Posted in People on 23 January, 2017

Conran + Partners Project Director, Tina Norden, has come a long way in her 20-year career. Here, she shares her ethos and approach to interior design with SPACE editor Can Faik…

Tina Norden has extensive creative and project-running experience in most sectors at a wide range of scales with a focus on hospitality and residential projects.

Norden has completed numerous projects in the UK and abroad, particularly in Asia, where she has worked on schemes including the 11-hectare Roppongi Hills development in the heart of Tokyo. Norden is currently working with Hyatt Asia Pacific on two new Park Hyatt projects in Jakarta and Auckland, for MNC Land and Fu Wah Group respectively, as well as a boutique hotel for the House Hotel Group in Istanbul.

Can you tell me about your role at Conran and Partners.

As one of three project directors, I look after our interior design work, concentrating mainly on hospitality and residential projects all over the globe.


What five words would you use to describe Conran and Partners?

Creative, collaborative, innovative, experienced and detail-focused.


How long have you been involved with hotel design?

Pretty much from when I started at Conran and Partners, given that hotel design is one of our favourite areas of design, so that would make it the best part of 20 years!


Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?

The division into cost-focused, or budget, projects and high-end luxury seems to be getting stronger. Thankfully for us, both ends of the spectrum place value on design and understand the need to differentiate themselves from the competition through design, service and a bespoke offer.

The definition of ‘luxury’ has changed dramatically, it is much more about experience and uniqueness than the typical markers like gold taps and expensive furnishings.

There is also a growth in consumer demand for unique, localised experiences, an immersion into a culture, that traditionally hotels have struggled to provide. Airbnb and others have tapped into this. However, the hotel industry is learning fast and developing projects that endeavour to provide a similar experience with the added extra of room service and a team to look after you!


How would you describe your style?

I prefer to use the word ‘approach’, rather than define myself by a particular style.

Our work is always based on a strong concept developed based on location, architecture, research, art, and whatever else may be appropriate, but is still in line with the client’s brief and objectives.

Personally I am a huge fan of mid-century modernism. The considered beauty and heroic nature design from this period is ever lasting for me and it also had its tongue firmly in its cheek!


How important are public spaces in hotels?

Absolutely fundamental and getting more so all the time. Public areas are the face of the hotel to the world as well as to their guests and allow the operator to show what they are all about.


Bedrooms are of course very important, but we are finding that they are tending to get smaller and more about respite and privacy than constant occupation.

Drawing guests from outside the hotel rooms is key to create an atmosphere and a ‘scene’ that will in turn entice guests to come and stay.

Done well they can also be a very serious profit centre and our clients have long since realised they should not be afraid of operating F+B spaces as well as rooms – and enjoy it!


With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Conran and Partners stand out from the rest?

We have a unique creative and concept-based approach, based on our long experience both as designers and as operators. Our founder Terence Conran has owned and operated numerous outlets over the years.

Our clients value the way we develop and communicate this approach, making it easy to understand, appropriate and, importantly, very engaging.


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

Teamwork is key; within our own studio, with the client, the other consultants and eventually with the team on site.


What has been your favourite project to date?

If I had to choose, South Place is very close to my heart as it was the first hotel I was fully in charge of delivering, so it is very personal. But every project is exciting. I wouldn’t still be in the business if that wasn’t the case!


Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?

We fell in love with Mexico a couple of years ago and are keen to go back – as well as exploring more of South America.

Asia is also high on my list as a travel destination rather than on business trips – Vietnam and Thailand and more of Indonesia.

We love going to European cities for long weekends – Copenhagen and Vienna are next on the list.


Where do you see hotel design in the future?

The move towards relaxed, unpretentious environments that are unique and give a sense of place will continue as guests are looking for experiences that are not predetermined for them.

Hotels have to continue to adapt to the changing profile of today’s traveller both for business and leisure – and these two are getting ever closer to each other.


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

I would say The Parker in Palm Springs (during the week and outside of peak times!), Hotel Escondido on the Oaxacan Pacific coast (amazing and unique like pretty much all of Grupo Habita), and the Standard Miami, which is a perennial favourite and a real respite in a city still on an upward trajectory.


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

Becoming an architect was always my dream and working at a multi-disciplinary practice like Conran opened my eyes to interior design as an equally challenging, spatial and creative field – just with more fun and shorter programmes!


What do you love about being a designer?

Every day is different, every project is different and that keeps it exciting all the time. There is no such thing as routine.


Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Inspiration for me comes from all around and often from the most unexpected sources. It could be something I spot on the streets around my home, on my travels or in a restaurant or hotel.

One of the most inspirational experiences I have had was a recent trip to Marfa in Texas, the artist Donald Judd’s main place of work next to New York. Visiting his studio and the Chinati foundation were a complete revelation. Combined with the wide open skies of the American West and dangling our feet in the mighty Rio Grande, this was a pretty unforgettable trip!


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

We are working on two of our largest hotel projects at the moment, both for Park Hyatt in Asia Pacific – we are very excited about both of these as they are a step change for us and an amazing experience.

We are also working on three boutique hotel projects in Europe. These are on a completely different scale and require a completely different approach.

We really enjoy the breadth of our projects and think they cross-fertilise with each other and this makes our work stronger.


What colours, textures and furniture pieces do you love the most?

This will make my clients smile but I love grey! There is something always appropriate about grey and it has lots of different faces.

I really enjoy mixing textures to enhance and play off against each other – getting the balance of this right is key to creating the right environment.

Furniture favourites change all the time as the design industry is so productive and vibrant. But I do adore the Serge Mouille lamps as well as the classic Womb chair – both could not be bettered.


What would be your dream hotel project?

A tropical island, an open-minded client and a realistic budget!


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

Interior design trends seem to be changing as fast as fashion these days and while we keep abreast of what is going on, we try to steer clear of being too influenced by them. We prefer style over fashion!


Who is your favourite architect, and interior designer?

Louis Barragan ranks up there after visiting a number of his projects in Mexico, his use of colour and material is extraordinary. I also adore the great mid-century modernists Richard Neutra, Schindler, A.Quincy Jones et al.

All of these guys placed equal importance on interiors, so I could list them quality as interior designers – which is very much the approach I prefer to take.


What’s your favourite part of a hotel?

I would probably have to say the spa as I am completely addicted to massages! Nothing better to relax and unwind.

A beautifully design spa is special and not easy to do – more about reduction than addition and very much about creating an atmosphere.


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