James Dilley, heaD oF hosPitality aND iNteRioR DesiGN, Jestico + Whiles

Posted in News, People on 27 September, 2018

SPACE’s Can Faik speaks to James Dilley, Head of Hospitality and the creative vision behind Jestico + Whiles…

Jestico + Whiles is an award-winning architecture and interior design practice working from London and Prague. The practice incorporates a specialist and highly respected hotel and hospitality design studio of experienced and accomplished designers including architects, interior designers and FFE specifiers.

Tell me about your role at Jestico + Whiles?

I lead the Hospitality Design Studio, which comprises architectural design, interior design, visual identity and graphics, ideally with all skills deployed on a project to create a robust, deep and cogent design. The name Hospitality Studio encompasses so many sectors which now include, and are influenced by, service – we design hotels, restaurants, cinemas, private members clubs, special retail, ships and residential. Current projects are in locations as diverse as Georgia, Malta and Switzerland as well as Edinburgh and London.

What five words would you use to describe Jestico + Whiles?

Our diversity is our speciality.

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

Almost my entire career. I joined Jestico + Whiles where, as executive architects, we were finishing The Hempel. On the back of that, we were appointed as designers of One Aldwych, on which I worked for three years as project architect mostly on site and learnt an enormous amount about the art of hospitality from one of the world’s great hoteliers. We are now back working at One Aldwych with some of the original team.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?

Symbiotic hotels that use their hospitality credentials to join seamlessly with other related uses. We are working on some fascinating projects which fuse with retail, co-working and independent cinemas. Another has a recording studio and a fully functioning broadcasting radio station.

How important are public spaces in hotels?

They are everything or nothing. Some hotels dissolve their walls to become permeable. The facilities in the immediate surrounding area outside the hotel effectively becomes the ‘public area’ of the hotel. The hotel itself can then focus effectively on the guest rooms.

Other hotels attempt to embrace the local context by providing public areas that aspire to become part of the local cultural landscape. The latter often fails, particularly when the hotels are located in great locations, saturated with an extraordinary choice of bars and restaurants.

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Jestico + Whiles stand out from the rest?
We have focussed on a relatively select set of projects that have to satisfy certain design and operational criteria and offer particular challenges. This is mostly defined by the owner’s vision. At the moment this means that we are focusing on independent hotels or brands which make hotels that do not have a strictly defined visual identity.

How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market and has Jestico + Whiles felt the effects?
The majority of our hospitality work, around 70%, is widely dispersed overseas so we tend to avoid economic effects of one location. The weakness of sterling and perceived safety of the UK is fuelling tourism in the UK, and the London Plan requires upwards of 40,000 additional hotel rooms.

What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?
I learnt almost on day one working at One Aldwych that environment plus service defines experience. Of course, now, every treatise on hospitality speaks of experience as a driver for design, but service is often neglected.

What has been your favourite project to date?

I really have had a series of unique, extraordinary ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities. That’s like being asked to choose your favourite child, I am not doing that!

How much time do you dedicate to sourcing products and suppliers for the projects you work on?
We have a core library of favourite craftsmen, materials and suppliers, the others are sourced from the team’s travels.

What’s next for you?
The ongoing search for the next once-in-a-lifetime project!

How would you define your ‘hotel style’?
Striving for joy and delight, by any means possible.

What does design mean to you?
In hospitality we use design to define an environment, and to enable service. Both service and design should be invisible, and should fuse into experiences which, in turn, should be focussed on joy and delight.

Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
We are very active in eastern Europe at the moment, actively pursuing fantastic opportunities in the Ukraine where there is a great energy, and Georgia where the culture and geography are totally unique and undiscovered to most people.

What would be your dream hotel project?
I am honestly lucky enough to have worked on a succession of ‘once in a lifetime’ projects from a converted Victorian textile factory to the interiors of an extraordinary building across a Formula One Grand Prix track to the repurposing of two newspaper print works (one in London and one in Tbilisi, Georgia). This seam of gold continues with the redesign of two grande dame, Belle Époque hotels in Switzerland (one ‘town’ and one ‘country’) for the same owner, as well as the conversion of a theatre in London’s West End, most recently used as a cinema, that was run by Brian Epstein as a venue for the likes of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Who in the sixties. So I can honestly say my dream project is whatever is currently on my drawing board.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I have a great passion for books written by bumbling but blessed amateur ‘British explorers’, and try to synchronise them with my travels. I am writing this in Luang Prabang in Laos reading Norman Lewis (admittedly not an amateur!). So, the ultimate trip would be to Afghanistan to follow the route of Eric Newby, in A Short Walk in the Hi du Kush, but that ain’t happening any time soon!

Where do you see hotel design in the future?
Polarising between those that retain human contact in service as a form of experience, and those that do not, at the moment, there is a blind acceptance that removing as much human contact as possible is somehow luxurious, when often it is not even efficient. While I appreciate the novelty of buying a Katsura curry from a vending machine in Osaka, I don’t want to buy a Manhattan from a vending machine in Manhattan.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Amankora, Bhutan. A shed in a field in Devon, February 2018 – horizontal driving rain, great fire, no WiFi. A folding tent on top of a 4wd on the Skeleton coast in Namibia.

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?
My work brings me into contact with a lot of visionary owners who have become friends and from whom we get repeat work, so travelling for work is not always like work and that helps. That said, the only good thing about being away from my family is coming home and you make the best of your time together. With the team at the office travelling widely, it is always good to hear stories of their trips when we finally all get together.

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