With 35 guest rooms and suites having been completed as part of Flemings’ £14M refurbishment and with our bar, restaurant and lobby also pending a similar transformation, we felt it appropriate to have a chat with the Interior Designer of our luxurious new rooms, Tony Filmer. Have you ever wondered about the degree of thought that goes into the smallest details; things as seemingly trivial as a doorknob? We didn’t either. But prepare to be enlightened. In sync with The London Design Festival 2015, a celebration of London as the design capital of the world, the Interior Designer discloses his secrets in an intimate Q&A.
Q: How important are colours in design and why are certain hues used rather than others?
A: Colours have very deep psychological effects and you can often notice them without always being conscious of it. I know it sounds very obvious but red is a hot colour that is associated with anger and heat whereas blue and green are calming. We chose teal, indigo blue and a mustard colour for the hotel. All the colours that we have used relate well to the colour grey as we wanted a very soft and warm palette. The greys have more red in them though, as opposed to blue. In terms of subtlety, that is vital. In the grey spectrum there can be cold greys but the warm colours really compliment the accent colours. We have used not just the colours but lots of different textures. With a neutral interior, it is very important to have a contrasting texture. A grey that has all the same texture is going to be dull, like a white interior, a black or a cream. Very good white interiors always have lots of different textures. It could be woolly, furry, sharp, hard or soft. In our grey rooms we have used a combination of those textures and that has lifted the dual light colours. When the guest goes into the room, if it was just calm and quiet, some might like it but others might find it dull. So, we have used the accent colours for a kind of ‘wow’ factor, but they are colours that you can live with. You might not have them in your room at home, for example a vibrant teal colour, but guests are only in the bedroom for a few days so you can afford to use these strong colours.
Q: What effect are these colours having on guests?
A: For me, the most important thing about a hotel bedroom is that it is a sanctuary. I don’t think anybody should design a bedroom that is like a nightclub interior. People get tired of ‘flashy’ and ‘impressive’ because they have seen it all before in London, in restaurants, cinemas and nightclubs. When they go to the hotel, they need it to be quiet and understated and restful. When you go into the room it is important that nothing shouts at you. Saying that, you can have strong colours as long as they are used well.
Q: Do reds cause stress?
A: They can, but again, only if you use a violent bright red. A violent, signal-box red is not a very pleasant colour to use as an interior. You can do an accent, like with a light shade to lift the room but you wouldn’t do curtains or a bedhead because it is too ‘in your face’ shouty. It is important to make the colours quieter, for example by using a berry red. They are more into the purple spectrum and purple is a quiet colour when red is not.
Q: Is this scientifically proven?
A: It is. But, like everything, there are some people who are very sensitive to it and others who just aren’t. Someone who is sensitive to colours is probably quite creative whereas someone who isn’t is probably more analytical. Not everybody is affected by colour but I think that most people are to different degrees. Blue can be cold, especially if it is ice blue, but if it goes into the mauve, purple side of blue, you are now adding red to make purple. Red blues can feel calming and warm.
Q: So it is important to mix colours from different extremes to create a balance?
A: Absolutely. What you need is contrast. On the colour wheel, the colours that are opposite each other will generally clash and the ones that are next to each other will generally go together. Violet, red and orange go very well together whereas red and green don’t, they are complete opposites. You can do interiors using opposites but you won’t have a calming scheme. It will be very interesting- sometimes they work and other times they don’t but it won’t be a calming and restful scheme which is what we are trying to achieve with the bedrooms.
Q: What thought processes go into the position and outward design of the hotel bedrooms?
A: You need to have the natural light in the bedroom and not necessarily in the bathroom. I wouldn’t put a bathroom at the front; I would put it at back where there are no windows. The bathrooms are generally when you come in the door from the corridor where there is no natural light but that is not always the case. Get the bathroom right functionally and the rest just falls into place. With the bedroom, the position of the bed is often something that feels right intuitively and I don’t think you can put science onto it. For example, the bed shouldn’t be next to the doorway. If possible, it should be tucked around the corner from the door so that when you go to bed you feel secure, it is a psychological thing. I don’t particularly practice Feng Shui but like a lot of these things, it is very common sense. Something would feel very wrong about having a front door opposite a main road in the same way that having the bed opposite the front door of your bedroom does. It is a deep-seated human thing. The bed has to be tucked around and make you feel that you are protected in a way. Obviously, the television has to be opposite the bed. You can save space by combining the television and the mini bar. You couldn’t put the television with the dressing table because the dressing table has a full height mirror above it. Immediately you have already designed yourself into a natural process. The first thing is the bathroom, the second is the bed and the third is the wardrobe. The wardrobe is a big thing as you need to have space around it. If possible, we like to put them in the lobby near the bathroom as people don’t hang around there and pass you all the time.
Q: What little details of our wardrobes would you say heighten the guest experience?
A: In terms of the design, we used what is called grey-stained Fiddleback Sycamore for all of the furniture. One thing I wanted to get away from with the wardrobes is the built in look. I tried to make them really beautiful, free standing pieces of furniture. I didn’t want to create a wall niche and then build a cupboard inside it. In Flemings the ceilings are very high, so if you build them in you have immediately created huge amounts of wasted space. What I wanted to do was keep the bedrooms as big and lofty and spacious as possible. When you look at the wardrobe, there is a very good balance of half-height lighting and full-height lighting. There is an LED strip that runs across the wardrobe so that when you open the door, the light comes on immediately and you can see very clearly. This is because most of the time the wardrobe is away from the natural light. You need very good lighting around it. We designed a little pull-out shelf which is covered in leather and acts as a folding shelf. When you pull that out you get very good lighting to fold shirts and trousers. It is little details like that. We also thought about where is best to put the safe. You don’t want it at ground level, you want it higher up at table level because otherwise you are on your hands and knees trying to figure out the combination or find your passport. It has a laptop charger in it for example and an iPhone charger so that you can charge your devices while you are out of the room.
