Isabelle Miaja, Founder, Miaja Design Group
With her truly global perspective and enthusiasm, award-winning interior designer Isabelle Miaja is every bit as energetic as she is motivated. Exciting times lie ahead for the company, she tells Can Faik…
Miaja Design Group is an international interior design and architecture firm providing design solutions for luxury brand hotels and resorts, corporate developments, high-end residential, and F&B clients across the world. Founded in 1995 by Isabelle Miaja, the firm has grown into a strong outfit headquartered in Singapore, with regional offices in London and Manila. Miaja’s ethos is that each and every project should be innovative with its own style and personality, with a unique and distinctive design approach to each of its projects, including Sofitel So Singapore, Pullman Central Park Hotel in Jakarta, Sofitel Mumbai BKC in India and the newly completed LUX*North Male Atoll Maldives, for which Miaja has gained international recognition.
Tell me about your role at Miaja Design Group
I am the company founder, and my role is to be the visionary of our projects. I am also the person who ensures we deliver high standards and our unique design signature.
What five words would you use to describe Miaja Design Group?
We are innovative, inspiring and instinctive!
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
This year marks my 25th year as a hotel designer based in Singapore.
What do you love about being a designer?
It gives me a creative outlet. I love thinking of unique new concepts and bespoke design. I also enjoy the process from creative to implementation, and of course, seeing the final result of a beautiful hotel or resort project is very rewarding!
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I can find inspiration from many sources. It could be an object, a word, a person, an animal, a moment in history or the context of where the design happens. For me, each design story has to be unique. One single element can become the signature of the project.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
I’ve noticed a rise in the popularity of intimate spaces in hotels. Even large hotels with 750 rooms can have a boutique hotel feel. There is a need to give a ‘human aspect’ to the design.
The second trend I’ve noticed is the incredible rise in wellness within the hotel industry. There is a lot more importance given to health aspects and special dietary requirements in the F&B outlets… whether it be gluten-free, keto or vegan menus. Yoga, Pilates and cycling is becoming a popular part of people’s holidays, and hotels are often designed with this demand in mind. There’s not only a focus on physical wellbeing but also on mental wellbeing selfcare, relaxation and meditation.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
These are the places where people gather to eat, chat, work and do business… so the public spaces are an essential aspect of any design and I always enjoy working on this part of a hotel project.
Recently, we have just completed Pullman Nadi Bay Resort & Spa in Fiji (opened April 2019) where I designed the public areas and I’m very pleased with the results. It’s a design inspired traditional Fijian culture but finished with a contemporary feel. In the lobby, there are original art sculptures that I personally designed named ‘Totem’. They are a representation of the vibrancy and colours of the local culture. Visitors have a warm Fijian welcome from the onset when they enter the resort.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Miaja Design Group stand out from the rest?
Miaja Design Group has a signature of creating unique and innovative designs. We create unique art piece collections for each project, bringing in a local creative inspiration. Tapping into the country’s cultural background and its unique artistic translation. These personalised art pieces become a part of the essence of the project, and a fundamental element of the final vision. Recently too, we have a focus on wellbeing, understanding the human aspect of each design.
How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Miaja Design Group felt the effects?
Throughout the years, I have seen many economic climates. Fortunately, Miaja Design Group offers innovative and unique design solutions, and this is something that always creates demand and offers exceptional value in the hospitality industry.
What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?
The importance of listening – to client briefs, to what’s happening in the market, to current design trends. It’s essential to be flexible, but also to stay true to your instincts and design style.
How would you define your ‘Hotel Style’?
Eclectic. I don’t like to define my designs as being a particular style. I want the project to define itself; have its own unique signature and be sensitive to the environment, local culture, and a have good sense of time and space.
What does design mean to you?
Beauty, elegance and a sense of belonging. I want the spaces I create to reflect the local culture and the history of its location but be representative of the present times. I want to design hotels that make unforgettable memories for people, and above all, makes them feel good about themselves.
What do you want in a hotel room?
A good bed, rest is so important. As I enter a hotel room, I want to see a thoughtfully planned out space, beautiful finishes, woods, silks, well-placed lighting. Luxury meets functionality is key.
What’s your favourite part of a hotel?
The lobby. I want to be welcomed; it must be a space where I can find my own private area, but also connect with others. I like a lobby with a café or area for tea and cake.
Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
I see a lot of growth in the restaurant concepts. There is a lot more focus on variety of places to eat. All-day dining and speciality restaurants with cuisine from all over the world. Even simple hotels have an increased focus on F&B, and luxury restaurants want the prestige of Michelin Star restaurants as part of their offering.
What has been your favourite project to date?
LUX* North Male Atoll Maldives is one of my most recent favourite projects (Opened February 2019). Miaja Design Group did the both the architecture and interior design for this hotel. The final result is spectacular, and we have received incredible worldwide recognition for this project design. I call it the James Bond Resort!
What’s next for Miaja Design Group?
We are designing hospitals, wellness and care is a big focus for us.
Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
We are designing Bumrungrad International Hospital, a private multiplespeciality medical centre in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s been an amazing journey to combine what we know about hotel design and apply this to wellness and how design can help with one of the most difficult time in people’s lives; sickness.
We are exploring the ways in which design can create an atmosphere that can aid relaxation and reduce stress for patients.
How much time do you dedicate to sourcing products and suppliers for the projects you work on?
Regularly, there is so much learning to be done. New products help us design better and in a more creative way.
Do you find it easy to source new suppliers or do you work with existing companies on a long-term basis?
We do of course have long term relationships with suppliers. However, new products are vital to inject life into our innovative new designs, so we must always be active in looking for new suppliers for our projects. I enjoy this process very much.
What would be your dream hotel project?
A lodge hotel in Africa!
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
St Petersburg and the Orient Express.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
Hotels have to cater to individuality and segmentation. They must listen to the hotel guest as a person with interests and unique requirements.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, The Imperial New Delhi, and The Carlyle Hotel, New York.
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?
When you have a passion such as design, it is not a job; it’s a part of you and you take it wherever you go. Being an artist isn’t something you can switch off. I am thankful that when I travel for work, I can often do this with my children. I do work long hours, but many people do without the joy that I have for my designs.
I consider myself very fortunate. I know my children are incredibly proud of what I have achieved in my career, and I am happy that I can also pass this joy and passion of design onto them. My eldest son Julian and my daughter Severine work with me at Miaja Design Group. I’m delighted that we can continue the family business together!