Connecting people to places. Part 1: Inspired in Phuket

Connecting people to places. Part 1: Inspired in Phuket

Part of our profession as hospitality interior designers is to travel to the places we are about to design so we can consider how the surroundings, culture, history and environment might connect with our designs. It seems a world away now remembering when these visits were a necessity and not a luxury, but without them you will never get a designer’s best work.

This connection is particularly essential for NOUS where we go the extra mile to seek out local collaborators to create experiential spaces that come to life through their individuality and authenticity. Travel is an essential part of this process and one of the greatest benefits of the job – something that I always look forward to and has always invigorated me!

Even in the midst of these challenging times, as part of understanding a new project, I was lucky enough to visit Thailand in March 2020. It wasn’t a simple journey, hopping between a project in Oslo, then Bangkok and onto beautiful the beautiful island of Phuket but I was still looking forward to getting my teeth into this stunning opportunity. Meeting the local team as well as understanding a project’s context are all essential to delivering the right results for your clients. Without experiencing that new culture, new tastes, sounds and aesthetics, the team and I would never have been able to deliver the engaging design that connects it to its environment.

So back to my arrival. The world was already closing down due to rumours of a pandemic. Overall, there was a slightly apocalyptic feel throughout my trip which started from the moment I landed. A sense of uncertainty. In a way it reminded me of my old travel days when Google maps didn’t exist, every part of your trip was a revelation, a bit of a risk and could at times be a sobering experience.

It was the uncertainty of restrictions which you could not predict. Would things start to close? Would I be able to travel around freely? Would I be able to get back home? It made me think, there must be a new age traveller’s guide to a pandemic or end of the world scenario out there and if there isn’t – why isn’t there? In some twisted way this made it even more exciting and you could feel that this was a very unique time to experience any place.

As I picked up the car at the airport and started driving, I realized how much I had missed the sense of adventure relating to our industry. I have been very lucky to work on some amazing projects over the years, but it’s been a little while since I have worked in Asia.

Putting on my big boy pants, I left my pandemic fears in the airport, got the key to my car and off I went. What would the journey and the rest of the trip have in store for me? Even though the streets were dark, I could see and smell the lush tropical vegetation everywhere and along with that slightly humid feel in the air – you knew you were somewhere very different.

As this new reality unfolded, I overtook a moped which made an immediate impression on me. As we all know you see mopeds and motor bikes everywhere in Thailand but this was still something special.

It was a 2 man-band driving restaurant!

I let them overtake me again just so I could see how it worked and there it was – brilliant. The 2 men were riding on the back of a bike with what sounded like an engine that would run a sewing machine. The small side car was carrying a full cooking trolley, 10 chairs and 4 tables all folded on the back. Stick-up two umbrellas and voilà – a restaurant on a moped. I wonder what food they served up and thought to myself

‘Welcome to Thailand’

As soon as the morning arrived, I left my hotel to travel across the island, arriving at a low-rise building surrounded by beautiful, lush green tropical vegetation. Again, the glories of Thailand hit me as I clamped eyes on a steep range of smooth looking hills separating the north and south of the island. I realized why the fishermen decided to call this island ‘The Hills’ or Phuket so I climbed one of them to find the most spectacular views of the coastline.

During my time in Phuket, I observed an array of Thai culture’s fantastic qualities. The sense of creativity was visible throughout every aspect of people’s lives. Their ability to create something out of nothing was impressive, using simple materials to produce intricate designs. From farming oysters to straw woven decorative panels, real skill, craftsmanship and a unique taken on the world was evident.

This visit was a great introduction to a project and one that left me with a multitude of stories and experiences that the team and I could consider as part of our design.

Come back to read about how we used this inspiration to inform the design and detailing of our Phuket project.