For nearly 50 years, Wilson Associates’ dynamic talent and collaborative spirit has inspired and created some of the world’s most iconic, avant-garde spaces. Can Faik caught up with Jese Medina-Suarez, Design Director and Principal of their London studio, for his first interview since joining the team. 

Tell me about your role at Wilson Associates?

My role is multifaceted. As Design Director, I take creative lead on all projects undertaken by our studio based in London. As Principal, I play an active role in creating new business opportunities and fostering growth for our regional team. Lastly, I also support Wilson Associates’ other 10 offices around the world with creating unique and compelling design narratives and assisting in selected pitches and projects.

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

I am lucky enough to have been born in Tenerife, Spain –one of the most popular destinations in Europe. My family was involved in the real estate development business, so growing up, I was given the opportunity to experience many different areas of the industry: design, site work, sales.

After graduating with a degree in architecture and interiors from Politecnico di Milano, my first professional experience in hotel design was with Foster+Partners’ London office. In the years following, I was fortunate to work for design firms around the world, including in Australia and Singapore, before returning to London for this opportunity with Wilson Associates.

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

After studying Building Engineering in Spain, I accepted an opportunity to further my education in Architecture in Politecnico di Milano. Milan, in my eyes, is the ‘interior design’ capital of Europe. You love and breathe interiors everywhere; not only during Salone del Mobile, but all year round: visiting ‘mostre’ with friends, stumbling upon amazing furniture showrooms on your way home, shopping at La Rinascente. It was then that I realised I wanted to specialise in interiors, and I did so with Professor Pierluigi Cerri, a very well-known Italian designer.

“Fashion, cuisine, and literature are some of the fields that, although not directly related to interiors, provide me with a large array of concepts and stories that inform my creative work”

What three words would you use to describe your studio?

Brand-driven and experimental.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Everywhere! I take pictures and make notes constantly, sometimes for projects we don’t even have yet. Fashion, cuisine, and literature are some of the fields that, although not directly related to interiors, provide me with a large array of concepts and stories that may inform my creative work. I also find interesting textures, patterns, and design elements in everyday experiences. Inspiration is everywhere, we just need to pay attention.

What trends are you seeing in the industry?

At our London office, we will explore this very question in an upcoming campaign called ‘2020 & Beyond.’ This will identify 20 key insights that we face in current and new projects, including: the slow death of check-in, the disappearance of ‘grand lobbies’ in exchange of activated revenue-generating areas, storytelling and brand-driven interiors, the influence of new nutrition patterns over F&B outlets’ design, the return of the ‘Analog’ as a counterpoint to our tech-saturated world, etc.

As a designer how important are brand values for you?

I strive to make ‘the meaning of brand in the built environment’ my own expertise. I once worked as creative lead for a brand agency, and through that experience, I learned that it’s vital for the design industry to provide businesses with solutions that not only appeal aesthetically or functionally, but that bring added value through the clear communication of specific brand values. 

Every hotel that we design has some sort of ‘personality’ or brand attributes, and it’s paramount that interiors, as well as other channels such as graphics, signage, uniforms, service, etc. are united to contribute to the brand’s tone of voice and proposition. When we achieve this, we have a much higher chance of our design being financially successful.

How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market and has Wilson Associates felt the effects?

The current economic climate is volatile and varies by region. Some regions are fairly strong, while others are struggling. We are fortunate to work with clients across the global, which definitely helps to protect us from local turndowns.

I had the same question asked of me last night by two hoteliers: ‘If you had a limited budget to spend on design, what areas would you focus on? 

Food and beverage is a revenue-generating area that operators often need to make the most of, even when they are working on a limited budget. Hotel restaurants often compete with a fantastic external offering. Keeping guests eating in-house often means that there will be locals coming along with them, which in turn enhances the connection customers may feel with the destination.

With Social media, especially Instagram, becoming an increasingly important marketing tool for hotels. What are your thoughts on this, and do you take this into account when designing spaces?

We definitely take this into account. If you have a limited budget, it’s important to decide where to concentrate the spend to create something truly meaningful as a talking point for your guests. We need customers to feel proud of the hotel they stay in, because new generations love to broadcast their trip’s highlights with their friends. That can have a huge impact on brand awareness and marketing pervasiveness, encouraging more bookings.

How high on the list is revenue creation for designers?

As a designer, I want to create spaces people love and talk about, but I’m fully aware that my clients need our designs to contribute meaningfully to the creation of revenue. This is a business, at the end of the day, and our clients appreciate when we are mindful of making decisions that will impact profitability.

Do designers think about loyalty when they design a hotel or is it just an operator’s concern?

If guests engage with the design and the overall customer experience, there’s a high chance they will return. If operators are satisfied with the financial results of a hotel designed by Wilson Associates, they will be interested in working with us again for future projects. 

What has been your favourite project to date?

While in Melbourne, I led a project that just opened a few weeks ago — Hotel Chadstone Melbourne MGallery — that is amongst my favorites from a creative perspective. I’m also very proud of the design work I did for St. Regis Hotel Muscat and Four Seasons Minneapolis. I can’t wait to see how they look once complete. 

How would you define your hotel style?

My design style is fluid, because it is primarily driven by the brand and its goals for a new property. As such, it changes according to the message my client wants to convey.

What’s next for you and the studio? 

We have quite a number of interesting things coming up for our studio in London. Firstly, I’m finalising the preparation of our ‘2020 & Beyond’ campaign. I’m also very focused on growing the Wilson team in London and completing some of our studio’s current projects. Lastly, I’m collaborating on some exciting projects with some of our other offices worldwide. There’s really plenty to do! We’re looking forward to 2020 to achieve some of our future goals!

Tell us something surprising about Jese Medina-Suarez that people may not know?

I absolutely love tennis. I’ve competed since I was a teenager, and it’s my preferred way to release tension and clear my mind.