Posted in People on 9 November, 2017

Can Faik talks to Rocco Forte Hotels, Deputy Chairman and Director of Design, Olga Polizzi, about her experience at all levels of construction and design, and how that has earned her a reputation around the world as a grande dame within the field of hospitality…

Olga Polizzi is Deputy Chairman and Director of Design for Rocco Forte Hotels, which she established with her brother, Sir Rocco Forte, in 1996. Rocco Forte Hotels is led by a family who has been in hospitality for four generations and comprises 11 properties in the UK, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Olga is responsible for the design across the hotel group and is renowned for her emphasis on staying true to a hotel’s location and its individual character.

Tell me about your role at Rocco Forte Hotels?

I am Deputy Chairman and Director of Design for Rocco Forte Hotels, which means I oversee all of the design for each of our properties and future projects.

What five words would you use to describe the design of Rocco Forte Hotels?

Glamorous, comfortable, eclectic, memorable, with a sense of place.

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

For more than 30 years. After A levels, I went to Art School in Rome and then started in the Design and Building Department in my father’s company Trusthouse Forte more than 30 years ago.

What makes Rocco Forte Hotels different to other hotels when it comes to design?

A sense of place is always important in Rocco Forte Hotels. Each of our hotels has its own identity. Guests should wake up and know where they are without opening the curtains.  At Hotel Astoria, guests should know that they are in St Petersburg.  In Russia, glitz is allowed, together with a lot of gilding and luxurious fabrics – silks and velvets. Berlin is very edgy, modern and young and we try to give that feel to our Berlin hotel, Hotel de Rome. Hotel de Russie in Rome, is a little more ladylike and elegant, punctuated with Roman purples.

How and why did you get into the interior design industry?

I was born into the hotel industry, which led my path into design. My father, Lord Charles Forte, ran the biggest hotel and catering company in the world, with 800 hotels, ranging from Travel Lodges to George V in Paris. I worked in the company from the age of 14 every holiday. I made sandwiches, worked in the kitchen at the Café Royal or at the airport where he owned coffee shops and restaurants. Forte Hotels had a big design department, with a team of about 30 people, including architects, designers and project managers. As mentioned, I had been to art school and was very interested in design, so I joined that department.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?

Bright colours and patterns, much more wallpaper, and a propensity to use hard flooring. Guests also expect more – larger bedrooms and bathrooms – with all the facilities they have at home and more. We incorporate this into our design – room sizes have become much bigger.

How important are public spaces in hotels?

They are the first impression guests and locals get of a hotel, so they are very important. In fact, locals normally only ever see the public spaces so it is vital that they reflect to the maximum the feel of the hotel. At Brown’s, our hotel in Mayfair, London, for example, when you enter, you immediately get the sense of the hotel with the wooden panelling, mosaic floors, and large stone heads by brilliant sculptor Emily Young.

Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?

Asia learns quickly and there are some beautiful hotels being built there at the moment. Of course, the usual places such as Spain and Italy are constantly creating interesting new designs, in particular in Milan, which has always been at the forefront of design.

Let’s talk about the Assila Hotel, and what does this stunning project mean to you?

For the Assila, we wanted to combine the cool feeling of a Middle Eastern interior with the warmth of European design, and so the interior mixes both contemporary and classical elements. We also wanted it to share a language with Jeddah and so included Arabic motifs within the design and carefully considered the furniture and layouts; to ensure it was a sociable space and a destination for the city to enjoy. Finally, it was important the interior reflected the elegant luxury synonymous with Rocco Forte, so the use of quality materials throughout the design was essential. The owners curated the art, which is all from the locality and adds to the strong Arabic feel throughout.

I love the hotel. It is one of our most beautiful properties, and we worked on it in collaboration with Martin Brudnizki – who I believe to be one of the best designers at the moment.

How much time do you dedicate to sourcing products and suppliers for the projects you work on?

