Posted in People on 12 June, 2017

Originality combines with experience in the work of Goddard Littlefair. Can Faik speaks to design duo Martin Goddard and Jo Littlefair about the challenges and triumphs of creating some of the finest hotel interiors in the world…

Goddard Littlefair is a London-based luxury interior design house with international expertise and a global portfolio, established in 2012 by Martin Goddard and Jo Littlefair. The company specialises in hotel, hospitality and spa projects, as well as high-end private residential schemes, for clients including Ennismore, Canary Wharf Group, Starwood Capital, Qatari Diar and Corinthia, InterContinental and Hilton Hotels.

Tell me about your role at Goddard Littlefair?

Martin: We’re both equally involved in day-to-day management, but, when it comes to projects I very much drive the early stages – taking the brief, leading the masterplan and then guiding our internal team to kick-start the concept and narrative within the project’s given parameters.

Jo: I’m the listener. I really listen to clients and the team, so that each project is optimised and everyone’s working well together. My focus then is on delivery, right up to final styling, to ensure the essence of a concept has been fully evoked and all the softer details and touchpoints are just right.

What five words would you use to describe Goddard Littlefair?

Martin: Friendly, creative, team-players, ambitious, humble. Jo: Observant, outward-looking, engaged, inspired and inspiring.

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

Martin: From 1992, during my year out from my degree. Hotels have always been my heartland.

Jo: Since 2001, when I was working simultaneously on a number of palaces and hotels in Medina and Mecca. It was a period that was a hugely instructive, even if something of a baptism of fire, being immersed in the worlds of very high-end residential and hospitality at the same time and seeing how the operational and regulatory needs of each went on to determine design outcomes.

What do you love about being a designer?

Martin: I love that no two days are the same.

Jo: The very best thing is seeing something that was in your head become a reality – and then watching people engage and interact with that environment.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Martin: All the classic things – travel, architecture, art and the work of other people around the world – as well as my own imagination.

Jo: I firmly believe that as a creative person, if you can’t get up every day and find something inspiring around you, you’re not really looking!

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?

Martin: How people use hotels has changed hugely through the advent of portable technology; business centres are being phased out and desks within rooms are going the same way too. The idea of hotels as social spaces, with the concept of cheap rooms and great hang-outs, has had a major impact in recent years, with more seating and communal spaces and some hotel bars finding themselves completely packed out at weekends with passing trade. F&B overall has definitely improved massively over the past decade or more.

Jo: Residential is really big again in the hotel world, along with an increased sense of character and place. Authenticity is so important. Concepts need to have a story and a reason for being.

How important are public spaces in hotels?

Jo: Incredibly important! They’re the start of the journey and a guest’s emotional engagement with that experience. Public spaces are signposts and tasters for all future missions, from drinking and dining to socialising, relaxing and finding your way to your room.

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Goddard Littlefair stand out from the rest?

Martin: We create stunning and very considered outcomes and our take on luxury is always more than skin-deep. Our designs have an enduring material quality and a seamless functionality.

Jo: We’re independent and original. We’re the real deal! Also, we’ve seen how it’s possible to stifle creativity and now that we can do it our own way, we’re passionate not only about what we do, but also about how we do it, creating the kind of environment we always wanted to work in and encouraging maximum creativity for everyone’s benefit. We’re also team players. There’s no room for divas.

Being based in London which hotels are you currently working on?

Jo: We are based in London, but that doesn’t necessarily determine the location of our projects. We’ve been international from day one with clients like Corinthia and Hilton. In the UK, we’re working in a number of major cities on projects for Principal and are finally working on the early stages of our first two London hotels, including the refurbishment of 11 Cadogan Gardens for Cadogan and London & Regional. We do enjoy UK work, because we get to be the finishing consultants and can really art-direct down to the finest detail, as we’re doing right now at Gleneagles, for example, up in Scotland.

What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?

Jo: You can never communicate enough, internally or externally!

How would you define your ‘hotel style’?

Martin: Fairly luxurious. Whatever level of hotel we’re working on, we try and make it as rich and high-end as possible.

What does design mean to you?

