Posted in Business, People on 7 October, 2019

Wilson Associates London Design Director, Juan Carlos Rodriguez Artigas, talks to Can Faik about the fantastic projects he has worked on and what it means to be a designer in 2019

With an extensive portfolio in hospitality and residential interior design as a project manager, a construction manager, and most recently as design director of Rockwell Europe, Juan Carlos Rodriguez Artigas has helped to create a number of high-end properties for some of the world’s most prestigious brands. Now heading up Wilson Associates’ London office as Design Director, Juan brings more than 15 years’ worth of international experience to the role as well as an abundance of creativity and flair.

Tell me about your role at Wilson Associates London

I moved from Madrid to London a year and a half ago to open the new WA office in London, heading the design and building the team.

What five words would you use to describe Wilson Associates London?

Collaborative, organic, start-up, fun, multicultural.

What makes Wilson Associates London stand out?

The London office is quite new compared to our other offices. Currently a small structure, we’re trying to grow organically. I would say that what makes us different is that we have the spirit of a start-up with young talent, but under the umbrella of a big corporation with almost 50 years’ experience in the hospitality field.

How and why did you get into the interior design industry?

I’m an architecture graduate and all through my university years, the interior focus always got my attention. Hence, I decided to explore this field at an early stage of my career and moved from Mexico to Madrid, where I enrolled in the third year of interior design at the Instituto Europeo de Design. Being a graduate from architecture school helped me a lot in this professional adventure that has become my passion.

How would you define your ‘hotel style’?

When it comes to hotel design, I would say that rather than having a particular style in terms of aesthetics, it’s more about the experience I want to design and create. Once this has solid ground, you can play around with the style in order to have a consistent dialogue between narrative and style.

What does design mean to you?

There’s a short but very powerful quote by Frank Chimero to which I relate: “People ignore design that ignores people.” As simple and as complicated as that can be.

How important are public spaces in hotels?

Public spaces have been and will always be an essential part of any hotel. With today’s constant shifting of guest needs, the challenge is to keep these spaces flexible to whatever use they can demand. It’s important to avoid wasting space or making a bad use of it in an hotel. This will determine a well or badly designed space, regardless of the style or aesthetics.

Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?

London is a constant melting pot of new hospitality concepts, that later get ‘imported’ to different regions. However, if you ask me where I have seen a dramatic change in the past years, it’s in Spain. Especially in Madrid, where there was a desperate need for a facelift on existing prime location properties, that were dated in terms of operations and style.

How is the Leon Towers project moving along and how many members of the team do you have working on this property?
It is a big and exciting project and we are working together with the architects, moving slowly but steadily, to develop a great design over a landmark in Tel Aviv.

What has been your favourite project to date?

I can mention a few from my ‘past life’, before joining Wilson. However, if I were just to mention one, it would be a very tiny restaurant I did in Buenos Aires a long time ago, which was very special for me. There wasn’t much budget but the space itself was a gem and we crafted a really cool result thanks to the large input from the owner and the chef. This reinforces my idea of great design; most of the time it’s not coming just from one bright creative mind, but from the sum of many.

What do you find yourself always on the lookout for as you step into a new hotel?
In these times of constant changes and fading trends, when it comes to creating something new, I personally think that the trick is to find something that can engage the guest and endure over time. This can be translated in a solid and seamless narrative – storytelling throughout the different spaces.

If you had to design a hotel for yourself, what would it be like?

It would be on an unknown remote beach with no WiFi signal. I couldn’t agree more with those for whom new luxury is to be capable of disconnecting.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

It’s already happening, and I think it will be driven by sustainability. New generations are keen to know where that fantastic marble slab came from rather than just how it looks.

What do you love about being a designer, and where do you find your inspiration?
One of the most valuable and fascinating parts of being a designer is to be able to provoke and evoke different emotions throughout spaces. You can have inspiration from many tangible things. I guess that observing behaviours and interactions of people in different environments can be very inspiring.

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment that you can tell us about?
A food academy in France I’m currently working on is quite interesting. Designing a training space with a fun and a strong narrative based on some of the four cooking principals (fat, acid, salt and heat) for the future staff of a large hospitality group is quite inspiring. It opens your view on how important the interaction between a well-designed front of house F&B space is and its intrinsic relation to the back of house.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?

El Alquimista, it’s a very small and simple hotel on the coast of Oaxaca, the best place to disconnect from the world and reconnect with yourself.

The Puli in Shanghai – the reception layout and the different focal points are very well studied, rooms and service are impeccable.

Sant Francesc in Palma de Mallorca, a 19th century manor house in the heart of the city. Beautifully done, respecting and enhancing the past; a perfect expression of simple, timeless elegance.

What’s next for you?

I’m always open to challenges and adventures: contributing to the growth of the London Wilson office with its own identity is a great challenge. There’s a long way to go.

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