I recently had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the work of Kevin Grima, a lead interior designer with Harrison. I love his work on the interiors for the Windmill Hotel. (See more Windmill photos here.)
Harrison is an international design firm headquartered in the UK with offices in the US. From the Harrison web site:
“Established in 1990, Harrison has the critical mass, skills base and flexibility to develop highly individual and successful hospitality retail designs as well as international branded offers with a broad scale rollout programme.
More specifically, our services include:
- Brand positioning, creation and evolution
- Brand design and development
- Master planning
- Space planning
- Full project management
We like to think we are different from our competitors because we spend a great deal of time with our clients, understanding their ethos, their business journey and their ambitions for the future.”
Here’s what Kevin had to say about his work for leading clients in hospitality.
Please tell us about your role and responsibilities at Harrison. What do you love most about your job?
I’m a Creative Director at Harrison and head up one of the main design teams within the consultancy, working for several high profile leisure hospitality clients, including Giraffe, YO! Sushi and pub operator Young’s.
What is there not to love about my job? I get to vent my creativity every day, I can see my designs creating trends right across the UK – and I get paid for doing something I love!
Can you share with us your ‘typical’ design process (if there is such a thing)? How do you normally go about developing your ideas and bringing them into reality? We’d love to hear about the key stages in your workflow and how you develop your concepts in the early stages of a project.
Right from the outset you need to have a good grasp of the budget, the space you will be working with, the brand ‘feel’, your client’s requirements and their customers’ needs.
The exact science laid down by brand strategy should be embraced, but it is important to interpret it with a mix of skill, experience and gut feel.
At Harrison, our workflow always starts with a plan: if you don’t know what you are doing from the outset, you certainly won’t know what you are doing by the end of it. Planning is absolutely critical.
We look first at back-of-house, assessing where we might want to put operational areas such as the kitchen and bar, then we investigate the overall flows and how people will use the space.
As the skeleton of the project develops we transfer our plans from 2D to 3D, following on with the creation of an inspirational image board which looks at the intended brand ‘feel’: we use colours, textures, shapes taken from fashion, film, nature …
We then elevate the scheme and refine it to create a 3D model and the one that we will work with as the project progresses on site.
You recently completed the transformation of London’s Windmill pub into a boutique hotel. It’s been written elsewhere that each of the 42 guest rooms has its own unique design, which is quite unusual for a hotel. Can you talk about your creative approach and how you solved design problems for such a wide variety of floor plans? And how did you unify the different designs into a cohesive theme for the property?
Our client, Young’s, were adamant that they didn’t want a standard hotel with duplicate rooms – their brief to us was all about maximising the tradition and heritage of their operations and expanding the warmth, hospitality and individuality of the pub through to each of the hotel rooms.
Some designers may have baulked at the idea of 42 uniquely-designed hotel rooms, but it’s all a question of viewpoint. Each of the rooms, like the pub itself, is characterised by a timber floor, a bit of panelling and ceiling. With these key elements the same, all you have to do is concentrate on differentiating the overlay of accessories. In essence, the basic room designs are very similar, it is the overlaid character that is unique.
You’ve become well known for your design work for restaurants, including the Giraffe and YO! Sushi chains. Can you share a bit about your approach to designing these environments, especially with regard to the need to balance style with functionality in these types of eateries?
Giraffe is about operations first and foremost, so this forms the basis of our brand planning. Once we are clear about how this will work, we look at the brand ethos and, in Giraffe’s case, this inhabits a global cafe with strong family bonds. The brand inspirations are worldwide, affording us a very broad palette of music, patterns, textures and shapes from which to form our creation. At each stage, however, the design is carefully hinged onto functionality.
YO! Sushi is another operational brand, with the design centring on the mechanics of the sushi belt. However, rather than a worldwide breadth of inspiration, YO! Sushi is more about depth and a concentrated concept of Japanese minimalism. As a result, our design incorporates only a small number of key elements and each is complementary to the central belt concept.
One of the most common (and time consuming) challenges for interior designers is organizing and choosing from vast amounts of products and materials available for an interior scheme. How do you manage your relationships with outside contractors and suppliers, and how do you approach the process of choosing the right materials and products for each project?
If you want to be a successful designer, it is extremely important to have an open and respectful relationship with suppliers, encouraging them to flow relevant information to you in a timely manner. Educating suppliers about your clients’ brand ethos also helps with this.
Whilst it’s important to embrace technology and use it in the search for products and materials, a designer should never forget how crucial it is to see a sample ‘in the flesh’ before including it in a scheme. I would say around 80% of designers don’t bother to see a rep – to be as effective as possible, and despite increasing pressures on our time and ever-looming deadlines, we have to make the effort to understand, touch and feel as many elements of our work as we can.
What are your thoughts about the role and importance of artwork and other decor elements in a design scheme, in comparison with those that address more functional requirements?
Artwork and other decor elements can be invaluable, particularly with pub design, where they can lend character and demonstrate ethos. However, a lack of these embellishments can also create a brand, particularly if it’s all about the food. Horses for courses, I would say.
Are there any notable trends you’re seeing in hospitality and restaurant design that you find particularly interesting?
I am excited by the increasing amount of theatre that is pervading bar and restaurant design – customers want more than just great food and drink, they want an experience. We are seeing the breakdown of the kitchen and restaurant as individual spaces and floor plans which incorporate added excitement, such as visual cellars, demonstrations and brewing on site.
I am also seeing more use of technology in the design and operational blueprints for new or refurbished venues. Added to this is the return of themed restaurants – not the naff stuff we’ve seen in the past, but clever, well-sourced fantasy design which does a great job of transporting customers outside of the hum-drum.
As a final point, I would add that there appears to be less differentiation between brands nowadays; there is a significant amount of copying. Distinct branding is absolutely crucial to long-term operational success, so, right from the outset, clients should insist on undergoing a formal brand evaluation and positioning process to develop u.s.p.’s and to really stand out from the crowd.
Is there any advice you’d like to give for business and property owners planning to hire an outside design firm for a commercial contract?
Be realistic with your spend; be realistic about your brand; listen to the design experts; don’t just rely solely on gut feel, research your location, your audience and your unique selling points.
Do you have any advice for young professionals starting their careers in commercial interior design?
Stop looking at a computer screen all the time – get out in the world and get inspired!