World Exclusive

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, among them: the Conrad Koh Samui; The Venetian Las Vegas; Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve; and the Armani Hotel Dubai. Wilson Associates has a strong international footprint, with experienced design hubs in nearly a dozen cities around the world – Bangkok, Dallas, Dubai, London, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Beth Campbell

CEO (global)

The regional MD strategy is new for Wilson Associates. Can you describe what this strategy looks like, and the main goal of this reorientation?

Over the course of the last two years, we led an internal review of our structure and identified a need to streamline the various employee titles – both to clarify each role and create more transparent upward mobility opportunities. During that consolidation of positions, we also discovered that we needed to better unify our global practice, which is where the idea for the regional MD role originated.

We wanted to create a cohesion of design vision under a strong leadership team, and we wanted those people to be equally as accessible to junior designers as they are to myself. It is our goal that this new leadership team will bring a local perspective to the quality that the Wilson Associates brand is known for.

From a talent perspective, did you employ a particular strategy when it came to filling these roles? Was it primarily talent from within, or did you find leaders outside the Wilson framework?

For some of our regions, the decision to grow from within was a natural one – we had some design principals that were already meeting the expectations of the regional MD role, and they easily shifted into the position. In other areas, we felt the best strategy was to identify someone external who both understood the regional landscape and matched our vision for the future of Wilson Associates.

We were lucky to have been able to find team members that are so aligned with that goal, and we look forward to seeing what they do in the coming months.

Any new regions on the horizon that you are looking towards for growth?

It is an exciting time in our industry. Travellers are more savvy than ever, with our clients pushing boundaries in thoughtprovoking ways. In response, Wilson is actively sharpening our focus and building the strength of our local studios. Inside of this philosophical approach to our business, we are not focused on growth so much as looking to enhance quality and continue to curate an environment for curiosity and innovation within established passionate teams.

Monika Moser

Regional MD, London, New York, Paris

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

Technically, since my arrival at Wilson Associates five years ago. However, while working in hotel operations, I participated in three hotel openings and doing ‘snagging’ with the designers. It is interesting for me to have experience in both sides and understand their challenges.

What is the biggest thing you have learnt over your years in the industry?

We are all humans, and all projects are only successful if the team dynamic works (with our moods, desires, and faults).

Tell me about your role at Wilson Associates

As the regional MD, I help our New York City, Paris and London team members to be able to work on more exciting projects, to have the time and tools to do better design, to be more productive in their roles and to have fun as a team. I am merely the facilitator in understanding the big picture.

What five words would you use to describe Wilson Associates?

Collaboration, diversity, creativity, innovation, talent.

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Wilson Associates stand out?

Collaboration. We know how to work across offices, countries and cultures, and we use the strengths of all our resources to fit the project. We combine all our strengths to achieve a common goal.

We do not compete amongst our offices.

How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? Has Wilson Associates felt it?

I would like to stay optimistic and say that this might be an opportunity, as operators will use this time to renovate their existing hotels.

What has been your favourite project to date?

It is always the next one, the thrill of the new, exciting, unknown.

The perfect project is the one where the owner trusts our team and gives him the freedom to be creative and solve problems (do note that I said ‘freedom’, not necessarily a higher budget).

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

More flexibility for the clients, more adapted to their emotional needs, way more local, sustainable, ecological.

What would be your dream hotel project?

An ecological luxury resort, proving that sustainability and high-end luxury can go hand in hand.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wishlist?

Iceland, sleeping in a bubble hotel/igloo in a winter wonderland, observing stars and the northern lights.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed at, and why?

Royal Mansour in Marrakech, for its authenticity, handicraft in the design, incredible details and perfect service. La Selva Lodge in the Ecuadorian jungle, for the amazing integration with the nature surrounding it, the tumult of the jungle’s fauna during the night while sleeping in a bungalow, the combination of adventure in jungle boots and the luxury of a relaxing hot shower. And a treehouse nearby Paris, for the lack of any luxury such as any form of heating, the peaceful silence of the surroundings, for teaching us humility.

What excites you most about the industry? What gets you out of bed on Monday?

The variety and diversity of our people, the clients and the projects.