I love buying, it’s the best bit. Brussels, where we have Hotel Amigo, is a particularly good hunting ground for antiques. The Sablon district has so many wonderful shops so I tend to go there whenever I am sourcing.  I will often buy something – a chair or table from the ‘40s or ‘50s – and have it copied to fit the interior I am working on.

Of course, we use local craftsman as much as possible, and I am always searching for the best manufacturers by going to the various fairs, in Milan, Paris and London.

Do you find it easy to source new suppliers or do you work with existing companies on a long-term basis?

We use a mixture of both, and try to use as many local suppliers and materials as possible. I tend to use the local art of the country too, as that immediately gives a sense of place.

We often have pieces specially made for our hotel – furniture, lamps, and fabric patterns. I tend to work again and again with the same people as I know their quality and timing, which is always important.

How do you pick the artworks for your hotels?

I like using local art in all of our hotels, to continue the feeling of the city through the hotel. For example, Hotel Amigo in Brussels has artwork by Magritte and subtle references to Art Nouveau throughout and Brown’s Hotel in London has works by Peter Blake and Bridget Riley. We also work with local galleries. In Hotel de Rome in Berlin, we have collaborated with local Circle Culture Gallery in the restaurant La Banca. This allows us to have rotating contemporary art integrated within our space – our current installation is with Julian Schnabel.

What is the biggest thing you have learnt over your years in the industry?

I have learned over the years that space planning and proportions are paramount. Once these are right, the rest comes quite easily. Practicality, especially in hotel design, is also vital. Things have to work and fit in with their surroundings. A comfortable bed, good reading light, plugs in the right places, somewhere to put your washbag, a comfortable chair.

What makes you tick creatively?

Seeing other designers’ good work and finding a beautiful painting or piece of furniture that gives me inspiration.

What has been your favourite project to date?

I am enjoying working on our new hotel, Hotel de la Ville, as it is in Rome, which is one of my favourite cities and it gives you a huge pallet to work with. My favourite hotel always tends to be the last one I have worked on!

What are you currently working on?

Currently, as mentioned, we are working on the design of our second hotel in Rome, Hotel de la Ville, which is due to open next year. It is an amazing position at the top of the Spanish Steps, with beautiful views over the whole of the city. It will have a tranquil courtyard restaurant with abundant greenery and flowers, and some of the largest suites in Rome.

We are also opening a property in Shanghai next year on the West Bund so we are finalising the details and design for this, which includes a pool on one of the top floors to a rooftop bar with views across the city. It will be an art hotel, filled with local contemporary pottery. The lobby will have beautiful vases and jugs from floor to ceiling, and there will be pieces in the bedrooms.

How would you define your ‘hotel style’?

My design style aims for comfort, and is calm and classically contemporary. I like incorporating a mix of different eras and styles of furniture and objects, very modern design pieces mixed with antiques taking influence from the location of the property.

What does design mean to you?

Comfort – there is no good design without comfort. Everything should be fit for purpose.

What would be your dream hotel project?

I have been lucky enough to work on many different projects within my role at Rocco Forte Hotels. Our new Shanghai property, Assila Hotel in Jeddah and The Charles in Munich were all new buildings so give a wide scope of opportunities, while projects like Hotel de la Ville are older buildings that need to be redesigned within their original structure.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish-list?

Anywhere with sun, where I can walk for hours, swim, and lie down with my book!

In your opinion, what will be the top trends in interior design for 2018?

We have gone back to wallpaper, mixing patterns and colours, and have moved away from beiges and greys to bright, clashing colours.

Who is your favourite architect, and interior designer?

I admire someone like Philippe Stark, who showed many designers a new way. As soon as you walk into a space developed by Stark, you know immediately that it is his.

I also admire Martin Brudnizki who we have worked with for more than 20 years on projects like Villa Kennedy in Frankfurt, and we have a very close relationship with his studio. He is the pioneer in terms of restaurant design, always coming up with innovative and interesting ideas.

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

It is our projects in Shanghai and Rome that are taking up most of our time now!

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 work very hard at the moment and don’t seem to have much of a work-life balance! But usually, walking relaxes me, as does the Opera, and spending time with my daughters.

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