Martin Hulbert has been an interior designer for more than two decades and counts Chewton Glen, Cliveden House and Barnsley House as some of his top clients. His CV isn’t all hotel focused however – from private houses to the QE2, he’s commanded some high profile projects – and it’s this vast experience that has seen his status grow from modest to mammoth, and racking up prestigious awards along the way.
Martin Hulbert established his own design company in 2010 with his long-time colleague, Jay Grierson and they have since worked on a number of commercial commissions including work on a hotel in Bath and two hotels and a restaurant in Cartagena, Columbia.
We had the chance to put some questions to him this month, gaining an exclusive insight into his world of textures, trends and technicolour to help inspire your next interior move.
What are the main concerns today of boutique hoteliers who are planning to undergo a redesign?
Budgets and their constraints are the primary concern. Understanding the market for the hotel is vital and trying to offer the right mix of facilities to meet it. For instance, should it have a crèche for children? This can create a dilemma, as many properties are too small to offer a truly diverse range of facilities. Hoteliers may need to think creatively – so, if there is no room and/or not enough money for a spa, is there one nearby that can be linked into?
What are the main trends you have seen emerging in this sector?
A lot of creative sourcing through junk shops is economical and offers opportunities for individualism. There is increased commissioning of young artists and crafts people. And there is more versatility in the use of hotel space. Events of different kinds can be catered for – weddings of course, but also exhibitions and movie nights and similar – as ways of bringing in new customers.
How has this changed during your 25-year career?
Clients have become more open-minded and adventurous. They no longer want the design of their property to look like others people’s. They want it to be individualistic and authentic and of good quality. Smaller hotels are no longer so bothered about old-fashioned star ratings. They know that potential new customers are more interested in what people have had to say about the hotel on review websites.
How do you approach a boutique hotel redesign?
It very much depends on the location, the size of the property and the market it is being aimed at. I like to create an environment that has a sense of seclusion, of retreat from everyday life. My approach is to try to bring out the ‘soul’ of the building. I feel it is a mistake to design a hotel that tries to mirror being at home. Staying in a hotel should be an experience that transports you from your daily life.
What are the key considerations when designing a boutique hotel?
Guests need an environment that inspires them, whilst at the same time offering them deep comfort, informality and great service. Guests often also appreciate it if you push the design a little further and add a bit of magic on top. Designs from past projects of mine – and thus not to be repeated in new ones – have included a chandelier from copper saucepans and another from egg whisks. At Coworth Park I cast a tree in bronze and placed it into the hotel lobby, as a way of bringing the woodland outside inside.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I am travelling a lot, so much of my inspiration comes from places I come across on my visits. It could be a beach bar, an art gallery, an old shop – a mix of all sorts of things. I have a good visual memory, which helps when coming up with designs for properties I am involved with. On my last holiday, to Bequia in the Grenadines, I found a church with an enormous open front door and tall windows that allowed sunlight to flood in, on to white walls and the most beautiful soft blue of its painted pews.
How do you make sure you maintain the balance between great design and functionality in hotel bedrooms?
Great design starts with functionality. Functionality has to come first because, no matter how beautiful the design, without functionality the outcome will not work for the guests, nor will it enable the hotel to be managed successfully. Functionality means, for example, that there should be a table on either side of the bed, each big enough to allow for a bedside lamp, a book and a glass. Where design can work alongside is to challenge the convention that both tables should be identical. Maybe you could have a round table on one side and a square cabinet on the other.
Do you change your approach to designing a standalone restaurant, when designing the restaurant within a hotel?
No, I think all restaurants should be designed as standalones. If not, they risk being bland and seen merely as hotel add-ons. However hotel restaurants do need to be capable of a change of mood during the day, from breakfast through to lunch and dinner. The trend nowadays is towards hotel restaurants, bars and receptions increasingly having overlapping functions and effectively becoming one – enabling the customer to decide where they would prefer to eat or drink or complete reception paperwork.
What do you think hotels will look like in 10 years’ time, design-wise?
A recent survey predicts that there will be twice as many international tourists in 15 years’ time. The demand for hotel beds will continue to increase. However I do not think that will necessarily translate into bigger hotels and bigger hotel chains. There will be more hotels but I predict they will continue to evolve into more individual and more inspiring places to stay. On the whole, hotels are likely to be smaller and more often privately-owned.