Ariane Steinbeck, RPW Design
With her truly global perspective and enthusiasm for her new role, the Managing Director of RPW Design, Ariane Steinbeck, is every bit as energetic as she is motivated. Exciting times lie ahead for the company, she tells Can Faik…
Ariane is RPW Design’s new Managing Director and is already fully involved in the practice’s activities, working closely with the different design teams on ongoing projects and new proposals. Prior to joining RPW Design, Ariane was one of the founding partners of The Gettys Group, Inc., headquartered in Chicago Ill. USA. Ariane spent the last eight years working and living in Hong Kong, where she established the firm’s Asia-Pacific Headquarters and opened its Manila office. Amongst the many projects she has worked on, was the most recent renovation of The Peninsula Hotel’s flagship, The Peninsula Hong Kong.
What is your role at RPW?
I was appointed Managing Director in September of 2015. While commuting from Hong Kong since March, I had ample time to get to know the team and personalities before fully taking the reins. Working alongside Jan Wilson, the founder of the company, my biggest responsibility lies in inspiring the team and curating ideas into a cohesive whole on the design front and being the public face of the firm – the two areas of responsibility I enjoy the most. Many administrative tasks are shared between me and the senior staff but, most importantly, my role is as chief cheerleader, visionary and mentor.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
My entire working life! I interned with Dale Keller and Associates and got the ‘bug’ upon graduation from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in 1987, I joined a Chicago-based firm with a few of my college mates and out of that venture we formed The Gettys Group, which I eventually left in March 2015 when I joined RPW Design,
What is it like working at RPW?
It is an inspiring and passionate atmosphere – essential for our often stressful business. Although we are very business oriented, the focus on design is relentless.
What makes RPW different to other design companies?
First of all, it must but be our combined experience in the hospitality industry and our approach to finding the specific solutions that any given project calls for. When I talk about my experience in this business, I don’t only mean in designing hotels, but I have also personally cleaned rooms, served tables, chopped mountains of onions in dank kitchens and checked people in at the front desk. While those experiences steered me away from pursuing a career in hotel operations, it sure did cement a level of practicality in our work and a deep respect for the many people that are actually responsible of delivering a great experience to the guests way beyond the interior design level. These values are passed on to all our staff and I insist that nobody returns to a hospitality venue purely for the design. I’ve also been on the owner’s side, so I don’t find the cult-like reverence of some designers’ attitudes particularly impressive.
What are some of RPW’s current and recent projects, and have any presented challenges?
We are in the final throes of finishing the Marriott Park Lane, a project we designed from top to bottom (save for one restaurant), the Marriott County Hall’s rooms are coming back on line, a major refurbishment at Fairmont St. Andrews, a ground-up Curio by Hilton in London’s Docklands, a private Club, and a major refurbishment of another famous London Hotel, which I can’t divulge yet.
How has RPW become the industry leader in hospitality design?
Focus, focus, focus! RPW has successfully pursued excellence by doing what we are good at…and that is interior design and planning. I believe that if you are truly good at what you are doing, a firm should not have to offer a myriad of complementary consultancy services – you can’t be everything to everybody.
What’s the biggest change you have seen in hotel design?
Since I started in the business? That must be the focus on design…hardly any hotel back in the early 1980s was known for its design per se. The advent of the Internet brought fundamental change for the consumer and the industry and made good – or at least interesting – design accessible at all price points. In the last couple of years, the most fundamental change must be the explosion of different brands.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
In a city hotel, everything should be about the public space – you see and get seen, you entertain, you soak up the city around you.
Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
What has happened in the last 10 years in China, India and in the UAE is nothing short of spectacular!
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Trends? I notice them and go in the other direction.
What’s next for RPW?
I hope to be able constantly to improve the work that we do,..but, generally, I’d like to stay on the same great path we’re on. I’d love to do a few more freestanding restaurants as I am passionate about cuisine, any cuisine, and love working with chefs and owners. Restaurants usually have the added benefit that you get to see the fruition of the project a lot sooner than you do the completion of a hotel project.
What five words would you use to describe RPW?
Only five? Sophistication, dedication, research, curiosity, quality.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Too many to list, but this summer my family and I will do a road trip through Eastern Europe, as the Iron Curtain was still closed when I left Europe to study in the US.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Sounds corny, but every project somehow realises a bit of a dream. To bring an idea to life, to work with people you love, to learn, to meet new people and cultures…to create a place where people will have fun – it is all a dream. I am passionate about entertaining, and I don’t mean the aspirational, staged kind of entertaining you often see published in magazines or on TV.
My dream project would be a restaurant with a couple of rooms attached and I’d get to mingle with the guests, introduce them to new flavours, new friends, new joys and conjure a memorable experience.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
I have done a much better job in the last year to balance work and personal life…given that my family life is bi-continental at the moment (Asia and Europe) it forces me to focus on the family when we are all together…and I am very lucky to have great people around me and that helps tremendously. Quite frankl,, though, I am my toughest critic and rarely think I do work or family justice at all times…but you have to just forge ahead. Most importantly, it is vital to switch off and recharge frequently a frazzled mum or MD does nobody any good!