Martin: Design is all-encompassing for me. I never stop thinking about it.

Jo: Solving challenges creatively and then rising above all the given parameters to ensure the design also surprises and delights.

What do you want in a hotel room?

Martin: For me, it’s very important that everything works, down to every switch and plug. I also want it to feel connected to the rest of the hotel and the outside location, with a place for everything I want to do – work, relax, watch TV, read a magazine, bathe and sleep.

Jo: I recently stayed in a lifestyle hotel that was everything I don’t want! It was cold, minimal, clinical and not very clean either. I travel so much with work that I always crave a home-from-home feel with instant comfort and warmth, changeable lighting moods and interesting and surprising details. Above all, I want a room that functions perfectly, but which wraps its arms around you too.

What’s your favourite part of a hotel?

Jo: I’m tempted to say the bar, but in reality it’s probably the restaurant, as long as the F&B offer is good enough. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s casual or fine dining, as long as it’s well done. After that, definitely the bed! I’m always ready for a few chapters of a good book and a proper sleep.

What has been your favourite project to date?

Martin: The next one!

Jo: There’s always one aspect of every project I particularly love, such as the accessories styling we’re doing right now for Gleneagles, which is such a privilege.

What’s next for Goddard Littlefair?

Jo: As well as our hotel, spa and high-end residential offers, we’re working in the health and wellness zone, with a new private healthcare concept for One Stop Doctors. We’re also really developing our standalone F&B offer, especially after winning a Restaurant & Bar Design Award last year for The Printing Press in Edinburgh.

Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?

Martin: We’re also working on some interesting F&B concepts with hospitality consultant Des McDonald.

Jo: We’re working with InterContinental for the first time on their Berlin hotel, where the IHIF was held this year, and we’re helping reposition a five-star London hotel. We’re also working on a brand-new hotel at the very top end of the market, which we’d love to tell you about, but we can’t just yet!

In your opinion, which will be the top trends in interior design for 2017?

Martin: The world is smaller and people are less in need of the security of a big brand name when they travel. People will always want an experience, however, so if there’s anything that can be predicted, it’s that hotels will continue to become more differentiated and even more un-branded than now. Timeless luxury will always appeal and, for designers, interpretations of luxury at different budgets will continue to be an interesting challenge. On a micro level, I’m also hoping designers will move beyond the colour grey.

What would be your dream hotel project?

Martin: I love resorts and I’d love to do a resort hotel somewhere like Tuscany, high up in the hills with amazing architecture and F&B.

Jo: A hotel in New York please. Or Paris.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

Martin: As millennials grow up, I believe the trend for connectivity will grow with them. Hotels won’t be boxes, but borderless entities that reach out into their local community and allow their local area to integrate back into their space – from pop-up retail and exhibitions to bringing in the best of local talent to manage bars and restaurants.

Jo: There will be increasing competition, including more innovative concepts via the sharing economy. Hotels will have to become ever more resourceful to ensure loyalty and should always remember the amazing asset great service represents. Inventiveness in the face of the new coming generation will also be vital to reach and retain new customers.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?

Martin: I was on the design team for Corinthia London and, when the project finished, I got to stay in the presidential suite with full free use of the bar and restaurant too. It’s good to be able to live like the guests you’re designing for, even if it’s just for a night! Away from work, I love walking and, when you’re wet and cold after a long hike, there’s nothing better than a cosy pub with great food. My third one is a complete fantasy; an imaginary stay at one of the greatest grande dame hotels – the Georges V in Paris. I’ll get there one day!

Jo: The Hudson in New York at the turn of the millennium with its crazy public areas and genre-defining approach. Secondly, before I started out as a designer, I crewed on a superyacht around the Med, with people like Roberto Cavalli and Natalie Cole dropping in. The interior was amazing and seeing how everything was crafted not only to fit, but to stay put at sea was fascinating. Finally, my own bed after a long trip. There’s nothing like that feeling of coming home.

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?

Martin: I have to be doing something that requires my full concentration outside of work – otherwise I’m afraid I’m always thinking about design.

Jo: Well, I’m about to marry Martin, so that’s got to help!!

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