DEXTER MOREN, FOUNDING DIRECTOR of DEXTER MOREN ASSOCIATES
Can Faik meets Dexter Moren, the creative visionary behind Dexter Moren Associates’ world-renowned success…
Celebrating 25 years in business, Dexter Moren Associates is an award-winning practice of architecture and interior design specialists, working right across the hospitality spectrum. With an established world-renowned reputation they place their design-led ethos of ‘creating places people want to stay’ at the heart of everything they do. They provide an individual approach to each project; they are passionate, commercially astute and committed to producing beautiful buildings and interiors that respond to location and context.
Tell me about your role at Dexter Moren Associates?
When DMA was founded 25 years ago we were a typical small start-up with three people dealing with anything and everything. Now that we are a team of 55. My specific role is more focused on new business and project feasibilities, though my role as one of five directors also encompasses typical practice management and direction. However, I’m primarily a designer.
What five words would you use to describe Dexter Moren Associates?
A great place to work.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
My first hotel was the 30-storey iconic beachfront Marine Parade hotel in Durban, which I won in competition for my first employer in 1981. It was inspired by the great hotels of Miami Beach, discovered when a graduate student at Columbia University, New York. Incredibly 36 years later were completing a 500-key dual brand landmark hotel in the centre of Cape Town for the current owner of that Durban hotel.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design? How important are public spaces in hotels?
The most exciting trend for designers is the resurgence and focus on restaurants and bars in new hotels, particularly lifestyle brands, after years in which R&B was an almost apologetic adjunct to room sales.
With so many hospitality designers and architects in the industry, how does Dexter Moren Associates stand out from the rest?
Developers, operators, financiers and brands all recognise DMA as having the unique ability to plan hotels that create in equal measure a great guest experience (Front of House) with a highly efficient operational model (Back of House).
What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?
We have learnt to always be acutely sensitive to the unique particulars of each and every client and location in developing a bespoke design solution and to remain open to new ideas and directions. This bespoke approach has latterly become the cornerstone of much current hotel industry direction to create location specific rather than generic hotels, such as our Hilton Bankside.
What has been your favourite project to date?
I always say the latest project is my favourite, but some years ago we were invited to design a major re-planning and extension to the famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes where I spent time with my cinematic father at the annual Film Festival for many years from the age of six. It was a great opportunity to work on a hotel I’d known and loved for many years, but sadly an economic downturn saw the hotel sold and our scheme unrealised.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I’ve longed to see the pyramids and the Egyptian monuments along the river Nile, but security seems to have thwarted that dream for the moment.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
Hospitality design is about creating great places that people want to visit and what’s exciting for the future of hotels is the embracing of lifestyle experiences and now the embracing of this hospitality-lead approach to future trends in revolutionising many other building types such as hostels, student accommodation, housing, offices etc.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
The Carlton Hotel, Cannes and the Shangri-La in the Shard (where I took my wife for a wedding anniversary), which has the best views of any London hotel. Thirdly, my own four bedroom relaxation bolt hole in Simonstown, Cape Town which overlooks spectacular mountains and sea in a paradise location.
How would you describe your style?
Our style is derived from absorbing the quintessential features of each and every location in order to be unique and bespoke every time.
How and why did you get into the design industry?
My parents remember me wanting to be an architect at the age of six and I have never wavered. I grew up in Johannesburg and was fortunate to travel extensively internationally with my English parents. My first six-year architecture degree was from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, followed (after a few years’ experience) by a Masters in urban design at Columbia University, New York and finally my RIBA part 3 from the Architectural Association, London. Along the way I also completed a part time MBA.
What do you love about being a designer?
I love everything about being a designer, but especially the skill of hand drawing, which probably reflects my age. I’m the dinosaur with the drawing board in our office!
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Consistent with our approach to design, primary inspiration comes from the particularities of each site added to influences of great designers past and present. My first bosses and mentors were Louis Kahn students and that discipline remains deeply imbedded, though I’m personally still true to the ‘plan is the generator’ philosophy of Le Corbusier.
What are some of your most popular designsn and projects? Tell us a bit about some of them and what you love about them. What’s your favourite and why?
I have too many favourites to mention and I’d say we have many great designers in our office that contribute to our bespoke design philosophy – which I find inspiring. I see one of my primary roles as providing a platform and climate for team design debate and I’m awe struck by refurbishment projects from our interiors team such as at the Hotel du Vin Avon Gorge Bristol and Hyatt Place, Heathrow.
Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
I’m presently particularly excited with a new Caribbean resort that is designed to blend into the natural landscape of the best beach site in St Lucia, Tsogo Sun Hotel, Capetown and a new Holborn hotel planned atop a Crossrail shaft.
How is the new Curtain hotel coming along?
This is due for completion in 2017 and promises some spectacular public spaces.
What colours, textures and furniture pieces do you love the most?
Ultimately I’m an architect and my personal taste is for bold colours. I love Yves Kline blue, hot pink and acid yellow set against pure white but I’m certainly not going to inflict that personal taste on the unwilling! I particularly like classic modern architectural furniture such as Le Corbusier’s chaise and my most recent purchase was a long coveted Eames lounger.
What is your philosophy on design and life?
The most important life qualities for me are honesty and integrity, these principles are entrenched in all our team contracts. I also believe in healthy work-life balance and working weekends are a rarity at DMA. I learnt early on that no-one does anything the same way you do but given a free reign others will achieve a similar and often better result. That is the key to growing a team.
In your opinion, what will be the top trends in interior design for 2017?
I think creating unique experiences through design in both architecture and interior disciplines is what the next generation of customers wants and expects.
The shift in people’s expectations of luxury is having a significant effect on design. I believe sourcing original, crafted materials and creating an experience for guests Is the way forward.
What’s your favourite part of a hotel?
Just as active lobbies and rooftops were long forgotten for decades, grand staircases are to me a lost hotel ingredient, thankfully still present in older hotels. The Ampersand, which we entirely redesigned a few years back, has the original stair, extended by us and the drama of its form and volumetric space is preferred to the lifts by many guests.
What’s next for you?
Next for me is the joy of nurturing and mentoring new talent for the future leaders of DMA
What would be your dream hotel project?
We are always future focused, trying to think ahead of trends, asking ourselves questions like what is the next big thing? What style of space fits into our ever evolving lifestyles? Where can we use our extensive hospitality experience and creativity to create spaces that people want to spend time in? How can we offer an unforgettable experience?
Specific dream project ideas for me would include the development of an idyllic resort commission from a brand such as Aman or a flexible and innovative workspace that challenges beliefs, maybe the ultimate mixed-use project where we are the master planners, architects and interior designers. An opportunity to get the whole team involved to create something amazing!
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?
I like to think that DMA is a great place to work because of the healthy work-life balance and the team activities that we undertake: from the tradition of all getting together for 11am and 4pm teatime each day to our annual weekend away and various activities during the year. Evidence of many members who have progressed from year-out students to now senior positions within the team suggest a healthy degree of concurrence.