Bryan O’Sullivan Studio draws from its breadth of expertise to create unique and tailor-made spaces for its clients. Just some of the studio’s prestigious hospitality projects are: The Berkeley Bar & Terrace, London; The Red Room at The Connaught Hotel; and the guest rooms at Claridge’s and Ballynahinch Castle, Ireland. Here, founder Bryan O’Sullivan speaks to Can Faik about the studio’s approach and its exciting plans for the future ... 

Please could you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself? 

I originally studied hospitality management when I finished school and after that I decided I wanted to change to study architecture, as that was always a dream of mine. I then came to London to study my Part 1 at University of Greenwich and Part 2 at the University of Westminster. I worked at Selldorf Architects on my year out, and then continued to work for David Collins, Martin Brudnizki and Luis Laplace in New York, before setting up on my own in 2013. 

What three words would you use to describe Bryan O’Sullivan Studio?

Compelling, elegant and timeless.

It’s a difficult time for the hospitality industry. What do you think will be the hospitality sector’s biggest challenge, post-Covid?

Hopefully none! I think we all hope we can get back to normal as soon as possible. People are so eager to get back out there – hopefully there will be a sense of a roaring 20s bounce-back. 

“We are a young, dynamic team, and we work hard together as a team to deliver the end result”

How can design be used to manage the guest’s expectations of the hotel experience?

It is everything. It is the single most impactful factor – it’s the first thing that hits you when you walk into a hotel or space. How it looks, how it feels, the materials used, the way the materials are combined. It tells you so much about the premises and makes the atmosphere come together. It is the very first impression you get when you walk into a hotel space – then comes the service. 

How did your partnership with the Maybourne Hotel Group begin?

I first met Paddy McKillen at Chateau La Coste, which is his hotel in the South of France. It really is an incredible place, with a sculpture park and art gallery – by far the nicest place I have every stayed. I sat next to Paddy one night at a dinner – we have mutual friends, and we got chatting about design. He is interested in David Collins and Annabelle Selldorf, so we had a connection. He asked if we would we be interested in looking at a new project. It was a creation of a new bar in The Berkeley. Since then, we have had a lot of new projects with Maybourne Group. 

Turning to the topic of authenticity of experience, how do you approach each project?

We approach each project with a completely new and fresh perspective. We do an initial brainstorm with everyone that will be working on the project and put all the ideas on the table. We take inspiration from all forms – the building, the location, the style we are trying to achieve, and more. We slowly illuminate anything we don’t feel is right, which gives us a fresh look each time. We try to avoid cut and paste as much as possible, in order to create something new and exciting each time. 

I recently had the same question asked of me by two hoteliers – if you had a limited budget to spend on design, what area would you focus on?

I think the bedrooms are the most important in the hotel. You spend the most amount of time in the bedroom, so they need great-quality beds, bed linen, towels and an uplifting interior that is nice to spend time in – that is so important. After that, it would be the restaurant and bars and the lobby space. 

How important are public spaces in hotels? Are there ways in which you’ve used innovative design in these areas to facilitate innovative usage?

The lobby is an important space as it sets the tone for the rest of the building. In the Maybourne Riveria, the idea was not to have traditional receptions or concierge desks. The focus was to make the experience as streamlined as possible, and therefore create pieces of furniture that were designed around this. It gives the sense you are walking into an art gallery as opposed to a traditional hotel lobby.

“People are so eager to get back out there – hopefully there will be a sense of a roaring 20s bounceback”

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

The goal is to make everyone happy – if you are a new customer or a returning customer the experience should be the same – and to provide the best possible experience for each person. Loyalty is very important to us, as our job is to make the hotel as amazing as possible and to create a viable business, and for that you need return custom. If people are returning again and again, I see that as a good sign. 

How high on the list is revenue creation for designers?

It is the bottom line for the owner of the hotel. We need to be very cognisant of that, as it is not a successful hotel if it is not generating an income. We need to design everything in such a way that makes people feel welcome, relaxed and happy in the space so that it generates an income. 

How do you think the influence of new technology affects the luxury traveller, and might do in the future?

The hassle-free check-in is a big trend in hotels. To have no queues for check-in and out, and to have everything done in advance, and making it as hands-free as possible. 

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Bryan O’Sullivan Studio stand out from the rest?

Because we approach projects differently each time – we don’t like to cut and paste or repeat. We are a young, dynamic team, and we work hard together as a team to deliver the end result.

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

I think that travel is the best form of inspiration. My phone is full of photos from various trips. The most notable trip was one to Rajasthan, which my husband James and I went on two years ago – it was truly such a beautiful experience, from the colours to the textures and the all-round scenery. 

“We are working on launching a furniture, lighting and accessories line in 2022”

What does design mean to you?

A way to express creativity and work collaboratively. 

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

I think that the future of hotel design really stems from making the process for the client as streamlined as possible. We are now seeing so many new technologies, which helps a lot too. It is vital the guest is as comfortable as possible, for example with better lighting controls and more control for the user in the bedroom environment. 

Is there anything exciting you’re working on that you can tell us about?

We are designing the interiors of the new lobby at the Maybourne Beverly Hills, as part of an overhaul of the design of the entire hotel. We are also designing the new tearoom adjacent to the lobby, as well as a piano bar, and a new restaurant at the Maybourne’s courtyard. We have also designed the refurbishment of 35 guest suites.

What would be your dream hotel project?

I would love to do a hotel in Paris.

What’s next for you and Bryan O’Sullivan Studio?

We are working on launching a furniture, lighting and accessories line in 2022. We also opened a New York office, and hope to build that out. 

Lastly, share some good news! Have you done anything to stay busy in these crazy times?

I have been spending some more time in the US and working with the team over there. I have also been able to get to know more suppliers and galleries, which is always great!