Posted in People on 22 June, 2023

Back from the slopes of Switzerland, multi-disciplinary design studio, Run For The Hills discuss designing their first hotel, delivering the unexpected, and the fear of repetition with Emma Kennedy.

Yeast bakery

Located in the heart of West London’s surprisingly vibrant Queens Park, Lonsdale Road is home to a raft of restaurants, bars, workspaces and private homes. Residing in a row of converted Victorian stables, they spill out onto the cobbled pavement behind plant-fringed terraces. Taking the corner position at the northern end of the road, is award-winning multi-disciplinary design studio, Run For The Hills. Like their neighbours, their portfolio is a mix of restaurants, workspaces, residential, and most recently hotels. But this is just one side of the prolific studio’s offerings. Alongside their numerous interior design projects, they also provide a comprehensive branding service. Led by husband-and-wife team, Anna Burles and Chris Trotman, to describe them as a multi-disciplinary design studio is almost an understatement, as I soon discovered.

Arriving at their studio, I am shown into a cool contemporary space, which feels both relaxed and industrious in equal measures. With a mix of mid-century furniture and artefacts, it leans towards an industrial vibe. Softened by fabrics (designed in-house), books and original prints (another arm to their business), the room is dominated by two long tables – one for the interiors team and the other for the branding team led respectively by Anna and Chris.

Hilton prototype Hero bar render

They are both warm and open and the conversation ricochets between subjects, all to a background of Jazz. It’s a fitting soundtrack given the project they are currently working on – a Speakeasy inspired cocktail bar on the South coast. “It’s such an exciting project,” Chris begins, and I couldn’t agree more, given it’s a five-minute walk from my house! Turning his laptop, he shows me the branding concept he is developing before Anna joins in and reveals an array of stunning visuals. “It’s very exciting,” she agrees. “I was told not to research anything in the UK but to look instead at the top ten cocktail hotspots in the world. Best brief ever!”

Before I can ask where exactly she turned to for inspiration, the conversation has jumped on to designing the textiles, restoring a mosaiced floor, and the origins of the Speakeasy trend. And this I soon discover is how they roll. Keeping up with them requires a certain mental agility until you get with the flow. It is also a good insight into how they operate.

Above and below: Paradise Green Sunrise Cocktail Bar

Steering the conversation back to the beginning, I start by asking Anna about their earliest collaboration. “Both Chris and I came from creative industries. I had been in creative marketing, advertising, and event design amongst other things and Chris was an art director, animator and illustrator working in TV and film, with a strong background in branding.” Having both worked with some of London’s biggest creative agencies, they spoke the same language and when Anna was hired to design the interiors of the headquarters for Audible UK, it was Chris she turned to when searching for artwork. “I tried to source a collection of 30 items that hung together in a meaningful way, but it was proving difficult. Audible is all about storytelling, so we came up with a collection of typographic maps, themed by genres of literature, and four wallpapers.” The project proved both commercially successful and most importantly fun, prompting them to seal their collaboration with the launch of Run For The Hills.

With the original aim to create a multi-faceted design house which “exists in a space where brand and interiors meet,” today there appears to be very few creative areas which the couple don’t cover. And it is this which sets them apart from their contemporaries.

Buoyed on by the success of the collection they had created for Audible the early incarnation of Run For The Hills was based around an art collection (still in place today) but very quickly became interiors and branding focused as the work started to come in. “I had completed quite a few interior jobs at that point including Ellie Goulding’s apartment, an advertising agency, and some independent restaurants and bars. This mix of residential, commercial and hospitality projects remain our core pillars to this day,” Anna tells me.

Independent Restaurants like Khai Khai and design for groups including Daisy Green, Coppa Club and currently OXBO – Hilton’s restaurant concept – along with a tranche of workspaces, members clubs, and boutique cinemas soon followed allowing them to build a team of 15 full-time designers, divided across the two disciplines: interior design and branding.  But it wasn’t until 2021 they won their first full hotel contract.

