Hospitality Design Across The Asia-Pacific–Reimagining Bespoke Cultural Trends

Edmund Kok (EK) and Dennis Tan (DT)—design directors at Wilson Associates Singapore—offer two perspectives on hospitality design throughout the Asia-Pacific region: incorporating a residential feel into hospitality design and approaching residential design from a hospitality perspective; as well as reimagining the food and beverage (F&B) experience in hotels, respectively.

EK: A trend is when you create something new and interesting. Currently, many hotels are doing major rebranding to refresh their image and change their interior design to be more homey, and provide comfortable, authentic experiences, like Airbnb.

Previously, guests would stay at a hotel because they want to feel luxurious and pampered—i.e. having a bell boy, concierge and multiple restaurant options where they choose to dine—but now hotel operators are seeing a change in guests who prefer to stay in a home far away from home.

I define residential interior design as a space that feels comfortable, and where a person has a sense of belonging rather than feeling like a stranger who is new to the environment. Two design approaches to consider in order to give a hotel room a residential feel are open-concept bathrooms and incorporating tailored furniture. 

Many hotels are doing major rebranding to refresh their image and change their interior design to be more homey, and provide comfortable, authentic experiences

An open-concept bathroom creates a visually larger room, and includes a walk-in shower and a walkin closet so that a guest can get dressed in the bedroom. Having tailored furniture is like having a personalised room with curated pieces that may not match perfectly but appear to have been collected over time and fitted together—designing and creating each item to fit and suit your needs in that room, just like in your own home.

In the hotel guest room, incorporating three key elements can achieve bespoke residential feel in the hotel experience: comfort, function and practicality.

Understanding the hotel brand and how it is differentiated in the market enables the designer to integrate the essential brand elements in designing a space that is comfortable, functional and practical.

Keeping the hotel’s signature style and considering the local culture of the place help to define what kinds of interesting forms we can inject into our design. Creating a space where comfort and style are both equivalent is key.

It is important to know the requirements of the space and study the flow within the space to accurately plan the layout. We all travel and discover through our own experiences what works and what does not, and this is a factor that we as designers consider when creating the layout. We think through our experience. Another important factor is understanding the purpose of the hotel and types of guests that will be staying there. Designing a bespoke cultural experience for a leisure traveller, resort hotel guest or a business require different approaches.

Reimagining a bespoke trend in hotel restaurant design means creating a sensory experience that appeals to your appetite, and it is all about the guests’ experience

Just as many hotels wish to incorporate a residential feel into their guest rooms, more residences are being designed from a hospitality perspective to incorporate the convenience, luxurious amenities and lighting one might find in a hotel. Infusing hospitality design into residential interiors means carefully studying the space and maximising every corner to make it more effective and efficient.

Design approaches to consider when infusing a residential space with a touch of hospitality:
• Invest in an intelligent system. Many hotels have an intelligent system for guests to control the lights, sound and even the curtains by using a tablet or smartphone. Designers can translate that same system for use in your own home.
• Get a feature wall or iconic display. Most hotel rooms have interesting art pieces and accessories featured in the space, which you would not necessarily splurge on for your own rooms.
• Invest in a five-fixture bathroom and luxurious amenities. Rolled-up towels placed neatly beside the sink, comfortable bathroom slippers waiting just outside the shower and luxurious branded amenities nicely arranged within reach add an element of hospitality to the home.

Creating a luxury hospitality experience in residential design can be achieved with upgrades in finishes, such as wide-plank wood floors, stone walls and contemporary lighting fixtures, which contribute to the luxury experience. Installing walk-in closets and incorporating built-in millwork to hide kitchen appliances give the residence a sleek, luxurious appearance.

As interior designers, we all essentially do the same thing, but we all think differently and approach a design differently. Each of us wants to leave a strong, lasting impression and create something to be appreciated not only by clients and guests, but by fellow designers as well. We need to stay creative, and make trends rather than follow them.

DT: I think both trends and food are interdependent. You can find a lot of evidence in vintage signboards and furniture to see how food affects interior design. Every cuisine will have a particular look and feel. For instance, a restaurant serving Chinese cuisine can incorporate Chinese painting or calligraphy. But for a food trend, the design can end up being quite generic.

Creating a luxury hospitality experience in residential design can be achieved with upgrades in finishes

There is a movement happening between Eastern and Western dining cultures. Chefs and restauranteurs are going back to the roots of their cuisine, finding what is authentic and rediscovering tradition and heritage. It is more about handed-down recipes from the forefathers and building a story around a person.