I love to wake up in the morning not knowing what the day brings.

Darrell Long

Design Principal, Regional MD, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

My first project was 23 years ago with a friend of my family, and it was a restaurant redesign. Honestly, it was terrifying, but I wasn’t smart enough to know how terrifying it really should have been. I totally deduce the outcome to dumb luck ... but the client was kind and liked the final product.

My longevity and success are a direct result of having zero rhythm.

I dearly wanted to be a musician. We all know the type – the skinny guy with earrings, skull jewellery, tattoos, and long hair. However, I was damned with the rhythmic integrity of Elaine Benes’ dancing on Seinfeld. And since counting to four and tapping your foot [simultaneously] is essential regarding the musical arts … well, that foolish pipedream ended slow, and, without a doubt, not so easy.

So, out of my love (and actual schooling and talent) for the fine arts, I became obsessed with museum exhibition design. I furthered my studies, cut my hair, bought an Armani suit (it was the early 90s), and voila – 23 years later.

What is the biggest thing you have learnt over your years in the industry?

Not to take ourselves too seriously – it is actually quite laughable how serious we carry ourselves. Yes, there are moments of artistic brilliance when we look at important pieces of art, whether two-dimensional, sculptural, architectural, etc, that moves us as a culture. But, to be honest, what we do every day rarely hits the Janson’s History of Art circuit.

But, as purported shapers of human experience, we theoretically (at least in our minds) manipulate chaos into order. Strategies become pretty pictures and packaging. Services become environments. Form is function. We succeed in taking what is unappealing and disorganised and reframe it into order and delight. Are we masters of such transformations? I’m not sure yet.

Yet we continue to wax poetically to find words to express why these transformations work, only to expound silly dear drums (of thought) of how they work.

We also need to understand that we cannot create the future by changing the past, nor can we create the future by plagiarising the past. Sometimes it has taken a funeral to make us feel alive, and if we sincerely think about it, how do we know how to breathe if we have never choked? Mis-steps and reinvention are indicative of culture, nature … and commerce. I believe, and have learned, if we embrace the real history and not what Google or Pinterest tells us, the irrepressible idea of the mis-steps, and reinvention, and reincarnation, and resurrection will be our design sovereignty.

We shouldn’t write a new chapter. We should write a new original story – a story steeped in the evolution of the future, not a rewriting of the past.

Tell me about your role at Wilson Associates

As one of the four regional MDs and a design principal, I am tasked with ensuring the overall quality of the design is painfully brilliant. I know it’s a tall order, but absolutely worth it. My territory is the US offices, and I can honestly say the studios are filled to the gills with talent, and it is an absolute honour to work with the likes of such. I find it truly inspirational.

What five words would you use to describe Wilson Associates?

Heritage, integrity, boutique, creative, honest.

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Wilson Associates stand out?

It is very simple – we strive to be the best, not the biggest.

How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? Has Wilson Associates felt it?

Competition is fierce, no doubt. Fees are lower, and owners and developers demand more free work, particularly upfront. That directly affects our bottom line. But the US market is fantastic, and I see no end in the near future.

What has been your favourite project to date?

8950 Sunset Boulevard. It is the most beautiful monster I’ve ever seen. The client has impeccable taste, and our collaboration with the design architect (3 Architecture out of Dallas) is nothing short of brilliant. We have a bouillabaisse of incredible design tools to choose from. It truly is a project of a lifetime.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

Troubled.

Let’s take the first step. Let us stop the noise – the noise of the office, the noise of traffic, the noise of ‘this is what I should do and have always done,’ and mostly, the noise of technology. Let’s take our noses out of our phones, and let’s learn to enjoy what is actually in front of us. Let’s turn a riot into a whisper. Let’s just show up, unplug, and feed our souls.

Within a Keith Richards-fueled design vision-quest, aesthetic is the by-product, and the direct result of all the flags waving in the storm we call life. It’s the awakening to the bleached, plagiaristic, online-influenced design chops that are ever so prevalent in today’s workflow. We need to look back to our minds and embrace the idea of critical thinking. We have become fat and lazy.

So, how do we fix it?

