Photography by Brechenbacher and Baumann Photography – Muza
Muza Lab’s founders Inge Moore and Nathan Hutchins bring their tactile, locally influenced approach to multi-faceted hotels, superyachts, luxury developments and private residential projects across the globe. Here, they talk to Can Faik about the importance of storytelling, and share their thoughts on the future of hospitality design …
Tell me about your roles at Muza Lab –
IM: We are the founders, the creators, the collaborators, the cleaners – you name it! As we are both very particular, it all begins and ends with us, with fantastic input from our great team along the way.
What three words would you use to describe Muza Lab?
NH: Innovative, adaptive, and collaborative.
It’s a difficult time for the hospitality industry. What do you think will be the hospitality sector’s biggest challenge, post-Covid?
NH: I think the past couple of years have made us realise just how important the industry is, with everyone wanting to experience hospitality in different ways and at different levels. Making an environment where people can feel safe is a huge priority at the moment, and creating spaces that are clean and secure without looking ‘sterile’ is a challenge in itself.
What do you think will be the biggest change in how you do your job, post-Covid-19?
IM: We’re absolutely thrilled to be travelling again -albeit with more red tape – but, with the exception of missing travel and interaction, we haven’t really felt that much of a change in the way we work. As designers we need to be on-site and able to fully experience all the sensations of a space. The natural surroundings are such inspirations in every project we do, so the chance to be able to see the local light, feel the materials and interact with our collaborators is irreplaceable. The digital world can’t do this for us!
“The natural surroundings are such inspirations in every project we do, so the chance to be able to see the local light, feel the materials and interact with our collaborators is irreplaceable”
What should those in the hospitality industry be doing now to help them prepare for the coming months?
NH: Flexibility is absolutely essential at this point – try to be prepared for whatever happens next, and keep an open mind to new ways of operating. And for those outside the industry, keep on supporting!
Being based in London, which projects are you currently working on? And are you working in the US or the Middle East?
NH: We have a number of projects in the works at the moment: in Europe, we’re working on the One & Only in Athens, and the Park Hyatt in Milan; we have two projects under way in Saudi Arabia’s new tourism zone; and across the Atlantic we’re working in Palm Beach, US and St Barths.
Do designers think about loyalty when they design a hotel, or is it just an operator’s concern?
IM: Loyalty is absolutely a priority. We always want to design spaces that make people want to come back again and again. Spaces that make you feel great, take your stresses away, encourage you to make memories. Hearing that people had an unforgettable experience thanks to your design is one of the most rewarding things about our work.
With social media becoming an increasingly important marketing tool for hotels, what are your thoughts on it, and do you take it into account when designing spaces?
NH: I think there’s always been a degree of optics – even in the 35mm days, there had to be that one shot that represented the hotel and brought people in. Now, with the world being so dependent on visuals and socials (and more competitive as a result), crafting photogenic spaces is really important.
How can design be used to manage the guest’s expectations of the hotel experience?
IM: Design really sets the tone of an experience, so we have to understand what the guests are going to be getting out of their stay. We can create a design that welcomes the sunrise and blends seamlessly with the natural world for a retreat in Botswana, for example, or make the communal bar and dining space the beating heart of a hotel in a city surrounded by bustling nightlife. It’s about envisioning your guests and what they will be seeking, long before they have even visited.
Turning to the topic of authenticity of experience, how do you approach each project?
IM: We always start with plenty of research, uncovering everything from the natural surroundings to local legends and different cultures – the DNA of a location. From this, we weave the storytelling through every part of the experience, making each design completely new and uniquely informed. Every project has to be truly authentic and genuine – every journey can enrich your life and teach you something distinctively original.
“Every project has to be truly authentic and genuine – every journey can enrich your life and teach you something distinctively original”
Describe your style –
NH: Tactile, emotional, and honest. We’re very much focused on the whole sensory experience, rather than just visual appeal.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Muza Lab stand out from the rest?
NH: Luckily there are lots of projects, so plenty of opportunities to go around, but we pride ourselves on being doers rather than talkers. We’re there through every aspect of a project, from conceptualisation and understanding the brief to knowledge of budgets and practical application.
The natural world is a constant source of inspiration, so we are always looking at ways to centre sustainable practices and economise on energy and resources. Another important part of our ethos is to prioritise local communities – we strive to work with local craftmakers, artisans, tradespeople and suppliers wherever possible.
Plus we have a vast portfolio of experience and award-winning projects, which always helps!
How do you think the influence of new technology affects the luxury traveller, and might do in the future?
NH: Technology can enhance or impede a stay, depending on how it’s used. We agree that it is an important tool, but it has to be accessible and work seamlessly in the background. Advances in technology now offer so many possibilities without having to sacrifice discreetness or disrupt the flow of a space. Increasingly, guests have the power to curate their stay as they wish with the touch of a button.
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
IM: I believe we’ll always see interior waves and trends that come and go, but designs that offer the full experience and make guests feel amazing will stand the test of time. Being able to stay somewhere and feel totally enchanted so that you want to go back again and again – that’s what I think will always be invaluable.
That being said, I expect we’ll see a great deal of evolution and advancement around guest interactions with technology and sustainable approaches in all aspects of design. Championing sustainability in hotel design is unavoidable, especially as we all strive for a greener lifestyle.
Do you have a most memorable experience with interior design – something you saw that changed or inspired you?
IM: So many things about the industry we work in inspires me! The people who are so passionate and curious, the breathtaking views and landscapes we get to experience, the many vibrant cultures we are able to learn from – all of the variety is a constant source of inspiration.
“Another important part of our ethos is to prioritise local communities – we strive to work with local craftmakers, artisans, tradespeople and suppliers wherever possible”
Is there anything exciting you’re working on that you can tell us about?
NH: We are totally enamoured with the One & Only that we are currently designing in Athens, ready to open next year. The style is beautiful, and the site is really something! It’s always such a delight to see a project coming together like this.
What would be your dream hotel project?
IM: I’d really like to design a small lodge somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa that works directly with conservation efforts in the area. The number of species that are under threat at the moment is so alarming, we really need to nurture and protect the remaining groups.
Or, from a residential perspective, a penthouse apartment in New York would be another dream. How could you resist that city skyline?!