London, the Design Capital of the World
The British Embassy Tokyo has carried out UK design promotion over the past 10 years. In 2016, they decided to focus on the UK’s interior design capability to respond to the expected increase in demand for both new and renovated hotels and serviced apartments in the run up to Tokyo 2020, and delivered a Design is GREAT seminar in Tokyo in collaboration with the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) .
The event was held at the British designed Palace Hotel in Tokyo.
According to the New York Times, London is the design capital of the world.
The creative industry is huge in the UK, and has seen a wonderful growth rate in recent years. In addition, the UK Government is working closely with British design companies to work on exporting their savoir-faire abroad.
A cluster of design firms can be found in central London, from Pimlico Road to Sloane Square.
Japan to Benefit from British Design Experience
Hotel design is currently a big topic in Japan, which has seen exponential growth in inbound tourism over the past two years.
Japan is currently playing host to 20 million tourists per year, but the government is aiming to increase that figure to 40 million annually by 2020, and 60 million by 2030. Thus, hotel design will become increasingly important.
Two major trends that affect Japan are how to best use already established, beautiful and prestigious spaces, and the growing trend of boutique hotels, which are popular in London, New York, Paris and Amsterdam.
The Sanderson Hotel in London for example, which is famous for offering a Mad Hatter themed afternoon tea, targets world travellers.
BIID-accredited designers possess knowledge, insight and understanding of their craft, and consider their role to be that of passing down design from the past to the future.
Getting clear on the target so the concept of the hotel can be felt from the hotel design all the way through to the marketing is one of the strengths and benefits of working with BIID designers.
UK Expertise Well-received in Japan
A selection of UK designers presented their work to key players in the Japanese design sector.
Daniel Hopwood, Director of Studio Hopwood, works on spaces and finishes.
In London, as in Tokyo, space is at a premium, affecting the overall design.
His focus is on converting old spaces into something new, and adding modern pieces so that in spite of the tightness of the space, everything works together harmoniously.
Personality and excitement can be added through the use of world materials, such as furniture and wallpaper from Europe, and elements from other locations.
He is seeking projects in Japan, and with developments in tech, collaboration between the UK and Japan is easier than ever.
Gregory Phillips Architects, winner of several awards and based in Savile Row, specializes in luxury houses and interiors, as well as renovations and extensions. He advantageously combines the skills that come with being both an architect and an interior designer at the same time.
His buildings are modern, yet have a sense of place and match the other buildings in the surrounding area, and his team is able to deliver any kind of project in Japan.
Susie Rumbold, Creative Director of Tessuto Interiors, spoke about the importance of staying on brand.
In addition to converting and developing spaces and properties, the firm has also adapted shipping containers for pop-up stores, and is involved in the burgeoning private rental sector in the UK.
Tessuto Interiors works with the latest technology and 3D modeling software to deliver projects in line with their clients’ expectations.
The Japanese hotel market is well supplied with business hotels and chains, but there is a gap in the market for individual boutique hotels, which attract a local clientele as well as foreign travelers.
UK Companies Already Collaborating with Japan
Stephen Ryan, of Stephen Ryan Design & Decoration, was involved in the refurbishment of the Okura Hotels in Tokyo and Kobe. He has worked on a mix of residential, corporate and hotel projects, and has also been involved in projects for Japanese fashion designer Hanae Mori.
His signature look is classical yet avant-garde, and he looks forward to doing more work in Japan.
Noriko Sawayama, Director of London Interior Design Office and Noriko Sawayama Design & Associates Ltd., has worked extensively within the UK and Japan.
Passionate about introducing traditional Japanese crafts to the world and teaching British-style interior business methods and theories, she acts as a bridge between the UK and Japan design communities.
G.A. Design is an interior and architectural design practice headquartered in London. Studios in Budapest, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai provide support to the London operations, in addition to working on individual projects.
The firm already has experience of working in Japan, as it was involved in the recent makeover of the Palace Hotel in Tokyo, which was re-opened to great fanfare in 2012 after the original hotel, built in 1961, was razed and rebuilt.
Managing Director Terry McGinnity, is proud of his work on the Palace Hotel. Japan is his favourite country to work in, and he has 15 years of experience in projects here.