What if we look at this through Sir McCartney’s golden-coloured glasses, understanding that a hotel is not only a machine of commerce but a vehicle of escape – not necessarily in a vicarious way (as we see with Airbnb), but in a way that the hotel is not complete without its guest, and in a way that unless the hotel’s design fosters a culture of connection and kindness where people of all walks of life come together effortlessly, the overall idea will not take shape, because the space is ‘cool and trendy’ and notmeaningful and purposeful.

To me, ‘trend’ is a bad word and has no home here. I would rather pick a fight with the status quo and focus on what is discovered, and not expected.

What would be your dream hotel project?

My retirement. A small, 10-room hotel. One bar with a vast porch, a hound dog and a Martini.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wishlist?

Home with my wife – also, happy hour, two blocks away in downtown LA.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed at, and why?

I tend to look at ‘best’ as essential, things that change the industry’s or culture’s way of thinking. The first time I stayed at the Paramount Hotel in NYC was breathtaking. It totally redefined what a hotel should be. They were perfect in programme and simplicity.

The Monteleone on Royale in NOLA because of its history, and the Four Seasons Doha, because you can get anything you want there.

What excites you most about the industry? What gets you out of bed on Monday?

The people I work with. I genuinely want to be the dumbest person in the room, and with most of them, I am. That excites and inspires me.

Leonard Lee

Regional MD, Singapore, Tokyo

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

I have been with Wilson Associates for a total of 20 years.

Although I started out in an architectural firm where I spent four years, I was at the time fascinated by the opportunities to express my creativeness in interior design, and specifically in the area of hospitality design.

What is the biggest thing you have learnt over your years in the industry?

Being the proverbial ham in the sandwich. I always tell people that we really have two clients, the owner/developer and the hotel operator. There is always a fine balance we have to reach, as, more often than not, the owner’s vision of what they want for the hotel may not necessarily align with the hotel op’s. It requires plenty of finesse, handholding at times, but, more importantly, having conviction in your design, as well as flexibility to have your ideas evolve.

Tell me about your role at Wilson Associates

As regional MD, I oversee the operations of our offices in Singapore and Tokyo. As I was a design principal before that, I am fortunate to still get involved in concept and schematic design stages with most of my clients. Design is something that I love and treasure, as well as being able to create interior spaces that are experiential.

What five words would you use to describe Wilson Associates?

We are global, we constantly challenge the status quo, we are relentless in our pursuit for perfection, we are passionate individuals, we listen to our clients.

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Wilson Associates stand out?

We are always proud that we do not have a signature design style, as we design for the location, its resulting narrative, as well as listening to our owner’s vision. We strive for designing spaces with soul and to endeavour to always engage one’s sensory perceptions.

We create ambiances that are crafted by meticulously composed and orchestrated subtleties, rather than an obvious approach.

How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? Has Wilson Associates felt it?

Covid-19 couldn’t have happened at a worse time, especially with the Olympics in the summer. Hotels, airlines, manufacturing, retail, you name it, the global economy is affected. Hotels and their owners who have deeper pockets could use this downturn to renovate and come out stronger. Thankfully, Wilson are a global brand with experienced design hubs in nearly a dozen cities, such that we can support and help each other. Togetherness and trusting each other are vital for us to come out of this strong.

What has been your favourite project to date?

It is definitely my very first project, designed when I first joined the firm in 2000. It was the Conrad in Bangkok, and the hotel opened in 2003. I am extremely proud of that project as the hotel wasn’t renovated till 2018. Most hotels typically undergo a refresh seven years after opening, or a major refurb after 10 years. This meant that we were able to create not only a timeless product, but one which was very much ahead of its time.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

I truly believe that guests will demand a more personalised approach and a less ‘hurried’ lifestyle. The hotel could be monumental in scale, yet intimate in its service and experience.

Design should be the organisation of the ‘chaos’ within, defining the soul within the space. It is not just the aesthetics but the holistic integration of all the elements within that space.

What would be your dream hotel project?

My dream has always been to design a resort – specifically, one where I am able to start with master planning, concept architecture and interior design. This for me represents a holistic approach to design, and the closest thing I can get to being able to ‘control’ all aspects of how I would like the end-user to experience the property.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wishlist?

