Dana Kalczak, Vice President Design, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Can Faik meets Dana Kalczak, the creative visionary behind Four Seasons’ world-renowned success…
Founded in 1960, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is dedicated to perfecting the travel experience through continual innovation and the highest standards of hospitality. Currently operating 111 hotels and resorts, in 47 countries, and with more than 50 projects under planning or development, Four Seasons consistently ranks among the world’s best hotels and most prestigious brands in reader polls, traveller reviews and industry awards.
Tell me about your role at Four Seasons Hotels
I am Vice President of Design, and my role is to help our owner partners assemble the right design consultants on Four Seasons projects, whether for interior design, restaurant design, or art consultants. Together, we establish a design narrative so that we create strong and beautiful spaces.
What five words would you use to describe the design of Four Seasons Hotels?
Each Four Seasons property is different, each reflecting the culture and history of that destination. What remains consistent is that each is beautiful, human-centric, functional, inspiring, and unique.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
I have just celebrated 20 years in hotel design!
What makes Four Seasons Hotels different to other hotels when it comes to design?
Four Seasons properties are designed from the “inside out”, which means that we first consider the guest experience, and create human-centric hotels to provide true sanctuary in private spaces and lively, communal, and stimulating public spaces. We are obsessed with creating the perfect environment for our guests.
How and why did you get into the interior design Industry?
I’m an architect but with a post graduate degree in art and architectural history. I joined Four Seasons as an architect but migrated towards design over time. As our portfolio continued to grow, we focused on new builds, conversions, and historic adaptations of our upcoming projects, as well as the renovations and enhancements to our existing properties. In order to balance the many projects, it was clear we needed to employ rigorous and disciplined design oversight. My skill set and interest in design fit the bill and that’s how it all happened.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
Trends in hotel design are constantly changing. This year, it’s all about the colour blush and a resurgence of brushed brass. Past years have seen waves of “hammer headed” faux wing chairs, pale blue and brown stripes. The options are never ending. Our approach at Four Seasons is towards timeless design. We base our guiding design principles on meeting universal guest needs, which we consider sanctuary, stimulation, recognition, immediacy, and empowerment. Design styles can vary, but meeting these guest needs is non-negotiable.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
Public spaces in hotels are incredibly important. These public spaces would be considered part of the “stimulation” element of universal guest needs. Guests need animated social spaces that encourage spontaneous interaction, camaraderie and convivial conversations. At Four Seasons, we want to connect our guests with the people and places around them, and our public areas can achieve this by fostering meaningful connections with the people around them, whether their loved ones, fellow guests, local patrons, or Four Seasons people.
Can you tell me about your Research and Discovery Studio, and how it assists you and the team?
The Research and Discovery Studio (R&D) is a place where we test products, experiment with design, and better understand the functionality of our spaces on a daily basis. We recently set up a new chaise longue towel presentation to test how the towel and pillow should be set up. From there, we ended up discussing custom designed side tables to address the ergonomic needs of eating comfortably while stretched out on a chaise! The R&D Studio sparks constant product evolution and improvement.
How much time do you dedicate to sourcing products and suppliers for the projects you work on?
We stay current with new products by regularly hosting suppliers in our R&D Studio; however, we do not have a systematic method of sourcing in place. We source products based on the unique needs of the projects at hand.
What is the biggest thing you have learnt over your years in the industry?
The biggest and most valuable thing I have learned over the years in this industry is that design has to follow function – it must always be human- centric. There is no point in designing a beautiful chair if it is uncomfortable to sit on, or designing a beautiful room which is not quiet and dark, both required to deliver a great night’s rest!
What are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on numerous projects around the globe. In 2019 alone, we will open a host of new hotels and resorts that include new builds and conversions of historic buildings. Each project is unique to that destination, whether within the tallest tower in Philadelphia at Comcast Centre, or when transforming historical buildings in the heart of Madrid into a luxury hotel.
What’s your favourite part of a hotel?
My favourite part of a hotel is the arrival experience. The lobby sets the tone for everything. Of course, I love rooms as well. This is a bit like asking a mother to choose a favourite child!
What does design mean to you?
Design is the most misunderstood but powerful force in all our lives. Designers have the power to create the environments in which we spend so much of our time. Understanding the science behind the art of design is critical to delivering the best human experiences. Designers should educate themselves about how space affects human behaviour. They have the power to transform the world!
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I was recently asked this question, and it resulted in a lively and lengthy conversation. There are so many places I’d like to experience, some of which include the Northern Lights in the Canadian North, climbing Macchu Pichu in Peru, visiting the Taj Mahal in India, going on a safari in Tanzania, and so much more.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
Hotel design of the future lies in the perfect intersection of human-centric design and technology.
What do you love about being a designer? Where do you draw your inspiration?
I love creating environments, from the macro (sites and architecture) to the micro (interiors, art, accessories, collateral, uniforms, table settings). I find inspiration everywhere; from the spiral of a shell and veining of a leaf to the art of Kandinsky and the architecture of a Foster building. Inspiration is everywhere.
What’s next for you?
Next is a continued quest for a greater understanding of the neuro-science behind human-centric design in an effort to build the best guest experience possible!
Let’s finish with the issue of work-life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
My husband and family understand how much I love this job and how my passion for design energises me, so they are quite forgiving of my travel schedule. The truth is that work life balance is not easy. I’m getting better at it but may only find perfection in retirement.