Connecting people to places. Part 2: Building a design story

Connecting people to places. Part 2: Building a design story

So, here is a question- How does a stranger design a hotel in a place he can only relate to as a foreigner, as a visitor? As designers, we always talk about the creation of experiential design. But what are we actually learning from a different culture? Not just in order to build a new hotel but also to broaden our mindsets.

After a few days of walking the streets of Phuket, Thailand, and reading about my surroundings, I realised that this island was a vast inspirational melting pot. A combination of various cultures that have migrated across the region. I spotted the Malay and Chinese influence in terms of culture as well as the Portuguese architectural impact, but this was just the beginning of the influences I came across. Everything from religion to art and food to design was either a fusion of ideas or different executions in close proximity to each other.

The question wasn’t how to relate to the inspiration for our project but rather how to respond to and refine all these experiences and visual content into a single design. A design that got to the heart and soul of what Phuket is, that fits with our target guest profile and would do justice to this magnificent place.

Should we focus on the colourful food markets, the nature and stunning beaches or the fantastic natural resources such as rubber plantations or indigo dye – maybe it should be the unique history of the area or how about the pearl farming? HELP!

In the end I decided what struck me the most was the incredible locals. I am sure they don’t all enjoy the enormous herd of tourists they confront on a daily basis. But a lot of them have an open-minded attitude about their approach towards you. This human interaction really interested me.

Thai culture has a calm nature which works perfectly hand in hand with the hospitality industry and is often used as an example for great seamless service. Simply put we all know Thailand is famous for its welcome.

Then add to this welcome, their ability to create the most amazing things with their fantastic craftsmanship and innovation, even in often challenging conditions, and you have a winning combination. The 2 man-band restaurant on a bike, I mentioned in my previous blog, is just one example of this. Beautiful food off the back of a moped as part of an engaging friendly outdoor experience is a very Thai thing. A sort of all-in-one experience.

At Nous we are often asked to design high-end restaurants with the type of experiential element that guests now expect. This always makes me think how can we deliver an elevated experience for guests through small moments of personal interaction, a taste of the local experience or something which is really rooted in the local culture, telling a local story with a sense of authenticity.

That then, naturally leads to the question, how do we turn our guests from spectators to participants? Or maybe the question should be: what would they rather do? Sit in a ‘marketplace’ like the locals or drink a cocktail and get a taste of that experience from a distance? Enjoy an authentic local dish at a simple plastic table or indulge in a luxury moment of the best that the world has to offer at a location of their choice? There is no one answer to this question, which is why understanding the motivations of the target guest is key to building the story which will become their world for a day or a week. Even better creating somewhere they would like to visit again (and again) as we are often designing hotels where return guests are the prime target market. What is the right balance between a dynamic changing hotel experience or knowing exactly what to expect on their return?

The past few months have been a sobering reality as our personal worlds have become so much smaller and conversely the world now seems so much bigger again. Perhaps the silver lining from being forced to stop for a bit is learning how to engage with our surroundings with a new level of understanding. Asking ourselves what really matters when we get to our destination(s). I suspect that our expectations will be so much higher in so many ways.

At Nous, we design as a team and part of developing a design is to understand these issues when we consider the potential of a space. Maybe it would be wrong to try and duplicate the outdoor experience. OK, so we can’t copy the market and bring it to our F&B outlets as they wouldn’t work or be right for our clients but perhaps, we are able to bring some of the essence of that to the space. Every project is an opportunity to understand different cultures, tell stories that matter and build a better understanding of our world.

So, with all this in mind, we sat down to design our hotel.

The Bright is our Phuket Hotel project designed with a dynamic jet setter in mind, who’s expectation for an authentic experience is only going to grow when the current travel restrictions are lifted.

Our design for the public areas takes inspiration from two elements that came from my trip to Phuket, the incredible topography of the island and the great local craftsmanship. The hillside topography creates a backdrop to our lounge which is engulfed in a fisherman’s net. It hugs the seating area, controlling the mood and atmosphere whilst defining it. The net extends to the outer terrace creating an organic dynamic canopy wave. Using the fisherman’s nets as a source of inspiration showcases the simplicity of the net but also creates enticing and exciting movement. The lounge furniture is engulfed in this structure as if it was just lifted out of the sea showcasing a custom-made central bench that displays a rock immersed in water.

Our attention to detail and the custom-made items were designed with the idea that every item will give a sense of luxury from the headboards to guest amenities and the bar detailing to the selection of hand-tufted rugs. All of these items are rooted in the culture and geography of the area creating an experience and sense of story that feels real and valid.

It is an exciting journey and I hope 2021 brings exciting journeys for all of you!