DAVID MORRIS, Creative Director, Studio Proof
SPACE’s Can Faik speaks to David Morris, Creative Director and the creative vision behind Studio Proof…
Studio Proof is a London-based interior design, branding and product design company specialising in the international hospitality sector. Its ethos is to offer an original aesthetic without gimmicks or ‘house’ style – work that shows how design can stimulate the way people travel, work and live. Their portfolio of projects includes: NH Collection Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky Amsterdam, The Landmark and The Pullman St Pancras as well as a number of luxury residential projects.
Tell me about your role at Studio Proof
Well, my title is Creative Director, reflecting my input into all our hotel projects, from concept development, space planning and problem solving through to overseeing FF&E selections, style of signage and working very closely with our graphic designers and brand consultant. However, most days I also act as marketing director, junior designer and even chief tea maker. I like this non-hierarchical way of working, remaining close to the ‘drawing board’ and keeping in direct contact with clients and project partners.
What five words would you use to describe Studio Proof?
Collaborative, experienced, sophisticated, inventive, unostentatious.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
My first hotel pitch was in 2000 so 18 years now. My first completed full hotel project was City Inn Westminster back in 2003, which went on to win several awards including the best hotel award at EHDA that year.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
Over the past few years, a lot of hotels have been focusing on ‘local’. There is nothing wrong with this, however there have been many instances where hotels have jumped onto the bandwagon last minute, which can result in problems if the building or planning constraints do not lend themselves to this approach. ‘Local’ really needs to address the street to invite people in and invoke the spirit of impulse, so trying to do this inside ‘land-locked’ hotel spaces can feel contrived.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
More so than ever and are increasingly driven by the need for statement hotel F&B outlets that can drive awareness and desirability and in turn help to leverage increased room rates. First impressions are everything and walking into a great lobby lifts the spirit after a hard day’s work or a long-haul journey. There is also a growing need for lobbies to support the ways in which the new generation of entrepreneurs is doing business. Many use hotel lobbies as work hubs and meeting points, so it is vital that they are fit for purpose, with flexible, serviceable seating arrangements, USB charging points, free WiFi and a team of well-drilled staff that is able to ensure that the space stays looking polished and debris-free.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Studio Proof stand out from the rest?
We are recognised for our honesty, dedication and a genuine understanding of hotel operations and brands. We never design for ourselves and spend a lot of time with the client at the front end to ensure we develop an accurate brief and establish a realistic budget. As a result, our designs respond specifically to the hotel’s needs and the client’s aspirations.
How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Studio Proof felt the effects?
We’ve seen no let-up in our workload since 2011, although we purposefully keep our operation small and therefore don’t have huge teams that have to be permanently fed. Chris Holmes (Design Director) and I have both run large studios in the past and we know how this scenario can negatively impact on what is important to us – that we continue to work as creative designers, that our clients’ fees go into design time (not high office costs), and that we have regular contact with our younger designers and clients alike. When a client brings Studio Proof onto a project, they are getting full access to Chris’s and my experience in the industry.
What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?
The confidence to challenge clients for the good of the project when needs be.
What has been your favourite project to date?
Well the Royal Lancaster London hotel will be hard to beat (and is still to be completed this summer) but the refurbishment of the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky Amsterdam between 2014-16 was a great experience, as we worked on a wide range of food and beverage outlets in a huge ground floor public space which we completely remodelled. The hotel is made up of 50+ old town houses and was in desperate need of repair so we had to work very closely with an experienced local engineer in making the quite dramatic interventions required to transform the hotel. Against these odds, we managed to create a really diverse collection of rooms and fabulous places to eat and drink ranging from the European style Grand Café, to the White Room restaurant with its heritage interior and the new Tailor Bar, all of which have become award-winning destinations in their own right.
Let’s talk about the Royal Lancaster Hotel and what this stunning project means to you
The Royal Lancaster has been London’s largest current hotel refurbishment project at £80m+ and we have had the opportunity to lead the whole design process over five years since 2013, encompassing brand identity design, signage design, architectural remodelling, façade design, furniture design and of course a full interior design package. It’s the ultimate expression of what we offer as a company and has had the added benefit for me of being grounded in mid-century design, personally my favourite design era.
How much time do you dedicate to sourcing products and suppliers for the projects you work on?
It’s a critical part of the design process and we always like to introduce new products where suitable, so we’ve developed strong relationships with highly experienced suppliers and agents to ensure we get the best the market has to offer. With hotels we are especially careful about quality of manufacture as spaces need to last 5-10 years and one error in guestroom design, when multiplied across all the keys, can end up costing a lot of money. We also design bespoke furniture and lighting within projects to ensure quality, fit and originality.
What’s next for you?
We’re still working on the Royal Lancaster London, as well as a boutique hotel in Bayswater, a large residential project in Kensington, some smaller residential interiors, and a brand and website project. Whilst we already have a number of irons in the fire, we’re always on the lookout for exciting new opportunities. We love projects like Royal Lancaster because they allow us to work on everything from leading the rebranding of the hotel to architectural interventions and, of course, the interior design. It’s always exciting to find and release unloved, locked-up or under-performing spaces but we also like working on little gems such as The Mirror Bar at The Landmark London Hotel. It’s exciting to be able to be so open to future potential!
How would you define your ‘hotel style’?
We don’t have one and hope we never do. Whilst we don’t pretend to offer traditional interiors, and our work comes from a modern heart, our creativity is always borne out of the client’s brief. We would hate to pigeonhole ourselves as this undermines creativity. It is important to us to keep things fresh and we pride ourselves on delivering quality, functionality and simply stunning interiors without gimmicks, house style or ego.
What does design mean to you?
I think true designers are like artists. If you ask an artist why they create they will ask: “Why do you breathe? There’s no choice, it’s a compulsion”. Design for me is the same. I’m always designing; chairs, lamps, houses, and when I’m not doing those for clients I’m designing cars, trainers, new business ideas, transport solutions, everything and anything. I leave trails of scrap paper with sketches everywhere I go. It’s not just a career for me, it’s my way of life.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Probably transporting The Cotton House Hotel Barcelona to St.Kitts in the Caribbean. The island my wife’s family comes from and where we have had some amazing, chilled out holidays. The Cotton House, with its colonial architecture, heritage and feel, and tropical rooftop garden would fit perfectly on a Caribbean island.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Another USA road trip – this time from San Francisco to Vancouver (coasts, wine and wild forest).
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
I think there’s currently a gap in the market for generator-style venues aimed at a more mature traveller that offer great style, connectivity with the local scene, and a more outgoing approach at affordable prices.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
The Delano hotel, Miami South beach – I have some great stories from there including ending up semi-accidentally gate-crashing Dennis Hopper’s pool party in 1997.
The Shepherds’ Huts at the Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey – it was an amazing family holiday. We watched a beautiful sunrise over the estuary, searched for owls and bats at dusk and just revelled in each other’s company.
A private villa rented in Porto Rafael, Sardinia – We had a big birthday celebration there for myself and my wife. The villa overlooked crystal blue waters by a private beach with views across the Smeralda coast to the island of Maddalena.
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?
Ah, the Holy Grail! I think I do pretty well though. Most of our work is in the UK and Europe so travel is restricted, and I know from colleagues at other large practices that this side of the profession can be very damaging to family life. We always have offices close to home in London, so we never have a commute of more than 20 minutes. If you can take the lost time of travel out of the equation, then it’s really just a case of managing project resources well. Being a smaller practice we have a simpler view of workload and can react quickly and ensure we don’t take on too much work at any one time or spread our skills too thinly.