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Meet Ariane Steinbeck, the Queen of hotel design

Ariane Steinbeck is the reigning queen of hotel design for a reason. Here’s why.

Ariane is now Managing Director of RPW Design, a company is responsible for the recent incredible overhaul of the suites at The Marriott Park Lane and Mandarin Oriental, amongst many other award winning projects in London.

Prior to joining RPW Design, she was one of the founding partners of The Gettys Group, Inc., headquartered in Chicago. Ariane spent the last eight years working and living in Hong Kong, where she established the firm’s Asia-Pacific Headquarters and opened its Manila office. Amongst the many projects she has worked on, was the most recent renovation of The Peninsula Hotel’s flagship, The Peninsula Hong Kong.

Tell us about your role at RPW Design. 

My title is Managing Director…but I am very hands on. As we are a small team, I try to create an office culture which is focused on collaboration and pitching in; helping whenever you can and if you see a problem, be part of the solution. I abhor an old-fashioned sense of hierarchy where someone says “I am too senior to do this”. My role therefore focuses on mentoring and nurturing the RPW-way of doing things and working as a team in which we all succeed together.   We are focused on the hospitality industry, and therefore we also incorporate “hospitality” in the way we treat each other and our suppliers and consultants.

What has been your most challenging/exciting project?

Its a difficult question to answer, as every project is full of its own challenges and excitements–this is what makes me get up every morning. I would say the biggest challenge is to always keep all parties happy!

Tell us about the changing landscape in hospitality design and any impact of the changing demographics in traveller? 

The world is generally getting more affluent and travelling has become increasingly cheaper, giving almost anyone the possibility the experience something new. On that basis the demographics are simply becoming more varied creating a lot of opportunities to test new experiences and cultures.

Are there different expectations from travellers?

People are increasingly moving away from the need for opulence as something which represents luxury, as you can experience luxury in the humblest settings. We are therefore experiencing a shift in what defines luxury. In a world where everything is increasingly easily accessible, and we are connected 24/7, it is very easy to see that luxury might become being able to stay somewhere where you can pick vegetables from the hotel’s own plot and join a cooking lesson, before being able to enjoy your meal! All this whilst having no internet access!

What’s the biggest challenge you find in hospitality design?

When you design a hospitality project you are basically creating a space for a vast number of visitors and all these visitors will have different priorities, unique needs and different tastes. The biggest challenge at the start of each project is being able to distill all these potential needs and expectations and finding the right and unique essence for that specific project. All design needs to be fully intuitive and not intimidating.

I see a change in the public spaces in many hotels, how important are the public spaces?

The public spaces have been rediscovered, and what we often see now is hoteliers wanting to focus on those areas rather than the Guestrooms. Something which should be embraced, as it makes sure that hotels become something which can be enjoyed by travelers and locals alike, and create a changing venue for every time of the day, which has a positive impact on revenue!

What does luxury travel mean to you and how do you think a brand successfully implements luxury in its offering?

Expanding from my previous mention of luxury in hospitality, I would say you have very different expectation based on the reason of travel. If you are travelling for business, of course luxury is fast and flawless internet access, and the smoother the experience, the better. On another hand when on holidays what you might want is the exact opposite. I would say though that a comfortable bed, a good night sleep and an amazing shower are luxury essentials!

How do you keep ideas fresh in the design of new hotels?

Travel, travel, and always be curious! New ideas might appear in the least expected place!

Marriott Hotel Park Lane

Marriott Hotel Park Lane

Do you have a favourite hotel?

Those favourites will change, depending if I’m after relaxation, inspiration or travelling with family…

What are your predictions for how the luxury hospitality sector will evolve over the next few years?

If I knew that I’d be retired and on a beach…

How do you find working across different cultures as a woman? Any tips for people looking to work in different countries?

I could not survive without the inspiration of immersion in different cultures! There is nothing more fulfilling than working with people from diverse backgrounds. Be curious and get out of your comfort zone…

Which city inspires you in terms of design in travel?

I moved to London in 2015 and I am still being surprised every day!

Locality is important. Does the hotel fit into the neighbourhood, or the neighbourhood around the hotel? How/why?

One will always influence the other, but there needs to be communication between the two, it is therefore essential to create an interior that speaks to its surroundings, once this connection is created I find it is always fascinating how a hotel can have a positive impact on its neighborhood, certainly with the focus on public areas we are experiencing now.

What makes a hotel great? 

Service first and foremost. Combined with great design, you will experience magic.

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