Reimagining a bespoke trend in hotel restaurant design means creating that sensory experience to appeal to your appetite, and it is all about the guests’ experience. The classics will always be around. Theme-driven restaurants and cafés will always affect the interior design. All restaurants are aware of a lifespan and they work with F&B interior designers to create a truly bespoke trendsetting space so they can create new trends and embrace the F&B culture.

There has been a trend in recent years toward a growing demand for specialty dining because guests prefer choices in cuisine and want a unique dining experience, which all-day dining does not give. Typically, all-day dining is buffet style that is always crowded in the morning, and while it does take care of hunger, it is not necessarily the most eye-catching environment nor does it appear appetising when you see the food all at a glance. Therefore, guests prefer to go for specialty dining for lunch and dinner after.

The all-day dining area is changing, such as breaking it into two or three different cuisine areas for lunch and dinner, like Japanese, Italian and local food. They have also introduced the à la minute cooking station where the kitchens are fully equipped with woks and pans, and the food is cooked right in front of you and served at your seat when it is done. It is a combination of both the à la carte and the all-you-can-eat concept.

Creating a space where comfort and style are both equivalent is key

There is a lot of potential for an established luxury or a lifestyle brand to create an F&B arm as well as the retail element—it is a win-win situation. Examples include Moleskine and Ralph Lauren. There have been quite a bit of crossover from food to retail and vice versa. We also have instances like Jones the Grocer, which started out as a grocery store that sells premium gourmet food and later integrated a café and retail.

It comes back to creating the authentic experience for diners in branded restaurants. Not only do you need to think carefully about the interiors and be sure that they accurately reflect the brand, you also need to consider the cuisine, the quality of the food, and the way the food is presented or plated.

The coffee shop will always be relevant and a must in any hotel. However, the café experience in hotels is evolving, and while the cafe itself is not a new trend, the cafe/coffee shop as cultural experience in lieu of homogenous chain is taking hold.

The coffee talk movement goes far back to the 10th century and started in Ethiopia. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, South Africa and North Africa. From there it spread to the Balkans, Italy, rest of Europe then America. It has become a culture for people to gather around, sit together, have a meeting and a cup of coffee.

The idea of gathering people for a cup of coffee and a glass of wine is the same, but transitioning from a café to a wine bar does not always work logistically.

The all-day dining area is changing, such as breaking it into two or three different cuisine areas for lunch and dinner

Besides the aesthetics, many other aspects of the space must change for the transition to be successful, including ambience, lighting, music, staff uniforms, furniture and so on.

In terms of design we can have an option of a flex up and down concept, to make use of the flexibility of sectioning off the areas to recreate different spaces of the cafe/bar to fit each occasion. This in turn minimises manning, resources and even kitchen equipment in which back of house can also share. With that design, it will help manage labour and make it cost effective. That is the key to an F&B’s venue longevity and sustainability.

As F&B interior designers, we are always challenged with keeping cultural food traditions fresh and innovative, while serving up bespoke dining experiences for guests.

Professional mantra: “Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.” – Cecil B. DeMille
Edmund Kok is most inspired by fashion and architecture, as evidenced in his impressive collection of shoes. He tailors his designs with an innovative flair, global consciousness and clean silhouettes. With 25 years of experience creating remarkable hospitality, residential, restaurant and corporate interiors, his signature aesthetic is visible in the Four Seasons Penthouse Macau, Hyatt Regency Hotel Jiading, China, and the award-winning Banyan Tree Shanghai on the Bund. A wanderer by nature, Kok traverses the globe, exploring interesting and exotic cafés in farflung locales, perfect for sampling the local flavour. His passion for creating stunning interior spaces propels his insatiable zest for cultivation, inspiration and exploration.

Professional mantra: “Take the time to inspire yourself, always allow room for imagination, and most importantly, share without reserve.”
Dennis Tan is shaping tomorrow’s F&B landscape. He creates environments rooted in narrative and cultural context, such as The Pullman Jakarta, which was devised after Indonesian Wayang shadow puppets. He understands F&B outlets are now driving hotel revenue, so he envisions environments with curb appeal and environments that stand out in the surrounding marketplace. This skill has made Tan a household name among operators like JW Marriott, Hyatt Regency, Hilton and Lotte. His desk is decorated with quirky gadgets that remind him of people, places and experiences, all of which attract curious passers-by.

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