CLAD interview

Marcel Wanders

The multi-disciplinary Dutch designer on rejecting minimalism and embracing chaos


You transitioned from product to interior design. What characteristics of product design do you bring to your interior work?
I realised that if I designed interiors in the same way as I designed products, they would be super boring. My ideas about product design were very conceptual. With product design, I was always looking for a great idea and I followed that one idea until it was expressed in the best way possible.

When it comes to interior design, however, the rules are different. A product needs only one idea, but an interior needs 1,000 ideas and all of them have to speak to each other and intertwine. That is not to say that interior design always takes more time and energy than product design. In fact, it can take longer to make sense of an object – designing a teaspoon can be more difficult than designing a house.

What is your starting point when designing an interior?
I think the physical design of a space comes quite late in the process. The first thing you build is the proposition. What is the idea? How can you bring the unexpected to people’s lives? Maybe you want to eat cupcakes on a skating rink, or put a barbershop in a bright pink room. People choose whether they do these things in a boring place or an exciting place. As a designer, you have the gift to add fun and value to people’s lives.

You’ve spoken previously about your dislike of minimalism. Can you explain why?
If you love design enough to give your life to it, then why would you try to design as little as possible? I want to create things that show my love, my respect, my interest in the world, my understanding of human behaviour. In my design studio, we have a motto: give more than people expect.

Is there much crossover between the role of the architect and the interior designer?
Architecture is a great profession, but I do think architects have given away a bit too much. Many have decided that an interior is irrelevant. Glass windows and concrete floors are the perfect example of the modernist ambition. That has left space for the birth of interior design – because people cannot live in a house which doesn’t have a feeling of warmth and love.

Can you explain the importance of surrealism and fantasy in your work?
As a designer you have a tool box, and the tools you have to play with include size, scale, materials, colour, historical context. There are limitless opportunities to use these to make a really different design.

I think modernism has decided that a lot of these tools are superfluous and shouldn’t be touched. They say a space must be honest; you cannot lie about what it is. But lying is one of the most beautiful parts of the tool box. You can make something look like something it is not. A lamp can be disguised as a horse! Why not?

You have worked for hotels across the world. How important is creating a sense of location?
A hotel has to reflect exactly where it is, yet you are not making a truly authentic work because it should also be new and unique. You have to tap into the atmosphere, the culture, the colours, the ideas of the place. You have to love the people, talk to them, read what they read, breathe the air that they breathe, eat with them and understand them.

Some of your clients have been sheikhs. What have those relationships been like?
I’ve travelled in the Middle East and met important people in the region. The ones I’ve met have a true interest in others and a true interest in doing projects that add value. They’re not trying to hide their ambition. They don’t want to do something unless it’s exceptional.

So you think investors are too conservative in Europe?
It’s not my rule in life to critique other people, but I’ll say that I’m super happy when I find people who have true ambition. I want to do more than people expect, and I cannot do it on my own. That’s something I’ve always felt working in the Middle East; I love the ambition that energises the region.

Do you have a favourite hotel?
I think the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra, India, is probably the hotel that I will always go out of my way to stay in. The attention to detail there is from a different world.

What’s your design philosophy?
I believe it is my task to connect with my audience. I exclude no one. I challenge myself to be a connoisseur of all areas and to be inspired without frontiers. I steer my own path, but I’m open to everything. Surprise is always fun.

Marcel Wanders was interviewed by Kim Megson. Read the full article in CLADmag issue 4 2017 www.cladglobal.com/archive

Mondrian Doha / 2017

The famous Middle Eastern folk tales of One Thousand and One Nights inspired this lavish dome-topped hotel in Doha, Qatar. The public spaces include a nightclub, rooftop pool and skybar, and a huge wedding ballroom, which brides can enter via a 24-karat gold sculpted caged elevator

Grand Hotel Portal Nous / 2017

Nestled on a Mallorcan beach, Spain, this Iberostar hotel has been designed to emphasise the spectacular scenery. There are 66 rooms, four penthouse suites, five themed suites and an eye-catching gym and spa, with a secret garden and a cascading pool outside

Kameha Grand Zurich / 2015

This five-star LH&E Group hotel celebrates the heritage of Switzerland. The lobby boasts a matelassé white wall covered with golden hotel keys and a grand staircase. Rooms feature chocolate-inspired wall panellings, bank vault mini-bars and Toblerone-shaped sofas

Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht / 2012

A former public library building in the heart of the Dutch capital was transformed into a five-star boutique hotel for Hyatt Hotels. The design scheme and furniture reference the Dutch Golden Age and Delft ceramics. Elements include oversized bells, tulip chairs, ancient nautical maps and a secret garden

Mondrian South Beach / 2008

Conceived as Sleeping Beauty’s castle with a panoramic view over Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach, Florida, the 342-room hotel welcomes guests “into a magical world” with unexpected design features such as manga faces, oversized brass chandeliers and a floating metal staircase in the lobby

Lute Suites / 2005

Across seven individual 18th century cottages, Wanders created home-like settings complete with modern and classical décor. Bespoke objects and furniture made each suite unique and were designed to offer guests “a more personal and meaningful experience”

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