5 minutes with Constantina Tsoutsikou
Constantina Tsoutsikou of The Gallery HBA in London talks spas, sensuality and success with Can Faik…
Tell me about your role at The Gallery HBA?
I am an associate at The Gallery HBA in London. I started as a designer in 2005 and worked my way up from there, moving through the field of hospitality design and naturally progressing into spas, which I take particular pleasure in. I have collaborated with the industry’s best operators and every new project adds another layer of know-how and expertise. Apart from leading my projects and managing the teams, I enjoy mentoring the younger designers.
I like the vigorous pace and the element of unexpected in the nature of my role. No one day is the same. I could be asked to hop on a plane at any given moment to meet a new client or select marble slabs in Italy for an ongoing project. I thrive in this kind of scenario and feed off the energy of travelling and meeting new people.
What projects are you currently working on?
There is always a mix of projects that are running simultaneously in the studio. Currently on my desk, I have shop drawings for the suites in the Westin Excelsior in Florence to review, as well as space planning sketches and a material palette for a luxury residential development in Mumbai. This is a stunning building surrounded by the city’s lush botanical gardens. Projects tend to be in different phases, which means multitasking is required as well as an ability to mentally move back and forth between the broad overview and the precision of a minute detail.
As you move into your 11th year with The Gallery HBA, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Hilton Schiphol in Amsterdam, which is opening on the 9th February, has been very special to me and an extraordinary journey. By far the largest scale project, with 433 rooms and a generous conference facility, restaurant and spa. I have developed it from the early concept stages, right down to the last styling detail and accessory, designing bespoke furniture and lighting along the way. Working closely with the Dutch teams of Schiphol Real Estate and Mecanoo architecten, it is the trust and a good work ethic which we established that made this a delightful project to be part of.
How important is the journey when it comes to designing a new hotel?
Any project will follow a design journey from start to finish.
It is the passion and personal involvement that makes a difference and creates a distinguished result. This journey has many layers. The human experience is at the centre of my design philosophy.
I am a very tactile and visual person, so sensing the materiality of a scheme is important to me. I’ll run my hand over all the finishes and fabrics that go in. Everything has to not just look right, it has to feel right and be suitable for the intended use in a hotel set up.
How does a certain stone feel like to walk on barefoot in a spa? What about the leather on the arm of a lounge chair, is it comforting to touch? Is the foam density enough to slowly sink into the seat but firm enough so it doesn’t sag after use? Our memories are formed from experiences through our bodies. And it is lasting memories that we want to evoke when designing a space.
How many meetings are you likely to attend in a week?
A week without meetings means I can get down to the job and focus on tasks, which is really nice in between travels.
Meetings range from formal client presentations to more casual workshops where the different consultant teams sit around a table and more often than not involves rolls of tracing paper being spread out, sketching ideas and solving technical details. I prefer a face-to-face exchange of ideas, even if it is a heated one. Conference calls are my pet hate.
Internally, I catch up daily with the team on each project. We sit and discuss who is doing what. At The Gallery HBA, we have a very talented team of designers, it feels like family. I am also interested in their wellbeing, and ensuring they are happy with their tasks and the demands of the job.
What is your favourite city?
Copenhagen and Amsterdam are right at the top of my list. It is the human scale of these cities that makes them stand out. I always feel good when I am there and keep coming back. I love it all: the lifestyle, the culture, the energy and the people.
What is your favourite hotel?
In Copenhagen it is Sp34. I like the mid-century elements and the bohemian feel. In Amsterdam, the Canal House on the Keizersgracht . They are both seductive in their own right. Sensitively and imaginatively converted townhouses, in the midst of great neighbourhoods, with their own stories to tell.
Tell us about your last three trips?
I have been flying back and forth to Amsterdam quite a lot over the last couple of years, almost twice a month, and further afield to Dubai and Florence mainly. I try and keep travels short and productive.
My last trip was a fun one night in Oslo to see Royksopp playing live in Spectrum, just before Christmas. The following day I visited the exhibition, Arkitekturstriper – architecture in comic-strip form at the National Museum, checked out the Norwegian Christmas market and flew back to London in time for a late Sunday roast with my family.
Next, I am going to Northmodern design fair, where I ll be on the lookout for new, undiscovered and upcoming brands.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I enjoy different genres of music, from classical to experimental electronic, but am very particular about what it is I am listening to. Right now, it is ‘Gode’ by Andre Bratten and ‘Origami’ by Kapser Bjorke & Abstraxion.
One thing you can’t live without?
I am addicted to my BeO play H3 headphones. I won’t leave the house without them. If they are not in my ear, they are in my pocket and never far from reach.
What projects will you hope to be working on in the future?
Creating the unexpected, in hotels or elsewhere.
What would be your dream project?
A small retreat on a remote Greek island, a sunny hideaway, a sanctuary. Very low tech, built with respect to the indigenous Aegean architectural traditions, locally sourced materials and surrounded by wild, unspoilt nature. That would be my dream.