GDC Group’s design director meets our editor-in-chief Richard Frost to discuss the hospitality interior design studio’s work and how Covid has changed client expectations.
Headquartered in London, GDC Group boasts an impressive portfolio that includes the likes of The Savoy in its home city, Somerville House in Jersey and Carton House near Dublin. Here in an exclusive interview, design director Joey Goei-Jones talks about her career, the challenges caused by construction inflation and how luxury hotels want interiors that reflect the realities of the post-Covid world.
Can you tell me about your role within GDC Group?
I’m based in the London office, but I manage both London and Irish teams. I usually do the initial pitches and contracts, and then we’ve got a team of guys that help me out doing all the drawings, developments and schedules.
I previously worked for a couple of hotel groups, so that gives us an edge in a way because clients feel that I understand their particular needs. When I was on the hotel side, for example, we had many issues with designers specifying things that weren’t appropriate for hotels – crazily expensive items that guests would destroy in five minutes.
Where did you work prior to GDC?
I worked with Accor for a few years – I was their design manager in South-East Asia. And then I worked in the London office, delivering Novotel London Canary Wharf and a few other projects.
After that, I was the head of design for GLH Hotels for three years.
What projects are you working on currently?
I can’t say too much at the moment but we’ve got a handful of Radissons, we’ve got a project in Jersey called Somerville Hotel, and we’ve been looking at several different schemes in Ireland.
We’ve also got a few in mainland Europe, including one where we’re working with a developer who’s converting a hotel into a luxury senior rental space in Germany, which is quite interesting. We’re actually getting a lot of enquiries about short-stay apartments and serviced apartments—I guess you’d call them senior residences, but offering living experiences comparable to five-star luxury hotels with a similar standard of facilities and design.
Most of our projects currently are refurbishments, simply because there were some really good openings last summer, and now everybody that didn’t do any work is afraid they’re going to lose out in the market. Luckily for us, during the Covid period, there’s been a constant stream of enquiries.
To what extent is construction inflation causing disruption?
Hotel owners are getting a bit of a shock about the increase in material costs. They’ve seen it on the news, but not how it applies to them until they see the bottom line.
And I completely understand that a lot of them haven’t really had any kind of revenue in the past year or so, so they’re all adamant that they don’t want to pay any more than they need to. At the same time, I think it’s quite hard on suppliers who have been constantly struggling with Brexit, the price of materials, freight costs and so on.
What effect has the pandemic had on hotel design?
Hotels want to make sure surfaces are a lot stronger than they used to be because they’re cleaning it three times more often. That’s a bit of a challenge for luxury hotels because they tend to have the fanciest fabrics. Nowadays, I think they’re trying not to use frivolous ones as much because they know it needs to be a lot more maintainable.
Also, hotels are a bit stricter on the amount of stuff going into the rooms. At one point, we were looking at putting in a lot of decorations and bric a brac. Now, they want to see what we can do to dress the room, while making sure it doesn’t look naked if all the loose accessories need to be taken away again, which is what happened to everyone over the past couple of years.
What would be your advice to the next generation of hotel designers?
When you’re studying interior design or architecture, you get given lofty dreams of changing the world one building at a time. And unfortunately, a lot of newcomers get disappointed when they graduate and enter the workplace, as they come into their first job wanting to be creative.
But if anything, the first thing they should probably do is just learn how the business works. And also, remember that in our industry being nice to people is very important!