Posted in People on 20 January, 2020

Known the world over for her clean, sleek interiors and love of the natural world and local culture, Nini Andrade Silva, the distinguished Portuguese designer, met with Sophie Harper to discuss her most recent work…

Meeting Nini Andrade Silva in London this summer, my first impression of the award-winning Portuguese designer was striking in its simplicity – that here was someone open and genuine, loving what she does in life and in work. Born in Funchal, Nini has an infectious passion for Madeira and tells me repeatedly how I should experience the island for myself, giving me tips for areas to visit and when to go. It just so happens to be the location of her latest completed hotel project too – Savoy Palace – an awe-inspiring build that Nini was involved with for four years. The 5-star hotel, standing at 16 storeys tall, is now the island’s largest hotel offering built on the grounds of the former Savoy Classic – an old 1912 hotel that was decommissioned in 2008.

Nini, Portugal’s best-known interior designer, was an obvious choice to create a space that would mirror the Madeiran backdrop surrounding the hotel, as well as paying homage to the site’s past. Working together with RH+ Architects, Nini went about designing not just a hotel, but an experience for visitors to feel enveloped by their surroundings. “The narrative or concept is important because it’s the way to be original,” Nini tells me. “Interior design should be part of an experience and cultural interaction.” With 352 rooms, five onsite restaurants, a lavish 32,000 square foot spa, gardens and rooftop lounge, all taking inspiration from the Belle Epoque period and showcasing traditional Madeiran craftsmanship, a feeling of immerse is certainly what’s been achieved.

Nini studied Design at the Institute of Visual Arts, Design and Marketing in Lisbon whilst simultaneously pursuing academic and professional experience abroad, which took her to New York, London, Paris, South Africa, and Denmark. Since graduating, travel has been at the crux of Nini’s success, in which she attributes the multiculturalism and transversality that characterises her work to her many journeys through culture, really getting to know the people in each country she’s visited. She talks about her love of nature and art and the connection of both to the projects she works on. For the designer, it’s important for a hotel to be relevant to its own locale; it is the location after all that attracts the traveller.

Having been in the design industry for the last three decades, Nini has worked on a huge number of projects across the world, from residential to hospitality, and has won numerous awards for her efforts. The Vine Hotel, B.O.G Hotel, Beautique Hotels Figueira, Fontana Park Hotel, Saccharum Hotel and Hotel Palácio do Governador are just a few projects of note, that aside from the design awards, really show Nini’s signature style of clean, pared-back lines and open spaces complemented by bold sculptural pieces. “I really believe that our emotions can be translated into designs,” Nini says. “The goal is undoubtedly the search for the essence, whether that’s in the site, the materials, the theme, the target audience, for example… but the mixture of these different elements can be a recipe to create a successful space – good design makes for a truly original experience.”

Day-to-day, Nini spends a lot of time checking in with her teams. The studio can be working on a number of different projects at any one time so it’s important for her to keep regularly updated with what’s going on with each. “Project and construction schedules sometimes have different timings and the resources involved need to be adjusted,” she says. “So the early hours of the day are always dedicated to monitoring my teams. My first thoughts of the day are always for them, as they are like extensions of myself!” She admits, “No day is ever the same as any other though. Often my day will become truly unusual as I respond to different requests from various teams and projects.” She tells me that she spends a lot of time researching different suppliers and products, which is paramount to projects being successful. “I travel a lot and I am always looking for new sources of inspiration or alternative solutions. This work is essential as we are constantly looking for new products to maintain high standards of design creativity.”

Collaboration is a popular theme for Nini and she tells me how she likes to incorporate the expertise and skill of local artisans in each of her projects where possible. “I like to introduce pieces or products of local artisans into my projects. I consider it a great asset to the creative process and sometimes I draw inspiration from ancient techniques and resources, obviously giving them a new reinterpretation or function. It also helps as a way of creating identity and transforming spaces into genuine experiences.” She also recognises the changes in the industry – in terms of market demand and value of interior design. “I have no doubt that the most important thing in a design for a hotel is the ability to combine project needs with client and operator expectations, and the creativity of a concept that adds value and differentiation in a sustained development of a concept.”

Currently, Nini and her team are working on more hotel projects across the globe, including the new W Sao Paulo, slated to open at the beginning of 2021. She’s unsure of what the future holds specifically for design but says that she’s looking forward to incorporating more technology into her work. “My dream project would be a hotel where the interior design is completely digital and based on multimedia content. This would be possible to achieve by reducing the physical decorative elements and betting on digital projections that would change according to the different seasons of the year.” Who knows, perhaps we’ll see the next big thing in design taking the form of virtual reality.

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