Two Minutes With // Wilson Associates

Hi! Today we have an insightful interview with some folks from Wilson Associates. Wilson Associates is a firm with extensive international experience in high-end hospitality design. Be sure to check out their website for more. Enjoy the interview!

Image courtesy of Wilson Associates.

VT: You have projects around the world, yet manage to “design for the market.” Instead of a signature look or style, you’ve written that research allows you to capture the geographical flavor for custom designs that fit. What design cues do you look for in the research process?

WA: As designers, we are cultural anthropologists; historians. Whether working on a project in Los Angeles or Abu Dhabi, we not only need to understand our client and his/her vision, but also the surrounding environment. We must be intimately familiar with cultural mores and nuances in order to create a strong design concept that compliments the history of a building and a region.

When I start work on a project, I research the historic make-up of that specific building, as well as the buildings/landmarks that surround it. When was it built, why was it built, what was going on at that time socially and economically? At Wilson Associates, we aim to create unique hospitality experiences that are innovative and timeless, but we don’t want our designs to be an eye soar lacking context. We look at surrounding design projects for inspiration and direction, and often play off motifs from these spaces to create something completely original, yet complimentary.

As I mentioned, historical context is important, but so is pop culture. That’s why I check out the local music scene, venture through art galleries and street markets, etc. I want to have a really good grasp on current trends, so my designs can tell a story from a fresh, yet timeless perspective.

– Erin Nichols, Designer (New York)

VT: The projects you design are typically huge. Yet, hospitality design often requires a sense of personal space at an intimate scale. What’s the secret for creating inviting and intimate spaces in massive buildings?

WA: When faced with a seven meter tall ceiling in a public space, I crave a human scale. I try to create a sense of grandeur by celebrating the height, but I also find a way to create intimacy based on the human figure. I like defined seating areas with soft carpets; this separation from the major space creates a welcome niche or oasis. I also aim to employ seating that has scale for the room — something comfortable, but not childish.

Lighting is a key factor in creating an inviting, majestic space. I like to have some kind of lighting hanging from the ceiling. Overhead light enhances the room’s sense of scale and brings light closer to the human level.

I am all about details. One must be entertained by a space. It’s about creating complexity and dimension that doesn’t distract, but engages. A large space must have dimension; size alone is overbearing and isolating. Thinking about how a guest will get from a small place to a large place often requires dramatic design elements, so the final reveal of the grand area is awe inducing. Now, getting that same guest from a large space to a small space requires a continuation of quality, which ensures the guest that the smaller space in just as wonderful.

– Jerry Beale, Wilson Associates Senior Vice President & Managing Director (Los Angeles)

VT: Your designs are also highly intricate with beautiful collections of fixtures and accessories. There is a lot of shopping involved. How do you manage the volume of things that must be acquired?

WA: Our design directors envision all the elaborate fixtures and accessories, and they dictate this design direction to our FF&E designers and appointed art consultants. Once the design direction is understood, it’s time to bring it to reality, so the designers and consultants get busy scouting the world to find these exquisite pieces. Once identified, the design director approves the findings before they are purchased and installed. So in a nutshell, we have some highly talented shoppers at Wilson Associates who can turn a vision into a palpable interior space!

– Reden U. Lantican, Senior Design Manager (Sinagapore)

VT: Do you have any advice for students and recent graduates interested in a career with Wilson Associates?

WA: Get your foot in the door early! Don’t wait until graduation; try to do an internship during the summer or even during the school year. Internships are the best way for our staff to see your work ethic, to witness your creativity and talent, and to observe your attitude and collaborative style. We have a wonderful internship program at Wilson Associates that gives students real world experience. You’re actually touching client projects and being mentored throughout the architectural and design process.

I think it’s a given these days, but computer and graphic skills are pertinent! So much of our client communication is conducted via email and we’re all making the hard copy to soft copy transition. These skills will always work in your favor. Familiarize yourself with Microsoft programs, such as Word and Excel, and start messing around in the Adobe Creative Suite (i.e. InDesign, Photoshop & Illustrator).

It’s also a great idea to take a communication course, so you’re prepared to speak in public, interact with different cultures, and know how to engage with higher-ups and colleagues. Communication is both verbal and non verbal, so a solid communications foundation will always help you in the workplace.

Finally, when you’re thinking about applying to Wilson Associates, do your research! Know who we are, where we work, what kind of work we do, etc. Know about our designers, architects and our design philosophy. Tailor your portfolio so it’s in sync with our company look and feel. It sounds like common sense, but you shouldn’t show healthcare projects to a firm that specializes in hospitality design. And always stay connected to the larger design community. There is great value in belonging to and attending events for ASID, NEWH, AIA, etc. Belonging to professional organizations shows great initiative and a desire to further your knowledge and skill set.

– Connie Jackson, ASID (Dallas)