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Fiona Thompson of Richmond International on Exceptional Hotel Design

By Lauren Jade Hill

As we launch the Elite Collection, Top 100 Suites 2017, we speak to Fiona Thompson, principal of hospitality design consultancy Richmond International. Having designed the interiors of five star hotels such as The Langham in London and Chicago, and a number of Four Seasons properties, the interiors specialist is a verifiable authority in successful luxury hotel design.

What elements do you think are integral to luxury hotel design?

A successful luxury hotel design is one that has a clear vision behind it. A client who has the vision to take a project from concept to completion is often the difference between a successful hotel project and not. Of course, a good design team is also essential – that is, one with a wealth of experience of creating hospitality interiors and a team that listens to the client and helps develop ideas into something tangible.

The nature of what we do means there are often a number of highly skilled consultants involved, all working on different aspects of a project, and the best results are achieved when the brief is clear and the team are aligned and working towards the same goal. It’s also worth remembering that a successful luxury hotel design is one that can evolve and develop over the years.

The Sterling Suite at The Langham London

Richmond International takes pride in tailoring design to suit a hotel’s location and cultural setting. How do you think you’ve achieved this best in the past?

Tailoring our design to a hotel’s location and cultural setting will always be paramount to each of our projects. In order to fully integrate the hotel into its existing environment, we start each project by developing a design narrative which speaks to the building itself and the location in which our project is set. We think about how people live locally, the local food, the art scene, the history of the place and any details that makes this particular location different from another, we really get to understand the local area.

We then try to work with local artisans and suppliers who bring a sense of authenticity to the project, letting the design develop over time with the involvement of local people. We never take ourselves too seriously, hotels are entertainment centers so need to live and have a soul.

The Sterling Suite at The Langham London

What hotel projects are you most proud of?

One is the Four Seasons Hotel, Gresham Palace in Budapest, which was a huge turning point for Richmond. We created a hotel which became very influential within the city due to the wealth of local artists who we worked with and who contributed to the success of the final design. In many ways this project became a collaboration between Richmond and local artisans. We are actually back working on the Four Seasons Budapest again at the moment, upgrading the rooms and public spaces within the hotel.

Another project I’m particularly proud of is the Langham Chicago, where we were given the responsibility and opportunity to work in a building designed by architect Mies Van Der Rohe. Finally, Sandy Lane, Barbados will always remain an important project to me, we’ve been working with this client for nearly 20 years and have maintained a special relationship with them that is still ongoing to this day.

The Penthouse Suite at The London West Hollywood

Within the hotels you’ve designed, are there any hotel suites that stand out to you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some incredible hotel suites over the years, so choosing a favorite is very hard. We have just put the finishing touches to the Boulevard Suites at The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas, which have been a real pleasure to work on. These suites are so bold and daring and full of art with incredible views over the Bellagio fountains, which is very different to anything we have ever done before. The Presidential Suite at the Four Seasons Mauritius is another favorite of mine, not least because of the location. It sits at the very tip of the hotel site, giving it panoramic views over the Indian ocean.

What projects are you working on now?

We’re working on a host of international projects at the moment and have plenty in the pipeline, including the Rosewood Miramar Hotel, California and the Shangri-La Singapore as well as the Four Seasons Hotel, Gresham Palace, Budapest.

The Penthouse Suite at The London West Hollywood

What plans or aspirations do you have for the future of Richmond International?

We’ve been working as Richmond International for 50 years now, and have grown a lot in that time. The future looks set to be equally exciting – I hope we continue to develop as designers, responding to changes in the world and patterns of travel as well as maintaining interest and passion about what we do. We want to nurture the next generation of great designer.

What current or upcoming trends are there in luxury hotel design?

From the theatricality of China and the Middle East to designs that incorporate ecological and sustainable design schemes, trends depend on a number of factors and often vary depending on a hotel’s location and demographic. I hope that we get the opportunity to work on another project that is largely experiential in style, like the suites at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, where the design can be playful and challenging. Luxury hotel design is, and always will be, authentic and well thought out.

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