Away from Home with Architect-Designer Isabelle Miaja
Last year, I had the pleasure of conducting a roundtable at the Maison & Objet Salon around the theme “Haute Couture Hotels,” in the presence of Isabelle Miaja (architect-designer), Geoffray Maugin (Marketing Director of Sofitel), and Giovanna Golnelli (Marketing Head of Fendi Maison).
We addressed various themes and topics that you’ll find below in this interview with Isabelle Miaja. Isabelle has designed for numerous hotels in Asia and the Middle East. She revisits French and European codes and opens herself to inspiration from the local culture. I leave you to discover for yourself her magnificent designs; I am sure that it is only a matter of time before she will be designing hotels around Europe.
Do you share the opinion that, more than ever, we are in need of new spaces that no longer resemble hotels, such that the client can seek out even further escape, more unique experiences, and greater changes? That he wants to be surprised and yet feel as if he were “away from home”?
I think that the notion of a hotel is in the process of changing. It no longer describes a place where one goes simply to sleep. It describes a transitory space that coincides with business work; this change is very clear, especially for hotels in cities. These are the hotels that are experiencing the greatest changes in the artistic and practical sense. On the other hand, you have hotels of leisure, which have always maintained the sense of escape by virtue of their environment, even if these were not as pushed forth as the hotels that we design these days. It is manifestly clear that hotels have changed and become public spaces where the crafted universe are expected to seduce, inspire, astonish, and, above all, instill the desire to return. Keeping clients loyal is the principal objective, with each hotel conveying through its services and ambiance the sense of belonging towards its client.
Sofitel SO Singapore
So then, how do you break the codes to deconsecrate the various spaces of a hotel?
Breaking the long-held notions of hotels is part of the job description of interior designers, as it is of the entire ensemble of careers involved in the industry. We have to be able to respond to the demands of a clientele that is constantly shifting. The hotel staff must not only satisfy, but also anticipate the expectations of his clientele in all possible domains during their stay. Nothing is overlooked! From sunrise to sundown, we strive to astonish, inspire dreams, educate (through art and culture), and comfort our clients using every means we have. Experiences are multiplied and magnified. The feeling of being “At Home in a Hotel” no longer corresponds to our new schema of clientele; our new motto is instead: “Even Better Than Home…” This goes for all dimensions, be it in the restaurant, the bathroom, or the conference rooms. This naturally entails an enormous labor of research and inspiration, since we have to follow everything that’s at the most cutting edge in the consumer market (media, music, electronics, visual/audio gadgets, etc.). Vogues and trends also enter the hotel world and inspire crazes that traverse our hotel world entire. They transform it as much in terms of form as functionality.
We are no longer interior designers, but rather creators of an expertise related to the experience of being “home away from home”.
Leisure hotels, for their part, have to intensify the magical experience of traveling by giving form to the dream of adventure and relaxation. The need for the natural and the organic is on constant demand.
Sofitel SO Singapore
The notion of “Haute Couture” hotels is growing increasingly present in the hotel industry, especially where boutique hotels are concerned. What is your take on Haute Couture in the hotel world? How do you integrate art in your work? Where do your inspirations come from? How do you see partnerships forming between fashion designers in the hotel industry?
The marriage of “Haute Couture and hotels” is the product of considerable changes that are taking place across the hotel world. The logic up to now used to be the following: a hotel should remain “current” for several years while remaining classic. Its interior ambiance would be renovated every seven to ten years, if not more. The elevated cost of renovations was linked to expected long-term resources.
These days, the hotel world is adapting to changes in the demands of the clientele, becoming more playful, less exclusive, and more open to a world of constant changes, where parameters are increasingly blurring together at a dizzying speed. The competition to create surprises, shifts, and playful nods is leading the hotel world in a dance that is growing ever more rapid.
The concept of seasonal changes is increasingly replacing the idea of perennial permanence, and it’s a concept that corresponds to our current conception of fashion, technology, etc. We follow prevailing vogues, and this extends to the wealth of careers that depend on the hotel industry. Hotel salons and fairs follow and exhibit the major trends in colors and materials. Factories invent new techniques of manufacturing. Today we have become just as dependent on the perceptions of hotel trends as fashion designers are in designing clothes.
Working with a top name like Karl Lagerfeld on an iconic project joining his name to a ‘boutique’ concept beautifully illustrates the idea that ‘hotel fashion’ has been born and that we are on the cusp of a revolution in hotel design. As an interior designer, this notion of fashion and Haute Couture is at the heart of our creations. We draw inspiration from today’s world by looking to novelties, but also to restorations of past styles. Everything is fair game for exploration to give our ‘creative thumbprint’ to a hotel project; every hotel today strives to be unique and craft a home to an authentic signature. Thus are the new ‘perennials’ born!
The artistic element of the hotel also houses its ‘signature’ identity. We are no longer content, as we were in previous decades, to place ‘litho’ prints along the walls of the rooms and public spaces. Our team at Miaja has a separate ‘Art’ department where all research and collaborations are established from the outset of the project; the ‘Art’ budget stands alone as its own entity. If the latest styles have come to unfold along our corridors, rooms, and public spaces, art, too, has come to take possession of our walls, and we are even in talks at the moment to install several pieces of art in our hotels. We create them as best befits our artistic approaches, and we try to find partnerships that correspond to each project.
I’m thrilled to be able to work with all kinds of artists and creators, since doing so exposes my work to a fusion of ideas that lead at times to astonishing and inspirational results. Fashion designers, artists, and artisans alike remain a constant source of inspiration in our hotel imagination.
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Laurent Delporte, an editor and conference speaker, is a strategic expert in the sector of hotels. A visionary, he brings his unique look on hotels in service to the decision-makers in the industry, whether to enhance the development of new projects or strategic visions.
Laurent has visited and audited over 350 hotels across the world and also participates in mystery visits to provide quality control for the world’s finest hotels.