Conversations with a Concept & Interior Designer – Geraldine Dohogne

By Hâfi Martinsdóttir

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes | 2495 words

As an avid admirer of Geraldine’s work I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview where I could learn more about her way of working and understand what inspires her elegant and timeless style.

As a concept and interior designer within the hospitality and lifestyle industry, Geraldine has recently launched her own studio, Beyond Design, to continue creating compelling stories and bespoke experiences for her clients and their guests around the world. Her projects – ranging from the Omaanda Luxury Safari Lodge in Namibia to Le Chalet a Ski Boutique Hotel in France and the 1898 The Post hotel in Belgium to Phum Baitang Luxury Resort in Cambodia – beyond others are known for their unique personalities and immersive charm.

A recipient of many honours and awards, Geraldine’s attention to detail and intimate involvement within each of her projects is truly inspiring. As she explains; “the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is always that little extra.”

Can you give a brief description of your role as a concept and interior designer for hotels?

Beyond Design offers a fully tailored service from the initial analysis of a land or an existing building to the installation and delivery of any lifestyle or hospitality project.

From defining the concept, developing the architecture and the interior design, sourcing the FF&E and OS&E.

Beyond Design believes developing and implementing a fully tailored project will give consistency throughout the whole property. All small details can be fully considered and therefore integrated. This is one of the secrets of giving a true experience to customers.

Bai San Ho - Vietnam

What made you want to get into the world of design and what was your professional journey like?

Passion and curiosity. Those are my driving forces every day and that’s what brought me where I am standing now.

I studied international business, studies that could lead to any vocation – at 17, it’s hard to know what you want to do! Soon after, I started my first job at Zannier Hotels within Operations and Development, and it’s this pure passion that got me switching to Design 10 years ago.

A great opportunity that is more than ever leading my life today!

Your style feels very natural and organic giving your work a much more homely feel compared to more conventional and overly designed interiors.

It’s probably this “lack of design study” that allows you to design homes rather than hotels and that enables you to think of every detail.

The key is to not get too caught up in the design as the property has to work with the operation side of a property.

Omaanda - Namibia

What excites you about a hotel or property and how does that impact your design process?

Every property or new project is a new challenge, a new story. I always start from scratch. The excitement really is that I can start from scratch, a blank page

I do a lot of research on the building, its construction year, the country, the culture, on all relevant information that can make the project be as close as possible to reality. That’s how the blank page gets filled. The story then comes to life. 

So if you take for example, 1898 The Post in Ghent. The construction year, 1898, was where I started from. I did a lot of research about the colours, the floors, the fabrics and objects. Every decision or object has a reason to be selected. 

The art is to take all these elements and adapt them to be timeless. An example, if you put down marble floors, just do them in a shape that is timeless and not from the original period.

How important is it to provide guests with a unique and experiential state and how can this be done well?

Returning guests is what we want to achieve. It’s important to the investor but it also gives me great pleasure to see people enjoying my work. When customers feel emotions, it gives them this unique experience and unique state where they just want to come back. Bringing happiness to people (staff, guests and other people involved) with the environment you created is the ultimate goal.

I think you have to try and adapt yourself constantly. That’s also why I tend to start at the blank page overall because today’s guest expectations are changing quicker and quicker. You can have a sanitary crisis like we’re having, we’ll have an economical one coming, we have social media impacting our lives. You have to continuously think and adapt yourself.

It’s really about trying to create memories and experiences for guests to take home. Experiences are made throughout the senses and the feeling that goes along with it. You can make an experience memorable with the property, the materials, the atmosphere, …

For now, I believe strongly in working spaces in hotels or other public buildings, because everyone has been secluded and in a way, more or less everybody’s suffered from it. We’re not meant to be alone, I really believe that people will get back together and meet again.

1898 The Post - Belgium

What is the biggest mistake that you often see hotels or hospitality brands make in relation to design and what would you suggest they do instead?

Different departments not working together cohesively is the biggest mistake. I see it as a challenge to have the design side working with the operations side. We tend to design because it’s beautiful, but that doesn’t always work in hospitality. The materials that are used have to be easy cleaning, steps have to be avoided and so on. Very small details, but those details can easily complicate the operations team.

Because your hospitality career began working within Operations and Development and you evolved into the designer for the hotels, do you think that you've got even more value as a designer because you've seen more than one side of a hotel and can relate to the variety of ways that a hotel is designed, built and operated?

Yes, it’s very important to have seen every department and all of their different requirements. Sometimes it’s something small like the weight of a plate or the size of a tray. It’s a true added value if you are able to combine your design with the operations side.

International business also gave me a great strength on the budget and planning side. Two core elements that have to be respected in the creation and delivery process.

Phum Baitang - Cambodia

How do you feel COVID-19 will impact hotel design?

Guests will have to feel secure, so hygiene and security will be key. I am not sure about social distancing and all of these measures.

I believe we have the technology to create other solutions. Apparently, they have these air filters that are much more effective than social distancing when sitting on a plane for example.

Such things will have to be implemented because enforcing social distancing will likely not work. Besides not everyone is eager to respect those measures. By using adapted technology to clean the air and various other technological strategies, I think guests will be even more comfortable. Comfort will remain very important. It starts with a good night sleep but guests will be demanding to feel comfortable at any time.

Next thing is nature, sustainability and self-care, are core values that have become essential these days.

So, the aim should be to raise your game as a hotel and make it work for the guests rather than make the guests adapt as much to the environment?

Yes, I’m a believer in finding solutions for guests rather than making the guests adapt. It’s also more sustainable because you don’t have to wear gloves or masks.

