INTERVIEW: INGE MOORE & NATHAN HUTCHINS, FOUNDERS, MUZA LAB
When Inge Moore and Nathan Hutchins formed Muza Lab four years ago, it was with a sense of wanting to get back to the work they loved. Sophie Harper interviews the dynamic duo to find out if they’ve managed to achieve that goal.
Known for its delivery of elegant spaces in luxurious settings, Muza Lab has become a name synonymous with design excellence – the reason the studio lands contracts with the likes of Belmond, One & Only, Mandarin Oriental, and Royal Mansour to name a few. Born from a shared passion for emotive
design and storytelling, Muza Lab was formed by Inge Moore and Nathan Hutchins in 2016 – and in that relatively short space of time has already garnered high accolade from the industry including numerous awards.
Nathan was raised in the Caribbean, Inge in South Africa, and they tell me that they have both come from backgrounds that require ingenuity, resilience, and flexibility. “Our global experiences in both architectural and interiors practices have given us a broad view of the industry and we were lucky enough to have spent 13 years working together before creating Muza Lab.” Both wanting to be more hands-on with design and with their clients, Inge and Nathan felt that a smaller studio would allow them to create a new path; something more people-centric, to be limitless with their design. “We wanted to spend more time on design and less on large company admin. We are both ‘doers’!” With similar passions and outlooks on projects, Inge and Nathan’s work is fluid, but with slightly different skillsets and viewpoints they’re able to debate, challenge, and extract the best from each other. “We are both involved in all projects,” they tell me, “one may be the client’s main contact but we constantly bounce all work in the studio off each other.”
Of course their team is immensely important to the studio’s success and Inge and Nathan explain that it’s not about how many people are in the team, but that the individuals within the team are able to work closely together as one unit, with skill, flexibility, and passion for their work – with the studio’s ethos of ‘work hard, learn something new every day, have fun, love your projects and clients’. “Our culture is unique and people are at the core of everything that we do. We believe in the importance of community – we support the next generation of design talent and encourage curious minds to defy convention, to be limitless, to create places that connect hearts and minds.”
They tell me how there are around a dozen members in the team currently and that they really don’t have any plans to expand beyond that. “Our ambition is to always be better. The last few months in particular has highlighted the benefit of being a close knit, flexible team.” Of course it has been challenging for a number of us and so I’m interested to hear how the Muza Lab team has overcome more unusual working circumstances and how Inge and Nathan think things might change for the hospitality industry as a result of the pandemic. “All of us must be more experimental and nimble – both places and people,” they tell me. “Hospitality spaces will need to be less rigid and the focus, more than ever, should be on flexibility and connecting with people. Travel will become more precious and will need to resonate more.”
One of the biggest focuses recently has been on sustainability in the design and hospitality industries, but with the effects of the pandemic taking up everyone’s energy, it has been feared that environmental concerns may have fallen by the wayside. It seems though that Nathan and Inge still have sustainability very much at the forefront of their minds. “We are passionate about creativity and regeneration,” they tell me. “We believe in good design that respects our people and preserves our planet. Wherever possible we employ ethical practices that not only reduce negative environmental impact but also bring economic benefits to our clients and to their natural habitats and communities.” They tell me how they actively encourage their team to think outside the box and challenge design norms and processes in order to reduce their environmental impact. “We believe you don’t always need to re-create you can re-purpose a lot of items and we always try and work with local suppliers, manufacturers, crafts people and tradespeople to achieve this. We are both nurture-nature people and happiest when we can look after our planet and try to preserve and conserve our planet in each project. One of the saddest things of this pandemic is how much everyone has just turned to plastic again.”
I ask more about their design approach and what they both feel design brings to a hotel environment. They talk about interaction and detail – right down to the very smallest objects. “Every single little detail and moment is important, that’s why we love it so much. You create so many different moments and points of interaction – the private moments and spaces; the public spaces and places for staff and families to come together, from big structural details to the perfect little vase or ashtray – hotel design is about creating a holistic experience.” It’s what drives Muza Lab as a team, connection in every sense, from concept to end product, top to bottom, and it matters very much to both Inge and Nathan that everyone who comes into contact with a space they’ve designed is affected by it in some way. “One of the most special things is the human bonds and connections we form on every project and what we learn from each other on each project,” they tell me.
In respect of the guest experience, they hope to evoke feelings of happiness and make memories, “We hope it makes people smile. We hope our playful experimentation, mindful approach and rigorous attention to detail allows for authentic design that connects with local communities unlocking emotional connections and imprinting treasured memories that leave guests wanting to return time and again.”
Learning from every project they work on, Inge and Nathan try and take something different from each experience and describe the feeling of working on something new as having a ‘seductive buzz that captures you like an addiction’ but at the end of the day design is always about people. “Design is about making people feel good, making people look good, designing somewhere that makes people smile. People have always been our greatest inspiration. We believe good design serves as the armature for their stories, connecting hearts and minds and creating moments that matter.”
At the moment the studio is working on projects all over the world, from beach resorts on the Athens Riviera to Morocco, an exquisite family home in St Barths, an eclectic bachelor’s pad in Mayfair, the reimagining of a 1932 classic superyacht and an explorers camp under the secluded star lit skies in the Arabian desert. “Culture, passion, rigour, and people set Muza Lab apart from other studios,” they say.“As a boutique laboratory, our sense of curation is one of our greatest strengths, through the playful layering of materials, crafts and histories and rigorous attention to detail, we design authentic places. We’re extremely proud of all of our projects, but often it is the journey as much as the result.” And as the journey continues, I can’t wait to see how Muza Lab and its team evolves under such passionate leadership.