WOID concepts’ founder and creative director Patricia Holler has come a long way in her 20-year career. Here, she shares her ethos and approach to interior design with Hospitality Interiors’ Can Faik ... 

What was your background prior to working with WOID concepts? 

After studying architecture in Germany and Spain, I have dedicated my professional career to interior design in the hospitality sector, working early on for national and international projects. After several positions in Germany, I moved to Dubai for over five years, working as a senior interior designer for four- and five-star hotels in the Middle East and Africa. 

I was fortunate to work on several high-end five-star properties. Whilst working on the Renaissance Downtown Dubai, the chance arose to join Marriott International, and I grasped the opportunity. I joined Marriott in 2013, to establish a dedicated interior design team for Marriott Europe, to look after all their interior design=related projects and developments. It has been a fantastic experience to oversee a number of brand initiatives for the continent, to widen the visibility of Global Design Europe, to set up renovation strategies and to see the numerous projects come to life. 

Working with Marriott International has given me the opportunity and great joy of working with fantastic people around the world – in brands, operations, with owners and wonderful designers. Being in a guiding role on a large number of exciting hotel projects in over 25 countries, with over 20 different brands, was an exceptional experience. In 2020 I left Marriott International to pursue new business goals and create my own consultancy – WOID concepts.

“Certainly, one of the biggest changes will be significantly reduced travel activity, and that means quite a lot to me – in the past I used to spend up to 80% of my work time on business trips”

Tell me about your role at WOID concepts 

At the end of 2020, I decided to set up my own consultancy, WOID concepts. The word WOID stands for several things – among them, it refers to the Bavarian word for ‘forest’. The forest very much links to my original roots, my deep love for nature and appreciation for its restoring, grounding and healing power. 

Through WOID concepts I continue to dedicate myself to hospitality-oriented interior design projects – projects full of warmth, unusual details and deep atmosphere, yet paired with an innovative design approach. I apply a larger focus on re-using furniture and materials, bringing them together and helping them to create a new identity and personality. The idea of discarding whatever you no longer want and replacing it with a new look frustrates me greatly. Too easily we ignore how finite our resources are. I think it is time for a dramatic paradigm shift, and I am trying to contribute to this with WOID concepts, in which I bring together all my experience and expertise.

On the one hand, I have my design expertise, from many years as a hotel and gastronomy-focused interior designer for bespoke and one-of-a-kind interior experiences. On the other hand, I bring extremely valuable years with one of the world’s leading hotel operators, where I was responsible for numerous major projects. This has allowed me to acquire insights and precious knowledge of brands, strategies, operations and many other components which are necessary to open a successful hotel.

As a result, WOID concepts is able to offer advisory services for identity and brand development, as well as property optimisation. Furthermore, as a hotel design expert, I support large hotel construction projects – either as the client’s representative, or as an external expert for interior design firms whose focus is not on hotel planning.  

What do you think will be the biggest change in how you do your job, post Covid-19?

Certainly, one of the biggest changes will be significantly reduced travel activity, and that means quite a lot to me. In the past, I used to spend up to 80% of my work time on business trips. I am sure that a good amount of these typical trips to attend a meeting will not be necessary any more, and will – as it has been practised since the outbreak of Covid-19 – continue to be held virtually.

Time is such a precious commodity – we will deal more respectfully with it. And during that time that we spend physically together, we will better concentrate more on all the interactions that are hardly possible on a virtual level, such as developing interpersonal relationships, drafting visions, or dealing with processes that require a haptic grasp or perception of an atmosphere or mood – things that happen more on a sensory level.

We are currently in an era that is experiencing a massive push towards digital assistants and tools that can, on the one hand, do work for us, or, on the other hand, spare us a physical presence in another places. I can imagine in the future we will spend much less time physically visiting samples or mock-up rooms – augmented reality (AR) allows us to virtually see and walk the space. Numerous progress visits can be undertaken virtually, at any time, and as many as you need, and a physical presence can be reduced to a bare minimum. This offers incredible advantages.

Being tied to a specific place will decrease massively. It will enable many people to generate a working environment for themselves that suits them best, that gives them flexibility, significantly reduces stress due to travelling or commuting, and better bridges the gap between the working and private worlds. 

For me specifically, it also allows me to reduce my set-up to a minimum. I communicate digitally and virtually and collaborate with people, in different locations – even continents –without the need to bring them together in an office. And we have all learned during this last year how this is not only possible in theory. Physical meetings will happen as needed, in different locations, and also with the help of co-working facilities. For company founders, this provides so much more flexibility, and is a considerable relief. 

“Making a moment memorable and unforgettable has a lot to do with the circumstances and expectations of that very moment”

Being based in Germany, which projects are you currently working on?

I am involved in the development of a new urbanisation which includes two new-build hotel projects, in addition to numerous residential facilities. And I’m in the starting blocks for a project that I’m very much looking forward to – an ageing hotel in the greater Munich area, with fairly traditional furnishings, which had its heyday back in the 1980s. The hotel needs to be completely refurbished, and the new owner wants to attract a young, urban clientele. However, part of the old furniture is to be reused and a new identity created – not an easy task, but a fun one! A new design language has to be found and developed for this – a cool challenge, which requires a great wealth of ideas. 