Coppa Club

Faern Arosa Altein is a 126-key hotel in the Swiss Alps. Tasked with designing this and its sister hotel, Faern Crans-Montana, in an eye-wateringly short space of time, 15 months to be precise, would have quite literally sent other designers running for the hills. But not this duo. “Obviously we have done lots of F&B work within various hotels, but in terms of an entire hotel, this was our first. We had just completed a residential project, Anthology Farm in the Cotswolds, where we had converted two listed barns into luxury holiday accommodation for Unique Homestays. It is a substantial property – catering for 30 guests with nine boutique bedrooms and suites, each with a different design, two sitting rooms, 2 dining rooms etc­ – which demonstrated our ability to design on a large scale,” Anna says.

Faern Arosa Zus Brasserie

Focusing on the Faern Arosa, I ask Anna to share the inspiration behind the interiors. “The interiors were a little bit Wes Anderson, with the marble and the sweeping curves, slightly Belle Epoque, and a definite nod to Switzerland through the classic Swiss blankets in all the bedrooms. We then contrasted all this with soft pinks, blushes, and dusky mauves, echoing the geometry of the Swiss cross. We just wanted to play with pattern and colour – and deliver the unexpected.”  The result is extraordinarily beautiful, and although grand in scale with a bold bone structure, it has the comfortable air of calm sophistication. (See full hotel review on page 84)

Reflecting on the process, the pair look momentarily tired. “The deadline was insane. It was a baptism of fire! Looking back, because we had never done a full hotel, let alone two, we didn’t realise it was far too compressed a timeline. It was absolutely exhausting, but we met our deadlines… and we did it!” they say triumphantly.

Unsurprisingly, it would be hard to pigeonhole Run For The Hill’s aesthetic. F&B spaces offering glamour and opulence rub design shoulders with residential projects oozing contemporary elegance. The muted tones of a country house give way to the playful drama of a child’s urban bedroom.

“It’s hard to describe our aesthetic because every case study is different, and we don’t ever want to do something twice,” Chris begins. “We don’t have a specific look, which can impact when clients are looking for designers,” Anna admits. “I know we can be seen as a hard fit, but that’s OK. We know we aren’t going to be approached if someone’s looking for a Kelly Hoppen look, but then we would we really be right for that job?” Chris says: “Some people do think we are schizophrenic, hard to understand – our Instagram feed isn’t a harmonious flow, in fact, it’s a bit bonkers – sometimes it’s branding, sometimes it’s a restaurant, then it’s a bedroom, so we do miss out on the easy-win followers compared to feeds which are more singular. But when people do come to us it’s often because they can see no two projects are the same, which tells them we won’t be foisting something upon them. They also love the idea that we do the venue branding as well. For the right customer, it works.”

With a raft of restaurants, bars, and hotels, in various stages of development, there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of the right customers. They are upbeat and excited as they talk about the next projects on the horizon. Then pausing slightly, Anna looks thoughtful and says, “You know, we are now ten years on [in the business], and it feels like there’s been a shift.” Chris looks up quizzically, and she continues. “I really feel like we have done our time, we know what we’re doing and have come of age. We do things well and we are now being invited into big pitches, for big projects and seen to be serious players, which is great. It’s like we have arrived!”

Anna and Chris aren’t your typical design team. At times it’s hard to keep up with their narrative and if you weren’t familiar with their portfolio, you could be forgiven for imagining it might be a little unfocused. But you would be wrong. Their appetite for creativity, coupled with their experience working in myriad creative industries gives their work a unique edge. They are as likely to employ the talents of a decorative painter as they are to design a bespoke wallpaper, create an art collection or produce a fabric range, before wrapping it up in some sharp branding. Together, they are a creative force to be reckoned with, who march to their own, possibly off-beat drum.

Coppa Club Guildford Townhouse (branding & interiors)
Portwall Lofts ( branding & interiors)
Victoriana Loft (residential renovation)
Faern Arosa Altein Hotel
Faern Crans-Montana Hotel

Kindred Members Club, London (branding & interiors)
Heartbreaker, South Coast UK (branding &interiors)
Italian Restaurant (Middle East)

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