World Interiors News Snapshot - Rabih Hage

Designer and architect Rabih Hage set up his London practice in 2001. He turns his hand to a vast array of projects, from designing furniture to nurturing young talent to overseeing large-scale hotel and residential projects across the world. He graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1991, having previously worked for a number of architecture and engineering firms. His multiple awards include Interior Designer of the Year for the Homes & Gardens Designer Awards in 2012, and winner of the Innovation Award for the European Hotel Design Awards in 2009.

Can you tell me about being a judge for the World Interiors News Annual Awards this year?
It will be interesting to see the various styles and approaches, the various directions of design and thinking. Judging the awards will be a good exercise in choosing something that is special, different and new, and beautiful at the same time.

You split your time between architecture, interior design, product design and overseeing your stable of designers - which area are you personally focusing most on at the moment?
Architecture and interior design. What is interesting is that when we work on larger projects it goes from small to big. We will work on the details of how to integrate the smaller elements, decorative elements or more unique pieces into the architectural environment. We have this wider span of thinking that is all linked together, so when we design the façade of a building, we also consider the interior details. Systematically, it’s like instant thinking. When you design a building, you instantly know what kind of furniture you’re going to put in it. The envelope is influenced by the interior and its objects, and vice versa. It’s a constant back and forth between the global project and the detailing, which is really interesting.

The Istanbul Sky Gate Hotel is your current major project?
It is one of the major projects we’re working on, amongst others. It is still on paper for the moment, it is still a concept design, but the idea is to have a very unique hotel with a homey feel. It will have small apartments that are managed by the hotel. It’s like a big community of travellers who are living there, that’s what’s new about it. It’s due to be completed in 2015-16.

Can you tell me about recent hotel projects that you have completed?
In early 2012 we finished the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel in Guildford, Surrey, which has 185 rooms. We were mainly focusing on the front of house - the restaurant, lobby, etc. We designed a place for meeting people - the concept for the hotel’s front of house was about performance, the theatre, art and literature. I was thinking of integrating the element of the book festival that happens in Guildford, and the big performance centre that is right next door to the hotel. I wanted to integrate these into the design, so the lobby becomes more like a stage set where the guests of the hotel are the actors.
How you walk into the space and how you use it are important. There are surrealist elements - a giant bookshelf, for example, with a zigzagging ladder up to the top of it. It’s basically an Alice in Wonderland environment for grown ups. Like all my designs it’s about layers, you have various depths to the design. You have the element of functionality, the element of aesthetics, the scenography, the lighting, the art, it is always interchanging and evolving. Each time you walk into the room you discover something new. It reflects your mood and changes your mood sometimes. Hopefully it will make you happy most of the time!

What projects do you have coming up next?
We are working on a couple of hotel projects in the north of Europe. I can’t tell you about these yet. There are a few residential projects we’re working on in London. There is a development of 44 luxury apartments in the Marylebone area.

What are your greatest inspirations at the moment?
It’s always been the same: people. People around me, friends, clients. It’s always about social interaction.

Are there any designers or artists you are currently working closely with and in what capacity?
I’m working with a Japanese artist, Aki Kuroda, on a special commission to create panelling and artwork that we want to place into various projects that we have, mainly residential projects.

What do you look for personally in a hotel when you’re staying there? What are the most important aspects for you?
Service. The design is just the packaging for the service, to give it better value. This is what I look for in a hotel, as a user and as a designer. You have to provide the right space to look after the staff so they can look after the guests. You don’t want to have a housekeeper who is really upset each time he or she sets up the room and has to take all the cushions out, or the soap is always falling on the floor, or dripping on the tap. All this is important.
If it’s all about design and there is no service, then it’s a different type of hotel. We can rectify things with design, if we have the freedom to do so. All the clients we work with are quite intelligent, and they know exactly what they want. They know the real basics of the business - it’s all about the service first, and the design second. But they go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other. We do 50 per cent of the story as designers.

What do you see as the most important trends in hotel design at the moment?
The most important trend today is copying what we did five years ago with the Rough Luxe hotel, which is personalisation. It’s all about the bespoke, going back to the individual and the unique - it’s not about sanitisation. You find this in design but also in service - the service industry is catching up with the psychology of design.
Unfortunately you are always dealing with investors and people putting big money into projects, so they are conservative, they want something that’s working already before they jump in. I’ve created a really interesting and groundbreaking design, the Rough Luxe hotel project, that is now becoming more of an example that people are following.
Another new trend I’m seeing is that a lot of art is involved in hotels now. I don’t know how genuine this is going to be. If it’s just about getting people to talk about the hotel, that’s not great. Travellers and hotel guests are not idiots, they can make or break a brand. The trend is good though, this direction that hotels are going towards is good - personalisation and the focus on service.

Can you tell me about the current exhibition at the Rabih Hage gallery?
Currently I’m showing my own designs, for DuPont Corian. It’s called the Leftover Collection, with new colours by Corian, and I’m showing four pieces of my design that are unique limited editions.

What is coming up next in the gallery?
Next we have a photography show, and a painting show with Aki Kuroda. I will also have a new collection of my designs - chairs and tables for working spaces, it’s about desks and studies and bookshelves. This will open in June.

How do you see your work evolving in the future? Do you see yourself as working more on one particular area over another?
No, I see my work evolving so that people understand our specialisation in diversity. It’s more about having integration in our designs, with architecture, interior design and furniture all being integrated into one project. It is about a particular understanding that you can have design that is truly multidisciplinary, and that is who we are.

This article was published by World Interiors News in April 2013. To view it in context, visit