There are also several other pretty exciting international projects in the pipeline – for example, a resort in West Africa and a boutique hotel in Croatia – but decision processes are taking a bit longer due to all the lovely Covid chaos. 

Describe your style

I am a storyteller through and through. And I am a collector – a collector of memories, of things that remind and transport me back to the time and the place where I picked it up. So it probably comes as no surprise that my personal style is quite eclectic. In my own personal space there is hardly any element that does not have its own history. Things from all the places in the world to which I have a certain connection can be found in my apartment, and always remind me of their place of origin. This style is very personal, uncopiable, and thereby has the highest possible character – for me, that’s wonderful. 

As for projects, I am very adaptable and I don’t think that I have a very determined design language. What links my approach to projects is the individuality – my aim to find untold stories, to be able to create unique experiences. I don’t like to re-use design ideas which have been applied in other projects. The specific story makes the difference, and this is what I want to find, develop and bring to life in the interior design – and then, of course, identify and apply the specific design language it requires. 

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does WOID concepts stand out from the rest?

It is true, there are quite a lot of hospitality designers in the market – especially London, which has a high density for design expertise and is the undisputed epicentre for highly qualified hospitality designers in Europe. This is, however, not the case everywhere. Take my home country – the design landscape in Germany, for instance, looks very different. It is more characterised by generalist interior designers, and does not have a distinct tradition in dedicated hospitality design. 

Therefore there is definitely a market for high-quality hotel design. I also believe that the trend will increase to select designers more locally (nationally, regionally). And although I love working internationally, I also have a great desire to be involved in projects in the German-speaking region, and to contribute my international knowledge here.

My expertise and specific knowledge in a variety of hotel brands is certainly an important distinguishing feature – not many designers have worked on both sides, as an interior design consultant for the client, but also on the operator’s side as a design director for an important hotel chain. This brings with it a wealth of specialist knowledge in terms of functionalities, operations, trends and brands – very few have this background, nor the network. 

I think my architectural background makes me approach spaces differently, and think in larger contexts and functional adjacencies. In the years of hotel planning, I have unfortunately often experienced that too many limitations were created in advance by the architectural planning, which often cannot always be compensated for afterwards by clever interior design solutions. And, at this point, I also see my task as being able to influence the architectural planning early enough.

“My dream project would be to build a hotel that uses the very traditional, original materials and design language at its location, but brings them technically into the modern age. Combining the old with the new”

Do you have a most memorable experience of interior design – something you saw that changed or inspired you?

Making a moment memorable and unforgettable has a lot to do with the circumstances and expectations of that very moment. Many years ago I moved to Dubai, my first time in the Middle East. I had only been in the city for a few weeks and everything was still very new. The Atlantis The Palm hotel was about to open, and for that occasion, acquaintances invited me to watch the opening fireworks on the Palm Jumeirah, from the rooftop of the hotel One&Only Royal Mirage. It was already evening when we arrived, and what I got to see was completely unexpected and actually blew my mind. 

The Royal Mirage is a hotel of a more traditional architectural language, with dominating façades of clay plaster, yet pompous in its dimension. The rather simple feel of the architecture, which was, at the same time, so dramatically staged and lit, astonished me deeply. Corridors, and sequences of corridors, opening and narrowing again, water pools filled with floating rose petals. Inner courtyards, with oversized vases arranged in shallow water pools, and dramatically lit. The scent of rose petals and subtle oud in the air. The subdued lighting, with many floor lanterns studded with candles. 

For me, it was like a scene from One Thousand and One Nights, and a feast for the senses. I had never seen anything like it before and I found it overwhelming. That evening I was lucky enough to see those incomparable fireworks from the roof of the hotel, seated on a comfortable majlis with some great company. It simply can’t get any better than that – moments like that burn themselves into your memory and stay with you. Maybe this experience was the starting point for a great fascination of the Orient and its hospitality, but definitely, since then, I have found great pleasure in the design language and the details of Oriental architecture.

Tell us something surprising about yourself that people may not know …

I am looking back at a professional background of interior architecture and hospitality of over 20 years. But way before that, the oldest memory I have is that of myself as a little girl in the restaurant kitchen of my grandmother, surrounded by a lot of grown-up ladies, all eagerly preparing a large banquette lunch. And me very proudly among them, and being allowed to help by peeling potatoes. I very vividly remember the cheerful atmosphere, the laughter, yet, the business in preparation of something special. I loved it. 

As a teenager I started working as a waitress, and as a young adult I received training as a bartender. Back then, my plan was to one day have my own smoky jazz bar in the basement of an urban city location with a cool, moody design, fancy cocktails and exquisite music. A few years later, my insatiable wanderlust brought me as an au pair to Vail, Colorado, after graduating from high school. And besides the best ski experience of my life, I came in close touch with the world of five-star luxury hospitality. Well, that captivated me and never let go of me again. I knew that these were the magical ingredients I wanted to nurture in my life – travelling, discovering remote places, getting in touch with local people and learning from their cultures, enjoying fabulous food and hospitality, and doing my part in creating the perfect framework to be able to enjoy these at their best.