With the rapidly increasing number of hotels mushrooming in the Gulf – many managed by international hotel groups – the interior design industry has seen a progressive shift towards not only producing exquisite interiors in very tight time frames, but also providing innovative, culture-sensitive, unique and eco-friendly solutions.
Every hotel, restaurant, suite, or spa is looking to offer an unforgettable experience to its customer by incorporating into impressive architectural spaces truly unique features, dramatic lighting, lavish fabrics and custom-made furniture pieces, says Claire Craig, design director, wa international, the award-winning interiors consultancy with considerable experience in the design of high-end hotel and resort properties in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“This desire for unique interiors to separate you from your competitor really pushes the benchmark out for innovative designing. Although contract values will invariably rise over time, it’s not often that you will find a client with an open budget. There is a conscious effort to provide quality interiors in a cost-effective way and hence value engineering is key to any project, no matter the size,” says Craig.
Over the last 14 years, the Gulf has seen a dramatic growth in the tourism and hospitality industry giving ample opportunities for wa international to exercise its creativity in the field of hotel interior design.
Since 1993, when the Dubai office was established, the company has carried out a number of large projects such as the JW Marriott Dubai, Hilton Abu Dhabi, Hyatt Regency and The Pyramids, to name a few.
“From then on, we have completed in excess of 50 hotel projects throughout the Gulf, North Africa, Asia and Europe for leading hotel groups such as Starwood, Marriott International, Intercontinental, Radisson SAS, Hilton Group, and the Millennium Hotels,” she says.
Currently, wa international is working on approximately 23 new projects throughout the region such as the Burj Dubai Lake Hotel in Dubai, The Zallaq Beach Resort Bahrain, the Sofitel and Mîvenpick Hotels at Jumeirah Beach Residence, Gulf Hotel in Bahrain and the Kempinski in Zanzibar.
The scope of work for each project varies from complete interior design for all areas of the hotel, to the design of one-off individual areas such as specialised F&B (food and beverage) outlets, spas, ballrooms and suites.
The Burj Dubai Lake Hotel located in the exclusive Downtown Burj Dubai area is a prime example of how the design industry has progressed over the years, where innovation creativity and culture are combined to create exquisite interiors, says senior designer Helen Skea.
This project, which commenced back in 2005, has 626 serviced residential apartments and 198 guestrooms. In addition to this, wa international is also designing all public areas including restaurants, bars, meeting rooms, ballroom, business centre, healthclub and spa.
Sleek and modern interiors, luxurious fabrics, elegant finishes and dramatic lighting bring sophistication to an unforgettably unique design. Preciosa (lighting), Moore & Giles and Lelievre (fabrics), Minotti and Poroda (furniture) are just some of the suppliers involved with the project, adds Skea.
The project is expected to be completed by mid-2008.
Another new project in the UAE is the Sofitel Jumeirah Beach Residence, a 450-room luxury hotel whose elegance, sophistication and warmth are reflected in the stylish interiors.
A contemporary theme with an Arabian influence allowed elements from the region to be incorporated into the design, says senior designer Geeta Ramchand.
The lobby is an open space with an impressive water feature inspired by the traditional dhows of the region, while the guestrooms feature headboards with an underlying palm leaf theme and etched mashrabiya pattern on glass wardrobe doors.
The scope of work included all guestrooms and suites, all public areas, entrance lobby, executive lounge, restaurants, bars, meeting rooms, ballroom, business centre, health club, gym and spa. This hotel also would be completed this year, she says.
wa international has introduced into the region the Californian design style, with a distinct focus on the use of light, for the prestigious Mîvenpick Jumeirah Beach Residence hotel project in Dubai. The practice has recently been awarded the interior design contract for the hotel on the coastline. While the hotel architecture is in keeping with the master plan of the Jumeirah Beach Residence, the interiors will reflect clean lines and open spaces, as seen in residential and public buildings on the Pacific coast. The finishes are light and translucent.
In Bahrain, the refurbishment of the Gulf Hotel presented wa international an opportunity to breathe new life into the hotel and its facilities by providing a soft contemporary and timeless design, according to senior designer Adrian Battisby.
A total of 225 guestrooms and six suites were refurbished, and a new penthouse executive lounge was created while the public areas and speciality restaurants were also revived, giving a more contemporary feel to the hotel.
A starburst-inspired chandelier, Onyx sculptures by Colin Roberts, vibrant pieces of contemporary original art and opulent fabrics brought more character and style to the Gulf Hotel.
At the Gulf Hotel, the challenge was to achieve a balance between creativity and functionality within the existing modest-by-today’s-standards guest rooms and an ambitious brief from the client, says Battisby.
“Increased guest room facilities with an enhanced and more spacious feel to the rooms were most certainly a key to developing the desired effect. Spatial planning, interesting and clever use of interior finishes were key in satisfying the brief,” he says.
The functions of the guest room were increased, yet the available space was not. Ingenuinity was the only real response to fully incorporate all the required features to the exising space, where “form follows function”, Battisby says.
Elsewhere in the project, the function and operation had been agreed upon while in some cases they were already established. These had an impact on the nature of the creative response incorporating all the required functions.
“We strove to enhance the existing architecture by use of colour, art and sculpture, which entailed bringing to life the refurbished public areas,” he continues.
A particular area of note is the newly-formed triple-height entrance lobby. The current check-in lobby is on the first floor and an interior space was created by IKA architects on the ground floor, he says.
Within this new space the key functions of access and egress, visual and audible connection, all had to be considered. The interior volumes of this new space connect the ground through to the second floor and it became apparent how important the vertical and horizontal circulation were, now that all the spaces had been opened up. The connection between all the various levels and functions required a harmonious design that was stylish and dramatic and eye-catching. The Gulf Hotel work is expected to be complete this year.
Meanwhile, Craig reveals that a new office and studio is planned to cater for wa international’s continued growth in the short term, whilst in the medium term it is looking to expand its existing global presence.
Craig says wa international’s philosophy is to focus on surpassing its clients’ exacting needs and expectations whilst achieving a balance of creative form and efficacy of function and operation through the generation of design solutions that are exclusive and incorporate the latest technology and global trends.
“The association with a broad base of suppliers worldwide, in addition to extensive in-house facilities, enables wa international to provide the greatest benefit to our clients through the generation of exceptional and creative concepts,” she says. “Our design integrity is upheld through the provision of a full range of services including accurately detailed design and construction documentation and post-contractual supervision.”
wa international designs have won some major awards, including Best Hotels for Rooms 2006 (Conde Nast Traveller magazine), for the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa; Depa Middle East Hotel Awards for Convention, Conference and Banquet Facilities 2005 for the JW Marriott in Dubai; Best Room and Best Design 2004 (Conde Nast Traveller magazine – US) for the Al Bustan Palace, Muscat; Best Environmental Four-star Hotel 2003 (Mena Travel Awards) for the Towers Rotana, Dubai; and Best Hotel in the Middle East (World Travel Awards) 2000 and 2001 for the Al Bustan Palace, Muscat.