Emma King Head of Interior Design, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts
SPACE’s Can Faik speaks to Head of Interior Design, Emma King, the creative visionary behind InterContinental Hotels & Resorts…
The InterContinental Hotels & Resorts brand makes travel alluring, with insights from over 70years of experience. With 194 hotels and resorts around the world in more than 60 locations,each of its properties provides a gateway to the glamour of the InterContinental Life.
As a brand, they aim to embody global sophistication through their superior, understated service and exceptional amenities.
Who is Emma King, Head of Interior Design, InterContinental Hotels and what does your role involve?
I would like to think that I am a hard-working, fun person that is passionate about the things that interest me in my life,predominantly my family, my work and my home… I am not saying whether they are listed in any particular order!
As you would expect from working for a company with 10 brands, every day is different. Whilst I coordinate my team,who are providing feedback on the interior design of new hotels and those under refurbishment to ensure brand consistency, my role is to provide a cohesive, cross brand overview to ensure that the correct design direction is given and that the hotel designs are up to date with the brands and fit for purpose.
What five words would you use to describe the design of InterContinental Hotels?
Market leading, Innovative, Evolving, Interesting, Different.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
My first job after graduation 22 years ago was for ThistleHotels. I never expected to go into the hotel industry but I found that hotels are their own small world, and all the different spaces involved have provided me with many design challenges over the years. Also, the location of the hotel that you are working on makes such a big difference.The design becomes unique to that continent, country,town… which keeps it always interesting and challenging.
What makes InterContinental Hotels different to other hotels when it comes to design?
When I joined InterContinental Hotels Group from Marriott International, I was their first in-house, dedicated interior design director. This has given me the favourable benefit of being able to reinvent the look of each existing brand and beat the conception of our new brands. This single point initial perspective, with input from many other people within IHG,means that the interior design and design team is going from strength to strength.
How and why did you get into the interior design industry?
At the age of five I decided that I wanted to be a car designer, preferably for an Italian company famous for red cars, based in Maranello. My father gently persuaded me that it might be tricky to enter a male dominated industry especially if my single-mindedness was set on Italy and that maybe I should set my design flair at a broader level. I loved designing rooms, I spent many weekends rearranging my bedroom… As I grew older this passion didn’t change and I left home, put myself through college, and got myself an interior design job. My passion for interior design has never wavered and I still love doing what I am doing.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
The boutique hotel sector has gone from strength to strength in recent years, even for us brand-led operators. There’s much more competition in the market and we have worked hard on Hotel Indigo and Kimpton to make sure we’re creating something different with these brands. We hope that these two brands are achieving the correct balance between uniqueness and brand standards to give the guests an exceptional experience.
InterContinental Hotels & Resorts’ designs are becoming more intimate and homely, whilst still achieving modern luxury, which is essential to theInterContinental brand. This can be seen in the deluxe suites in theInterContinental Lyon Hôtel Dieu, some of which are set across two floors,creating the feeling of an apartment. I think it is important for hotels to provide an aspirational, luxurious way of living to guests, giving them a taste of a style of design that they wouldn’t experience at home. Therefore, our designs are always innovative with the guest’s experience in our forethought.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
It’s an opportunity to set the tone, send the guest on a journey and represent yourself well. The guest experience in all our brands from Holiday Inn Express to Regent should be interesting and hopefully have an impact on the guest as they enter. For example, InterContinental Lyon Hôtel Dieu has courtyards and gardens, which are open to the everyone. As the building is so vast, we have broken down the space, allowing for guests to enjoy the different areas in a personal and relaxed way. The hotel will also have a bar located in the great dome, creating a venue with a difference.
Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
InterContinental is continuing to pioneer new international destinations, andI have had the chance to work on the design of two recently opened properties in emerging Eastern European cities – InterContinental Ljubljana and InterContinental Sofia. Also, my region has just expanded to includeMiddle East, Africa and Asia – so maybe I’ll be better placed to answer that one next year. I haven’t worked in those regions for five years or more soI am looking forward to getting to know them all over again.
Let’s talk about the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel, and what does this hotel mean to you?
We’ve had many projects happening in this hotel for a long period of time now and it’s great to see some of them coming to life. We worked withDavid Collins Studio on the new Mexican restaurant, Ella Canta, and we have transformed this long and narrow space into a new bar/restaurant with individual destinations running through it. The Capital Suite is our newest in an InterContinental and one of the biggest in Europe at 330 sqm. We worked with RPW on this, I’m proudest of the artwork and dressing in the suite, as I think it really set a new level for us. We are now working on suites, clubrooms and standard rooms for a whole new floor.
What would be your dream hotel project?
I don’t have the luxury of one project at a time in my role. So, I would halt everything and go on the hunt for an old palazzo in Como, Italy. Only 20bedrooms or so. It would be a mix of traditional and contemporary interiors with an amazing art and sculpture collection that would be part of its USP. I would be the host once its finished and quit my job!
What other exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
I am really excited about the upcoming InterContinental Lyon Hôtel Dieu, set in a former 17th century hospital, due to open in June 2019, and the contemporary InterContinental Shanghai, located in a quarry, opening later this autumn. Both projects are completely different, which showcases the varied portfolio of InterContinental Hotels.
Business-wise, I am working on IHG’s new upscale conversion brand ‘voco’.We have a few sites we are working on as part of the Principal portfolio deal we just completed. I’m doing the first ones personally so it’s a lot of hard work. I’m also working on another new brand to our portfolio, Regent, with some repositioning work that is very exciting.
Let’s discuss the issue of work-life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
My husband, Toby, and my two step-kids, Asa and Tom, are my favourite people in the world. We have the kids half the time and spending time with them is very important to me… keeping me grounded and giving me time out.
Toby runs a building services company, Applied Energy, and understands that sometimes you need to work hard and that that can impact on ‘normal life’. We both have to make sacrifices and so it works very well. When we have time together, with or without the kids, we always have lots of fun.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
As a family, we never do a ‘put your feet up’ holiday, so after our house is finished I would like to go to InterContinental Bora Bora or closer to home Regent Montenegro for a relaxing holiday. I feel like I need to see these two hotels in the portfolio. Purely for R+D reasons of course.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
On a personal level, when I took my husband to Hotel Indigo York for his birthday, just after it opened, we had a wonderful time. This was the first full hotel that I feel I had complete design direction over from starting at IHG. I especially love the chocolate inspired rooms and the staircase is fab. I was really proud to take him there.
From other brands, I would say the Luxury Collections hotels – Maria Cristina in San Sebastian and Marques de Riscal by Frank Gehry are very special in their own ways. We took a road trip to Spain last year and stayed at both and it was really a fantastic foodie heaven.
Let’s finish with what’s next for you?
What’s next, that’s a very good question, it’s an exciting time at IHG. The launch of InterContinental Lyon Hôtel Dieu is definitely a priority for me at the moment. As InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is committed to sensitively restoring grand pieces of architectural history, translating the modern and stylish interiors has been both incredibly enjoyable and challenging. It features high ceilings, domes and intricately detailed façades, I worked withFrench architect Jean-Philippe Nuel to create interiors that complement and innovate the historical building.
Next year, we will launch our new Flagship hotels for Crowne Plaza with Conran and Partners and this will trigger a lot more new and exciting challenges I’m sure.