It constantly changes as I rarely get much time for a long vacation.

However, most recently, a friend went to Rwanda and trekked to see the silver-backed gorillas. She was telling my wife and I how terribly frightening an experience it was to be so close to them but yet be in absolute awe of these critically endangered majestic primates.

What would you say are the best places you’ve ever stayed at, and why?

North Island, Seychelles, and Nihi Sumba. Both are extremely secluded and very private, and my idea of escaping away from it all. The former provides every villa with its own buggy so that you are able to explore the island or head to one of the restaurants in your own time, no waiting. Nihi has wild horses that run along the beach every day and you can get up close to them. They also have a spa with a cliff-edge location where you’d have to take a fourwheel drive to trek to.

What excites you most about the industry? What gets you out of bed on Monday?

I’m actually very blessed and humbled to be in this industry and to be surrounded by such talented and creative minds that know no boundaries. I’m thrilled with the idea that we can actually control how we want people to experience and manoeuvre them within the different spaces of the hotel.

I am constantly excited for a new day as it could potentially present unexpected surprises and challenges, and most often does. Challenges/obstacles, no matter how big or small, are ways with which we improve ourselves – but reflection is also key to this.

Isabel Pintado

Regional MD, Bangkok, Dubai, Shanghai

Senior Vice-President, Middle East, Africa

Tell me about your role at Wilson Associates?

As regional MD for Wilson Associates’ studios in Dubai, Shanghai and Bangkok, I oversee project development and design direction in the Middle East, Africa, China and Thailand.

What five words would you use to describe Wilson Associates?

Innovative, dynamic, passionate, collaborative, harmonious.

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

More than 20 years.

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Wilson Associates stand out?

We are a global design firm with designers working collectively in nearly a dozen studios around the world. We collaborate on projects and share our cultural and travel knowledge on our hospitality projects. We are also working tirelessly to develop more sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions to the type of work we do.

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

The design industry has matured enormously over the last decade.

Where in the past established traditions and styles were the norm, we now see a clear move towards exploring other styles which have been tried and tested in the main cities around the world.

What has been your favourite project to date?

Marriott Taghazout Bay is set to open in the next year. Located in Taghazout Bay, Agadir, Morocco, this resort will include an 18-hole golf course, a residential area, a museum of ‘Argan’, a centrally located amusement park, an array of retail, coffee shops and restaurant options. We are also currently working on the Westin Hotel & Resort in Ras Al Khaimah, Marsa Al Arab in Dubai, and a renovation of Pai Thai at Al Qasr Resort, as well as an exclusive boutique luxury spa in Abu Dhabi.

What’s next for you?

We are at such an exciting time for luxury and hospitality design – everything is driven by experience, and our team is having so much fun exploring what that means in different contexts. Most recently, we’ve been seeing a cultural shift in Saudi Arabia, and we are very excited to bring our expertise in hospitality spaces there, as well.

What would be your dream hotel project?

I love trekking in the mountains, camping in the desert, and hosting dinner parties. My dream project would include all of those activities – a project in the mountains with room for glamping and dining al fresco!

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wishlist?

Tokyo. I’m excited for the upcoming Olympic Games. Wilson Associates designed the mesm Tokyo, Autograph Collection, and I would love to explore.

How important are public spaces in hotels?

The lobby has evolved into the heart of the hotel. Restaurants, bars and lounges bring guests and locals together.

How does Wilson Associates stand out?

We cultivate long-term client relationships throughout the world.

Our know-how of the culture and business landscape, combined with our in-depth design knowledge, sets us apart from the competition.

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

There is a movement which draws upon and celebrates the region in which we live, where local product and interior designers have been given a voice and are celebrating what the Middle East has to offer. Some very exciting and original designs are coming through, as a result.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

More hotel projects are under development to meet the lodging needs of global travelers. We have worked on a number of projects slated to open in the region, which means capturing the cultural significance of those cities in the design of those hotels.

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

Shanghai, Berlin, Marrakesh.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?

I would say the main trends to be celebrated in this region, apart from the tried-and-tested ones from the West, are the Arab contemporary ones. These are celebrated, and have been developing into a true trend to study and admire.