Crystal Talk
Text: Norman KietzmannPhotos: Torsten Seidel, Tim Beddows, Ken Hayden, Eric Laignel


Hirsch Bedner Associates/HBA
Hirsch Bedner Associates/HBA

Her sphere is where others are on the move: as principal and chief designer of the London interior design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), Inge Moore designs hotels, spas and restaurants around the world. They are not ordinary addresses, but places that create lasting memories for the guests. Her recipe for success consists of custom-tailored spaces that mix local influences with comfort and timelessness into an atmospheric cocktail. Clear the stage for an office that gives a face to the world of travel.

Inge Moore has an earnest mission: she has declared war on giant, anonymous hotels. For her, a hotel is much more than just a humble box where you stop for the night while traveling. In her eyes, the hotel is a temporary home, a comfortable and sensual place that is anything but interchangeable. Since 2008 the native-born South African directs the London branch of Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), an international interior design firm that was founded in Los Angeles in 1964 and specializes in the hospitality industry.

“A well-designed and integrated package of fantasy, drama and creature comfort” is what HBA promise their clients and, in the same breath, they pledge to always keep to the agreed upon schedule and budget. More than 800 designers currently work in 15 locations, including Atlanta, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and Melbourne. Their clients include chains such as Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Hilton and St. Regis, as well as independent hotels like the “Alpina Gstaad,” which will open in December 2012. The hotel is the first five-star hotel to be built in the Swiss ski resort for more than one hundred years.

The interior, with 57 guest rooms and suites, a private movie theater and several restaurants was designed by Inge Moore and her 30-person team in London. Established in 1987, it is the smallest office in the HBA group; in 2008 they moved into a former dance hall in Notting Hill. Besides a branch office in Moscow, which primarily serves the Russian market, it is the only one in Europe – and its compact size is just right. That’s because the hotel industry is undergoing a radical change. Not only the number of buildings has shot up in the past ten years. The demands of the guests have also become more complex.

“We do not want to simply make beautiful interiors, but to give them relevance,” says Inge Moore. Especially in Europe, where a different language is spoken only one hour’s flight away, no one wants to wake up in the same room, in the same bed and next to the same curtains anymore. Getting a sense of the place is a key expectation of today’s guests. To keep them as customers, a hotel must provide far more than a certain number of stars.

The reason for this change of mind comes, of all places, from the motherland of the anonymous hotel chains. In New York, Ian Schrager – co-founder of the legendary nightclub “Studio 54” – opened the world’s first “boutique hotel” in 1984. The interior of the “Morgans” was conceived by the French designer Andrée Putman, who prescribed a strict black and white color scheme for the 113 rooms and suites. Philippe Starck went a step further in 1988 with his “Royalton Hotel,” also done for Schrager and also in Manhattan – which, in contrast to the purist “Morgans,” presented a loud, virtually theatrical interior. As different as the two hotels were: with their creative theme worlds, they turned the world of the hotel industry on its head. Because they showed that a luxury hotel does not need to be a rigid box; it can also entertain with the qualities of a nightclub.

Although boutique hotels were still considered exotic in the 1990s, today they are even an integral part of the portfolios of the big chains. “For decades, the idea of a grand hotel has hardly changed. Today the sector celebrates the new-found freedom and the customers also want this diversity,” explains Inge Moore. The center of attraction for travelers is consequently no longer just the place where there is a hotel. The hotel itself must now also be worth a trip. For this to succeed, the chains must – at least in terms of design – be unchained again and their hotels must each be given an individual expression.

How a grand hotel can be awakened from its slumber is demonstrated by the “Alfonso XIII” in Seville, which reopened in July 2012. The building, erected 1929 in the style of the Art Deco style, was considered old-fashioned in the years before its renovation. Inge Moore and her team took on the interior and deliberately did not steer clear of clichés. Flamenco culture, bullfighting and influences from the 500 years that Andalusia stood under Moroccan rule were woven into a total narrative experience. A combination of tradition and the present is also offered by the spa at the hotel “The Istanbul Edition,” which opened in 2011. Walls of backlit onyx create a warm contrast to the water, while the dark color palette of the rooms takes its cue from spices and traditional Turkish robes.

Both projects were carried out by “The Gallery” – an office that was established in 2011 under the umbrella of HBA’s London studios and is geared toward projects with a high degree of individualization. And that means especially one thing: finding a precisely fitting solution. Like a good tailor from Savile Row, Inge Moore maintains a healthy distance from the trends of the moment. Whereas Philippe Starck’s two London hotels – “St. Martin’s Lane” from 1999 and the “Sanderson” from 2000 – seem like time capsules from the nineties when viewed from today’s perspective, their interiors are intended to last much longer.

Their language is not fixed upon a single style. It is multifaceted, timeless and highly influenced by the very place where the hotel is located. “I love the glamour of the thirties and forties. Shapes that hug and squeeze with soft lines instead of seeming hard and cold,” admits Inge Moore. Yet she knows when it’s right to break out in a different direction. For example, the “Alpina Gstaad,” with its wood-paneled walls and ceilings, is modeled after the traditional Swiss chalet style, and makes you forget that it’s a new building. The reciprocal mixture of historical and contemporary elements makes it difficult to estimate the age of the spaces. Instead of seeming newly minted, they appear to have grown over decades. Just like a home, in which people from different cultural backgrounds and age groups are at ease and feel comfortable.

To avoid interchangeability, almost nothing is off the shelf. Inge Moore has 80 percent of the furnishings for every hotel project custom made, giving equal treatment to everything from the light fixtures and wallcoverings to the embroidery patterns for the pillows. A clever strategy: after all, simply due to the size of many hotels, customtailored designs can often be realized at a similar price to purchasing standard furnishings. Consequently, the guests can discover details in their rooms that they encounter again somewhere else. The upshot: a common thread is spun, lending aesthetic coherence to a hotel.

Three to four employees are assigned to work on a project for its duration, but the team can grow to twelve or more people during various phases. Whether a design will be realized is often decided in five minutes. Often there is only so much time available to present a design to the client. What has changed are the means that are selected. Whereas ten years ago visualizations were drawn by hand, today nothing but computer renderings are demanded. “Maybe five percent of the clients can still imagine something based on hand drawings,” says Inge Moore. To depict spaces and materials in a manner that is as photorealistic as possible, the renderings are contracted out to external service providers, which always operate with state-of-the-art technology.

“The nice thing about hotels is that people celebrate events there that they want to remember, like weddings, birthdays or graduation parties. Hotels are stages for the important events in life,” explains Inge Moore. She gained her first professional experiences by designing exhibitions and casino interiors, and this is palpable in her work. Admittedly, her spaces have virtually nothing in common with the charm of neon-lit gaming tables. But they, too, are places of refuge that shield the guests from the stress of everyday life. They constitute a holistic experience. And that goes far beyond just the guest rooms, suites and restaurants to also include the passages reaching them. “Most hotels forget the corridors and don’t spend any money on them. But they are also crucial to creating a sense of a place,” as Inge Moore knows.

What would she still like to do? She pauses briefly. “Of course it’s easy to continue creating beautiful luxury hotels. But I would like to create a mid-range hotel that is young, energetic, not too expensive, and nevertheless clever,” says Inge Moore. Because not only in times of recession are travel budgets called into question, but maybe also in the long run. Thus far, such a project has not been brought to her attention. But you can be sure: the guests will surely not be presented with an anonymous hotel for mass tourism.