Q: So you have put importance on technology and the safety of it?
A: Yes, I think that is important. Everybody has expensive devices now and we don’t have enough time. We just want to plug it in and go out or charge them while when we are in bed at night. The other thing to mention is that we have made the wardrobes tall with a full length blanket compartment at the top. We have a really generous space to put your suitcase when it is empty or a duvet if you don’t want to use it. The worst thing is to have two empty suitcases just sitting in the lobby room. It is what we call a blanket shelf that fits a fairly big empty suitcase. You might not notice them but you would if they weren’t there.
Q: What about any other little touches?
A: Lighting is very important. Most of the lighting in the room is controlled by the bedside, if you have left the main chandelier on in bed you can switch it off by the bed meaning you don’t have to get up to switch it off. Everything is on dimmers as well and that is really critical. But it is simple dimmers; you don’t want to have to be trained in some kind of electrical engineering. I have done hotel rooms before where they have had very expensive computerised panels; you can close the curtains, dim the lights and set the air-conditioning but no-one really knows how they work. Another thing we have done is we have separated the reading lights. We have reading lights inside the bedhead itself which are very small directional LEDs and then the bedside lights on the tables. What this means is that if you want to read and your other half doesn’t, you don’t have to have lots of lights on. It is a bit like a business-class airline seat and I think it works really well. It is something that we always do in hotels. As for the sockets over the desk, we have put in all the main international sockets and a USB charger so you don’t have to ask reception for an adapter, you have everything there already and it works really well.
Q: In terms of the reception areas, how do you want people to feel when they walk in?
A: Reception has to be very clear. If you have to rely on signs you have made a mistake or you have not done a proper job. The reception desk and the concierge need to be clearly delineated with design. That could be with lighting, it could be with material on the desk, it could be with a mirror behind the desk. That has to be the prime thing. You don’t want to have the desk in front of you, it is too aggressive. In a lobby you need to have very visual access. Aesthetically, the reception does have to have impact and it has to say something about the hotel. It needs to be impressive but it has to reflect what you can expect in the rest of the hotel. It is no use having a very minimalistic, understated reception if the rest of your rooms are really funky and colourful. Again, if your restaurant is trendy and buzzy, it is no use having some sort of Armani environment in your reception area. It is important to have a vision for a hotel and although it shouldn’t be designed the same throughout, the hotels that work well are the ones that have a design and synergy running the whole way through. In Flemings, they are not the same but there is a definite common thread stylistically. The doorknob you touch when you walk in should have a synergy with the restaurant, the bar, the corridors, the bedrooms. Everything should have a common thread.
Q: And what about the lighting, should there be feature lighting?
A: If you can afford the height then yes, and that is what we are planning to do. Again, the design of the chandelier is very important. We have tried to instil a very soft 1930’s feel. It is very classically English and classically 30’s in feel and that should run through the whole hotel. If we can find a beautiful 30’s chandelier then yes, that should work well. But we wouldn’t just put one up there because we want a chandelier. It has to be something that relates very well to the design.
Q: Can you do the same for other areas of the hotel to achieve a unanimous feel?
A: Yes you can. You don’t want the restaurant to look like the reception area but you can have a very strong synergy through. For example, in the restaurant at Flemings, because it is a very old Georgian building, we have panelled the whole restaurant and we have used a dark smoked oak with a lined finish on top as panelling throughout. We are in a basement remember so let’s not try and say “this is a light and airy restaurant” because it won’t work. Instead, we have said it is going to be a beautiful, very calm but quite dark panelled room lifted by a mosaic floor and with very classical green leather armchairs with gold studding. It has a very English, slightly Georgian feel but with 1930’s touches with the privacy screens. There needs to be a stylistic relationship, that’s really important.
Q: What tricks do you use to create these atmospheres?
A: I rely a lot on intuition when I design. If something feels right, for me, it generally is. My intuition of a hotel is that it should feel homely but not in the way that your home feels. There has to be this generic homeliness that needs to appeal to most people, of course it is not going to appeal to everyone. For me the secret is to make the place feel functional and to tick all the boxes but to feel restful and homely. I don’t do that with any tricks, if it feels right to me then it is.
Q: You want to tap into all sensory experiences, visual, feel, smell?
A: All these things. For example with the lighting, if you had the same lighting during dinner that you had during lunchtime, you probably wouldn’t feel nice. You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable. It might not be obvious. If there is a really calming, warming scent that doesn’t hit you in the face when you walk in, it is part of the environment. I don’t think keeping a guest stress-free and happy is only to do with interior. The other thing to mention is that attention to detail is so important: the chair you sit on, the doorknob you use, the light fitting just above your head, the drawers so that they don’t slam shut, the toilet seat so that it falls gently. There is a lot of detail that goes in that people don’t immediately notice, but they do when they catch these things and live with them. It is not just a functional point of view, it is functional and aesthetic. It is always a combination, you can’t separate the two. It is true that form follows function. There is a correlation between how you use something and how it looks. This is why I am not keen on silly, trendy things like a tap in a bathroom shaped like a dolphin that has a cultural charge to it. Water comes out of a spout or a tube, not a dolphin. If you start doing these wacky things, you will only appeal to a few people. Most people are actually quite conservative. They just want quality and for things to work well, they don’t want gimmicks.