FIONA THOMPSON, PRINCIPAL OF RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL
Richmond International Principal, Fiona Thompson, talks in-depth to Can Faik about the amazing projects the studio has completed and this years 50-year anniversary…
Richmond International (RI) has designed some of the world’s most prestigious hotels, in locations from London to Barbados, since the company was established in 1966. They refurbish, they restore and they create for its clients, who range from multinational brands to independent owners. The company have won awards and accolades but what drives them most is a desire to design hotels that are authentic, intelligent and inspiring.
Tell me about your role at Richmond International?
I have been at RI for about 23 years and became the Principal about five years ago. I am involved in all aspects of the company, responsible for both projects and running of the company.
What five words would you use to describe Richmond International?
Creative, passionate, experienced, motivated and fun.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
First started in hotel design with Dale Keller back in 1982.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
It is our 50th birthday this year and we have been looking back at the history of Richmond and our projects which is a great reference to the changing world of hotel design over the last five decades. From our original work being mainly refurbishments in Europe to working on extraordinary projects around the world. Resorts, mixed use, branded residential, golf resorts – the hotel world is now hugely diverse, and projects true to their location, contextual, sustainable and relevant.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
Extremely. They drive business through the property, engage local communities and add the theatre to a hotel. The soul of the hotel starts at the beginning of the journey.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Richmond International stand out from the rest?
We create destinations, hotels with soul, considered design, beautifully executed.
How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Richmond International felt the effects?
Working around the world, we feel the fluctuations as they reverberate through different locations. Hotels even at the luxury end have to work to a financial model and design needs to work hard to make properties stand out. Clever design focuses budgets in a way to maximise the potential of a property. Design is one of the pieces with service, location, people that makes a property stand out so the value of design becomes more poignant when the economy is challenging.
Being based in London, what hotel projects are you currently working on?
We work around the world, currently from West Hollywood to Singapore on a number for branded and non-branded hotels at the luxury end of the market.
How is the Adare Manor project moving along and how many members of the team do you have working on this property?
Adare Manor is progressing perfectly well on site. The extension is well under way and works to the existing manor also moving forward. Working in old heritage buildings creates challenges to our designers and an opportunity to work on a property with incredible heritage and detail.
The hotel will open next summer so we have a team of about six designers still involved in the studio, plus weekly site supervision to ensure a co-ordinated approach on site.
How would you define your ‘Hotel Style’?
We do not have a house style. We respond to each project individually starting with a clean sheet. Working globally and on a variety of projects from urban NY boutique to a resort in Hvar challenges us as designers, but also gives us a breadth and depth of experience, which we bring to every project.
What does design mean to you?
Innovation and creativity realised through thoughtful detail.
What do you want in a hotel room?
Great shower, great bed and a fabulous view from the window.
Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
Obviously the number of new hotels in China is off the scale. However we have not chosen to work in this region. Our projects are individual, take time to realise and are not really part of the mass produced market.
What has been your favourite project to date?
So difficult to pinpoint one so many have been extraordinary. We work with great teams and clients who make these projects what they are and also fun to do. Highlights would include over the years Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapest, Four Seasons Mauritius, Langham Chicago and Trianon Paris – there are so many to choose from…
What’s next for Richmond International?
To continue to work on a variety great projects to design responsibly, to nurture our fantastic team to be the best they can be.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Hopefully our next one!
What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?
To be adaptable, to be flexible and to always aim for the best design and work hard to protect the integrity of the design.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish-list?
To Australia, where I lived as a child. To Cornwall, where the pace of life allows you to really relax. To India, as I have never spent any proper time there and my glimpses have shown such an amazing culture and people.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
More bespoke, more authentic, more responsible both environmentally and culturally – more thoughtful and real, no gimmicks.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Castaway Island – Fiji, Tokyo and Rio De Janeiro.
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 take on too much, juggle everything in the air and hope it all lands in the right places – my family would say that work probably comes first. What I have learnt is that we have many very capable and talented people in our team and the art of delegation comes far more easily knowing I have them to rely on.