Posted in People on 8 February, 2016

Can Faik meets Christopher W. Norton, the creative visionary behind Four Seasons’ world-renowned success…

Christopher W. Norton oversees global hotel operations, design, construction, capital planning and procurement, and drives the look and feel of Four Seasons with the objective of being recognised as the very best in every destination where the company operates. To achieve this vision, Chris brings together company talent along with top international designers, architects, and the best operators in the business in cross-functional teams to deliver exceptional guest experiences.

Tell us about your role at Four Seasons. What does your current position involve?

I am focused on ensuring that what we design, what we build, and how we operate hotels are done in concert with one another. Much like the symbiotic relationship between form and function, product and service excellence are also interdependent and there should always be a seamless integration between how we build and operate our world-class hotels.

How would you describe Four Seasons design philosophy?

Great design elevates the guest experience. While luxury can imply extravagance, we have always strived to find the perfect balance between form and function; between guest comfort and beauty. Our design philosophy has always been very guest-centric and has evolved based on what our guests have told us they want. For example, spaces with multiple functions that give guests the ability to exercise control over their environments is paramount to guest comfort. Understanding how our guests move through a space – how they engage with light, sound and technology and also how they interact with each other and our employees – allows us to create guest-centric spaces of exceptional quality that are relevant and beautiful, and also highly functional.

What are you focused on right now? 

One area of personal passion, and you could even say obsession for me, is lighting. Lighting is integral to great design and often one of the most challenging elements to get right. It can fundamentally change the mood and atmosphere of a space and utterly transform an environment. Great hotel design has always been about how a space makes you feel and look and lighting impacts both these elements. Above all else though, lighting must be functional and serve the needs of our guests.

We’re working with some brilliant lighting designers on upcoming properties in New York, Philadelphia and Madrid and investing a considerable amount of time on the quality of light, as well as integrating natural light as much as possible to create a sense of well-being. We’re also exploring proprietary lighting systems for Four Seasons – lighting that is intuitive and customisable.

How would you describe the design aesthetic at Four Seasons?

One of Four Seasons greatest design strengths is that we have never been defined by a single look or aesthetic. We have always pursued an approach to design that celebrates a destinations’ indigenous culture and local artistry and as a result no two Four Seasons properties are the same. Having a unique vision and authentic personality for each property is important in meeting our guests’ expectations for locally relevant experiences.

Relative to many of our competitors we are a small company. Our size gives us many distinct advantages, including flexibility with our hotel owners and design partners to bring unique property visions to life. Our goal is to evoke a very layered, residential look and feel in our properties, one that reflects a high level of taste and sophistication. If a guest walks into one of our hotels and says ‘I want my home to look like this’ then we have succeeded.

How do you find new designers? Do you find them or do they find you? 

Both. We are frequently approached by designers – some well-known, some emerging talent – who are passionate about working with Four Seasons. They see what we are creating and want to be a part of it.  Over the last several years we have taken a focused look at the designers we partner with and have introduced many new A-list designers who are bringing our properties to life in fresh, innovative ways.

Rather than a static list, we constantly add new designers to our roster to match world-class talent with each project. We have also reviewed our design standards to give designers more freedom in expressing their vision of a luxury lifestyle.  The design team at our head office in Toronto is continuously watching what’s happening in the world of design and flagging inspiring, innovative and fresh designers.  We are willing to take risks with new, emerging talent but want design partners that have a very strong sense of quality and luxury.

Where do you look for inspiration? 

I spend a lot of time observing how people consume luxury – both products and experiences. Two industries that I admire and that have taught me a great deal about the importance of design and the emotional motivations behind luxury purchases are the automotive and retail industries.  At the high end of the luxury spectrum, both these industries tap into an emotional connection with consumers. They don’t just sell products, they sell a lifestyle statement. Understanding and acknowledging both the conscious and unconscious factors that influence luxury purchases helps ensure we are addressing and meeting the emotional needs of our guests and delivering an element of surprise.

How does Four Seasons differentiate itself from the competition? 

Great design and beautiful hardware is the price of entry in the luxury hospitality space. Our single most important point of differentiation is the consistent quality of service excellence you encounter across the Four Seasons portfolio.

Our commitment to delivering exceptional, highly personalised service is Four Seasons competitive advantage and how we deliver what I refer to as ‘value through vibrancy’ in everything we do. Our employees’ deep understanding and awareness of our guests’ needs help us identify trends early on. It’s how we ensure we are not only meeting the needs of our guests, but continuing to stay one step ahead.

What do you think is next for the industry in terms of design?  

I spend a lot of time with millennials and millennial-minded travellers to better understand their preferences and the way they engage with technology and space. We are keenly aware of ever-changing technology and its impact on guest behaviors, which in turn impacts the functionality of a space and how we conceive and design our rooms and public areas. Spaces are becoming more and more interchangeable giving guests the freedom to decide how they want to engage. New advances in technology will provide exciting new opportunities to elevate the guest experience.

Tell us about some upcoming new openings. 

We are focused on growing in new destinations and also expanding our presence in key urban markets through a combination of new builds, conversions and adaptive reuses of some extraordinary spaces. In 2016 we plan to open a second New York hotel in the heart of Lower Manhattan – Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown – and in Dubai we will open our second property – Four Seasons Hotel Dubai International Financial Centre, a complement to our existing property, Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. The concept behind Dubai DIFC is unique in that it represents a smaller footprint, exceptionally efficient infrastructure and back of house and leverages a shared service model with Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. Other upcoming additions to the portfolio include new properties in Abu Dhabi, Surfside, Florida; and Oahu, Hawaii, as well as the addition of a new hotel in London – Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, an adaptive reuse of a unique heritage property located in the City of London, adjacent to the historic Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

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