YEE PIN TAN, HEAD OF DESIGN SIX SENSES
Appointed Head of Design at Six Senses at the beginning of the year, Yee Pin Tan tells Sophie Harper how design within in the hospitality sector has shaped her life.
Having begun her career as an architect and, being very much enveloped in the world of architecture, Pin tells me hospitality design was an alien concept to her when she started out, “It wasn’t at all in my vocabulary,” she emphasizes. A fateful move to Paris changed the course
of Pin’s career path, when she met Ed Tuttle through a mutual friend. “I had recently seen images of Amanpuri Resort Thailand (designed by Ed’s studio), it was fresh, modern and reverently contextual without appearing kitsch.” Finding herself struck by Ed’s design, having “never seen a hotel like that before” Pin asked Ed for a job. “Ed was also trained as an architect and sees interiors less as decoration but as interior architecture, which really suited my sensibilities,” she says. “I guess you could say my interest was ignited, so I begged him for a job and my apprenticeship into hospitality design started there and then on Rue des Saints Peres [Paris].”
Pin completed her degree in Architecture at the University of Oregon in 1986. She worked in the US prior to moving to France and working with Ed Tuttle, where she then spent 23 years honing her craft in outstanding design conception and space planning. In 2016, Pin moved back to her native Asia and became Design Director at JID, perpetuating the legacy of the brilliant late designer Jaya Ibrahim, working on an extensive portfolio of luxury hotels. NowPin has a whole new chapter to start writing with a new position as Head of Design at Six Senses, and it sounds as though there’s plenty to keep her busy as she tells me what her role entails. “It is a very expansive role. I am responsible for supporting all creative teams for project design, branding, marketing, sustainability, spa and wellness,” she says. “To put it simply, I need to ensure the overall consistency of the brand visions and that all designs are consistent with the brand identity.” And with the brand currently in the midst of a growth spurt, Pin has her work cut out as she takes on projects in London, Rome, Umbria, Grenada, New York City, Costa Rica and many more in the pipeline. “It is exciting times at Six Senses,” she says.
Bringing a strong design ethos to her new role, Pin talks about the importance not only of design aesthetics, but of the practicality of design. “You could write a thesis on the subject of hotel design,” she says, “but for me design aesthetics must go hand in hand with well conceived spaces that are suited to their specific functions. No matter how beautiful a hotel is, if it does not work well, it is not well designed in my eyes; I really value well designed spaces.” And when it comes to immersive travel experiences for guests, Pin sees design as an all- important factor. “Good design elevates the experience of the guest from just a mere ordinary stay to an extra-ordinary experience, helping to create unforgettable memories,” she says.
Pin’s enthusiasm for the Six Senses brand is evident as she describes its design style and ethos. “In a nutshell Six Senses showcases design with a great sense of natural unselfconsciousness, layered with a sprinkling of quirkiness and peppered with environmental consciousness. It is luxury without airs and graces.” Environmental awareness is integral to the brand ethos and Pin tells me how part of her role is to champion ongoing measures to maintain and improve Six Senses’ sustainability credentials. “Six Senses is a hotel group that does not only talk the talk but is certainly very proud to walk the walk when it comes to Sustainability. We are always looking for new and sustainable materials to use in our hotels,” she tells me. “The selections of finishes and evenconstruction process are all related to how sustainable and ecological they are. The sourcing of our FF&E and our OS&E must also go through the same rigorous standards. Thus ultimately, sustainability also helps dictate the look and feel of our properties.”
Having spent the last three decades in the design industry, Pin describes design as “all encompassing” and tells me how she lives and breathes design and is surrounded by inspiration, daily. “You can take design to whatever level you would like,” she says. “I have a naturally very curious and creative mind; I am fascinated by biophilia and therefore design inspired by nature.” When it comes to putting design into practice or working on a new project, Pin looks at factors that will ultimately engage a guest as her starting block. “I think it is very important to have a story and narrative to guide and direct a designer,” she says. “The guests are viewed as a welcomed participant in our Six Senses journey and story.
I think, any discerning guest will also be able to connect in many other ways, Six Senses properties are rich in elements to connect the users to all the basic five senses and the sixth sense, will be their discovery of the story during their stay.”
Pin talks of the challenges faced by the industry and how, as a designer, she has adapted over the years to meet the demands of an ever-evolving market. “The hospitality world has certainly changed tremendously over the past decade. The guests are more discerning and expect a lot more from hotels today. There has been a big change in lifestyle, in the last decade particularly, that started with the Internet,” she says. “The world has become so much smaller and more easily accessible. This new nomadic lifestyle has a huge impact on hospitality, and so designs must adapt to serve the new needs and expectations of guests. In true Six Senses style we will push our design offering even more to expand the experience for our guests.” Spending much of her day answering emails and looking through paperwork for various projects as the brand expands, Pin says she’s very “hands-on” when it comes to her role as Head of Design. From sketches and making changes to designs, she likes to keep a handle of what’s happening across the board. Then there’s the travel and trying to keep up with new products and suppliers. “I do not consciously put a time frame for sourcing,” she says, “however, I am always on the lookout and I try to keep up with new product launches. I try to visit the big fairs and tend to alternate Maison et Objet one year and Salone del Mobile the next year.”
Hearing about plans for Six Senses’ expansion in the coming years and the teams Pin is responsible for in the process, I want to find out what Pin enjoys most about designing a hotel. “I like to design a perfect sexy and quirky room,” she states, quite matter of fact. “It is the integral part of a hotel and it is one component that will be repeated ‘X’ amount of times. It always puts a smile on my face when you know the guests are feeling positively their best and they cannot quite put their finger on why they feel so good. It is ultimately thanks to a well-designed room that gives them a great night of sleep and comfort (that magical feeling).” And on that note, I think I know where I’ll be booking my next trip.