As part of the trio behind Toronto-based design firm, The Design Agency, and as chief designer of thriving contemporary hostel brand, Generator, Anwar Mekhayech has more than his fair share of expertise in the hospitality design sector. Hospitality Interiors’ Gemma Ralph spoke with Anwar about his creative inspiration, defining projects, and his thoughts on where the hostel sector is headed …
How did you forge a career in the design industry, and what was it that first drew you to this sector?
Partially by studying engineering, and knowing I wanted to be in architecture and design, but then mainly by wanting to start my own company and design my own restaurant. Both of which I did in 1998.
Who has been most inspirational to you in your career, and why?
Phillipe Starck – being able to touch so many industries, countries and people through design, and not taking oneself too seriously.
What inspires you, personally, in your work?
Travelling and seeing different cultures, places and meeting new people is what generates almost every idea for me. It’s also really important to stay current on art and new technologies, which is often interwoven into our designs.
Which hospitality project would you say you’ve been most proud of/is the most memorable to date?
My greatest thrills have resulted from collaborations with creative people who are innovating in their respective fields. With my first restaurant, sPaHa, I worked with the host building architects – Morphosis and Stephen Teeple.
In 2012 we collaborated with both Nick Jones of Soho House and chef David Chang of Momofuku to develop their Toronto locations, and presently I have been working with Josh Wyatt of Patron Capital to develop the Generator concept.
I’ve learned a lot from the taste, focus, style, values and love that these guys have invested in their work, and I’m proud of what we have accomplished together.
What would you say are the defining philosophies of the Design Agency?
Great design, understanding and honesty, team work, innovation, creativity and fun!
How did you become involved with the Generator brand?
I met Josh Wyatt, hospitality director from Patron Capital at a charity event in NYC and he hired us to design Generator Dublin. It was a great start to the relationship. We shared a lot of common visions for the brand.
Generator takes a radically different perspective on the traditional perception and image of a hostel environment – what motivated this new approach?
The original directive came from Josh’s business plan to bring design and culture to this segment of the travel industry. We try to deliver fresh and inspired designs on a budget that will be impactful and relevant to each city.
How did you go about crafting a fitting aesthetic for Generator’s target market? How important is the locality of each branch to the design?
The design is greatly influenced by the locality and infrastructure of the building. We had developed an accessible and affordable base material palette that was sort of the GEN aesthetic, but then it takes a completely different direction for each city. The common connector is sort of the programming of the common spaces; reception areas, chill-out areas, communal canteen, bars and cafes, screening rooms, etc.
Is there a particular design highlight/feat for you amongst the Generator hotels?
I am very proud of all the versions of the GEN hostel throughout Europe, but I love that most have been a collaboration with young artists to add their stamp in a small way to each design.
Why do you think it is that upmarket/luxury hostels are now proving so popular?
It’s because the target budget traveller transcends a huge age group and everyone is so much more design savvy and conscious than say 20 years ago, when a hostel could be any form of shelter with a horrible mattress and a bad shower.
Also hostels have that one secret ingredient that I think other large chain hotels cannot create – community. We have seen it start with places like ACE and Soho House but hostels had this naturally since the beginning of sharing sleeping quarters.
How do you envisage that the hostel sector will evolve in coming years (if at all), and what potential challenges will this bring in design terms?
I just think there will be more competitors overall, but I think Generator will still lead the way because of its scale and outreach. I think this competition will push the boundaries of design for these spaces even further, which happens already with one-off assets that have great, personal design.
Have you got any exciting projects in the pipeline?
Both Rome and Paris for Generator next year will be amazing and we have a whole bunch of new possible locations across Europe and the US, so on the Generator front we know it will be exciting. We are also talking to a new group about doing a Canadian retail concept across Europe which is a great fit for us, and we have been speaking to the Four Seasons a lot lately and look forward to working with them.