Camille Khouri steps into the new offices of a growing design firm specialising in the hotel industry.
It’s Friday morning in the upper Parnell Road offices of Space Studio and there’s a friendly hum of activity in the air. The company, which specialises in hotel design, has a good number of projects on its books, both locally and in the South Pacific. They have just moved into this space from a previous office down the road. The new offices used to belong to My Food Bag and have a few remaining features, such as a full working kitchen which the food delivery company used to use for a show kitchen.
Senior associate Helen Darroch shows me around the offices, which feature clerestory windows that meet the slanted ceiling, bringing plenty of natural light into the space. The colour scheme is mainly warm timbers with charcoal-coloured walls and strips of black metal in the form of beams and window frames.
Hot-rolled steel sheet with a clear seal finish covers one section of the wall at the top of the stairs, while other sections in the studio and boardroom are covered with a French range of wallpaper called Elitis Nomades, which is supplied locally by Seneca Textiles. Apart from the dark timber Bauhaus table and chairs in the boardroom, most of the hard furnishing is white.
Space Studio is slightly different to most interior design services as it also includes a procurement service, explains Darroch as she walks me around.
“We design the projects but we also sell the furniture and FFE – fixtures, fittings and equipment – for it. In the hotel world, there is also OSE – operator supply equipment, which The Hotel Space, which is part of Space Studio, can sort out. We can deliver a cohesive design with the fittings taken care of. We have someone here who takes care of the freight too, so it’s full service,” she says.
Some projects on the books are: the Six Senses in Fiji, in which the high-end residences can be purchased; the Grand Windsor in Auckland, which is to reopen as MGallery; the Langham in Auckland, which is to reopen as Cordis Hotel; and the SO Sofitel in Auckland, due to open next year. They have also worked on the Fiji Marriot Resort Momi Bay and have just started on the Pullman Hotel at Auckland Airport, which is due to be finished at the end of 2018.
“Our ambition is to become known as hotel interior designers all over New Zealand and the Pacific,” says Darroch.
She worked at Space Studio some 20 years ago and has since returned to the company as senior associate. Darroch brings with her a wealth of experience in hotel design; during her time away, she has been integral to the delivery of some hugely expansive, high-budget hotel/casino projects in Macao. As this is the only place where Chinese people can gamble locally, the scale of those ventures is beyond belief, Darroch explains.
“My second job in Macao was managing the main interior design consultants for the Parisian Macao, so I worked on the high-rollers area, the hotel services and the podium of the building. This is a French-style establishment with a replica Eiffel tower, and the Chinese just love it. To give an idea of the scale, there are 32 check-in counters to check-in 3,000 guests per day.”
Darroch was representing the casino operator and liaising with the architects and designers, who were all over the world, from Hong Kong to Paris to Chicago. These projects are designed and built in sequence, so she needed to be clued up about all the details required by every designer in each area.
“There was a lot of technical stuff around casino floors, such as how the cameras and lighting needed to be integrated into the ceiling. Because I am a designer, I would get into the design and help them deal with the details and deliver something that was a success. There was no time for double handling,” she explains.
Despite the high-energy nature of her years away, Darroch doesn’t feel underwhelmed by the projects she is working on back home. “I loved the overseas work and it was exciting and I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it. But your lifestyle takes a hit. I wanted to rebalance my life. You can’t have that scale the whole time, and it is not the only thing that makes the work interesting. To me it feels like I left Vee (Kessner, director at Space Studio) and she’s been building this business for 10 years, and now I’m able to bring some ideas and influences back to the company.”