach a luxury hotel in terms of architecture? How is your architectural approach to a hotel different from your approach to other living spaces? What balances do you strive to achieve? How do your priorities change with a hotel?

Hotels are unique buildings in that they are catering to an ever-changing clientele. Depending on location, they are also catering to a local client base, becoming a social hub within their own centre. Each project is so unique that we do not have a single approach. Each design approach is determined by so many factors from location, social demographic, local culture, local manufacturing capabilities, the vision of the client, etc. They are complex and have so many different uses from rooms to spas, restaurants to ballrooms.

Luxury can be defined in so many ways, but the key is to capture the essence of all of these factors and create a hotel that has a meaning and longevity. Architecture and design have huge impact on how people relate to space both physically and emotionally.

Somehow, and I might be wrong here, the exteriors of great hotels have stopped being as important as they once used to be. Once upon a time, a great hotel was advertised by the photos of its stately, even royal, façade. Today, you see pictures of interiors. Am I right in thinking that this transformation is real? What do you think? Why is this so?

I think this is the case sometimes but not always. Many of the developing countries are still very much designing iconic buildings that house hotels among mixed-use developments. However, you are correct that it is typically the interior that is photographed; these being the spaces that guests most relate to. The exception to this is resorts; where the exterior architecture, landscape and interiors are more closely linked and a cohesive approach is fundamental to the overall success of the design.

What are some your recent projects? Tell us a little bit about some of the fresh thinking you brought to these hotels?

Recent projects include the Langham Chicago where we converted the Mies Van de Rohe IBM building from offices into a luxury hotel. We were appointed by the Langham Hospitality Group to develop the interior design, converting floors 2-13 of the original building. Careful to respect the iconic modernist structure, and drawing influences from it, our design scheme presents the traditional Langham brand with a focus on contemporary design, with the use of clean lines, and with the layering of a simple palette of rich architectural materials.

The Four Seasons Moscow is another example where we have worked on a powerful original building from the 1930s, rebuilding it to incorporate historic elements in keeping with the authenticity of the interior architecture.

We’re currently working on the new ship of P&O Cruises, MS Britannia, which brings a whole different set of challenges to hospitality design. Our aim is to create a more sophisticated vibe aligning the interiors with luxury hotels rather than the Las Vegas-style ornamentation that existing ships have.

Finally, what are your five favourite hotels in the world besides your own projects?

The Four Seasons, New York

Petit St Vincent, Grenadines

The Lugger, Cornwall

Park Hyatt, Tokyo

Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro

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