He believes in researching and understanding the country before moving forward with projects there. This includes answering the questions, “What makes the country distinctive?” and “What gives the project character?”
“The key to good design work is responsiveness,” he adds, “and trust is extremely important in designing.”
The hospitality industry has been changing massively over the past 15 years, and designers are having to respond quickly to radical changes.
“Every hotel should have its own personality – every one should be different,” says McGinnity, who prefers to create more character-driven hotels that have personality.
The Palace Hotel’s renovation and timeless design was well received and highly lauded in the design community. It subsequently received several awards and its new rating as the only independent, Japanese-owned five-star hotel in the city.
David Hoggard, Managing Director of PDP London Architects Hong Kong Studio, attended the seminar to speak about the firm’s projects in Asia, which is an exciting new design market.
PDP London Architects specialises primarily in the residential and luxury space in London, Hong Kong, Canada and Tokyo.
“Location is a huge factor and influence on projects,” explains Hoggard.
Speaking on London, he mentioned the rich history and frequent refurbishment and reuse of buildings, making the UK strong in this field, and at preserving the historic character of the area, something that is important in Tokyo as well.
Hong Kong’s challenge is high-density living, another familiar issue for Tokyo. However, the high property prices combined with small properties are even more extreme than during Tokyo’s bubble era.
The firm is working in line with the Hong Kong government regulations on the “green allowance.”
Hoggard also spoke of the design firm’s experience in Japan. Tokyo is a highly-developed and multi-centred city that is experiencing a huge surge in tourism in the run up to Tokyo 2020.
They have worked extensively with local consultants, and have completed 3 projects in the past 8 years, including a refurbishment project with the Westminster Roppongi, which saw a revamped landscaping and lighting design with a focus on theatrical lighting, and residential projects such as Grosvenor Place and The Belgravia in Tokyo.
These projects show that elements of hotel design are migrating over to residential areas and that branding is increasingly coming in to residential brands, but the inspiration is always the city of Tokyo.
As a trend we are seeing investors investing in high-end residential properties worldwide.
Tim Bowder-Ridger, CEO and senior partner of international architecture and interior design firm Conran & Partners, spoke on the concept of hotel as theatre.
Hotel design possesses parallels with theatre design, where there is an audience, a stage and a backstage area, with the latter exuding an element of exclusivity, and the three combined are wrapped up in a sense of place.
In this digital age today’s audience is ever more informed and people expect to be treated as individuals, making the boutique hotel trend increasingly popular as people seek out bespoke memories to share with their friends.
The company has experience with projects in Japan, having worked on interiors for Roppongi Hills and Ark Hills in the past.
Bowder-Ridger believes that you can only design a place by actually experiencing it, and makes monthly visits to Tokyo.
He also spoke on the opportunity for hotels to become curators of local culture and art.
Using BIID Designers on Japanese Projects
And what exactly are the advantages of using BIID designers in Japanese projects?
According to Susie Rumbold, in a single word, the answer is “professionalism.”
All BIID members are qualified, accredited, have been tested on their professional competencies to exacting standards, understand the importance of safety, take responsibility, and are excellent at project management. They also work worldwide on global projects, and have experience working overseas.
She continues, saying, “BIID’s knowledge and consciousness will bring further development to the interior design profession in Japan,” and encouraged more Japanese designers to join the BIID.
In the Q&A session David Hobbart advised Japanese designers not to think about what would please foreigners, but rather to make it about the local neighbourhood area, creating an immersive experience of Tokyo or Japan. “I come to Tokyo for Tokyo,” he explained, “I don’t come to Tokyo for what I have at home. It’s about us understanding Japan.”
He also praised Britain’s rich design history, which, combined with a willingness to embrace new ideas in design leads to a fresh and creative result.
Tim Bowder-Ridger praised the exemplary sense of service in Japan, and cites the Andaz Tokyo as a hotel getting design so very right. He also believes the UK and Japan are more similar than people tend to believe, and that sometimes it takes an outsider to see the strengths of the insider.
Head of the Creative & Consumer Team at DIT Japan, Akiko Yanagisawa, said that UK design firms are looking to do more work in Japan, and bring the added value of world experience to projects.
If you are passionate about British design you can keep up with the latest updates using the hashtag #DesignisGREAT.
Article and photo by Vanessa Holden, November 2016.