Besides we also need to make a business viable. If we have a hundred square meter space, we need to fit in at least 50 people. That’s why we need technical solutions.

Sonop - Namibia

If you were hired to help reposition a hotel within the luxury market, what would be the key design elements that would need to be considered?

A red line from the beginning till the end is the key for a successful project!

People think it’s often expensive to decorate beautifully and luxuriously. Nowadays everybody has their own definition of luxury, it isn’t bling-bling, gold and silver anymore.
It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to last. The mix & match of colours, materials and textures is a must.

If the hotel has an independent restaurant with its own name and brand, then revamping it can be great to reposition the hotel.

So, that brings me to my next question. Do you have any advice for hoteliers looking to revamp a hotel's interior or concept on a small budget?

Changing everything is not necessary. You can keep the same furniture but just change the fabric or the colour, you can repaint, you can change the colour of the curtains and so on. Besides I believe the more a material is used, the nicer it becomes. A wooden floor simply becomes more beautiful when used.

Pay attention to lighting, it plays a massive role. Just changing the intensity can already ensure another atmosphere. Light has to be there to highlight the important. It’s not only a decorative feature.

The major thing for me is the correlation between everything. Of course, it’s ideal to match everything: the colours, the materials, lighting and so on but small things can be done to make it more of an entity.

So it's not all just random areas and items being revamped but they have to actually change cohesively together.

Yes, that’s very important. 

Can you share any advice for interior designers just starting out in the hotel and hospitality industry?

Do it with your heart! Love what you do! Be passionate! 

Stick to your idea, to your initial story!

When doing business to business projects, people tend to ask you: “Are you sure about that? I would rather do it differently”. Stick to your idea, if in the beginning you were sure of what you’ve done. If you still chose to change something you were sure of, it will be this one thing that will break the story. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to listen to people’s advice and adapt sometimes. Just make sure it fits in your initial story.

Hotel Des Postes - Luxembourg

You've recently begun an exciting new project at the 'Hotel Des Postes' in Luxembourg, can you tell us any more about that?

It’s a very exciting upcoming project that will open in three years from now. It’s an historical post office from 1910 which has mainly been closed or used for offices. Therefore it will be magical to give local people or tourists access to it. 

It will be a real added value for the city, as Luxembourg doesn’t have many hotels offering a true experience with different services and different food outlets.

With such a big project, do you have an interior design team or is it just you?

I’m very involved in every project and will never stop being. I am not looking to become a big studio as I want to ensure the quality of my projects. 

I work with different architects, interior designers and purchasers. Each team is selected regarding the project. Currently I am searching people to surround myself with as I have several upcoming lifestyle projects for the next 3 years. 

Can’t wait to share the details very soon!

So, you've recently launched your own business, your own brand - Beyond Design. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Beyond Design is based in London. Everything started recently in January (2020), which was of course a particular period due to the pandemic, something I wouldn’t have anticipated. Luckily I had no issues, I continued having various projects to work on. 

With Beyond Design, I tend to specialise in hospitality and lifestyle projects, choosing the challenging projects that really seduce me. I will continue to work in the hospitality industry as it is very exciting and challenging to meet customers’ expectations. 

For now, I am focusing on Europe as it’s very accessible. Besides, with what’s happening, it is more secure working within Europe. That doesn’t mean I’m not considering projects elsewhere. Apart from that Europe still has great potential. The architecture is very rich and there is a lot to get inspiration from.

How did I arrive to this point? Networking was the key! I went to lots of events, I moved to London two years ago to see how the design scene was evolving in this very up to date city. I kept searching for the answer to the question: “What are people doing?”

All this led to the idea of starting Beyond Design. For the last four years I have known that I was eager to start my own studio and one day I woke up and just made it work! 

The story of Beyond Design then started.  

The next chapter will mainly be business projects: hotels including F&B, coworking spaces and co-living spaces.

1898 The Post - Belgium

And what a rewarding industry to work in, you truly do live and breathe this industry when you're in it.

Yes, that’s what I was saying before. What really is rewarding and what I am truly grateful for, is people loving your work, employees, journalists, guests and so on. It’s just magical getting a note written by a guest appreciating your work. It’s the best thing.

Quick-fire round︱Get to know Geraldine

  1. Morning Routine

    I start off my day with a fresh pressed lemon juice on an empty stomach. Then three to four times a week I like to kickstart my day with bootcamp. After that, I always take the time to have breakfast and then my workday can start.

  2. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received

    It will be the one I got when I launched my own business. I thought it was very suitable and useful; “If you can, don’t accept many small projects to fill your time because when the good and the right opportunity comes along, you will not have the time and the ability to take it”.

  3. Favourite song

    The one I often play at the piano, Douceur de la Vie by Noah Vanden Abeele. Very relaxing.

  4. Style icon

    I would say Jackie Kennedy. It’s someone I’ve always admired. Sober, classic and elegant!

  5. Favourite drink

    A Pimm’s.

  6. Favourite food

    Macarons. Still searching the best place in London, any tips? 

  7. Favourite activity

    Travelling, for sure. It’s always been my biggest inspiration. 

  8. Favourite country to visit

    For the last few years, I’ve been falling in love with Italy. There are so many places left to discover. It’s just beautiful, there is great food, the architecture is stunning, they have a very rich and lovable culture, so what more do you need? 

  9. Travel essentials

    I’ve got three. A bikini, flip flops and soundproof headphones. 

  10. Favourite hotel & why

    That’s a terrible question! (laughing) There are so many hotels in the world. I think mainly the independent hotels. I am a big fan of The PIG hotels. Dean Street Townhouse by Soho House is also one I admire. I love independent hotels designed by passionate people, like Judy Hutson that designed the interiors of all the PIG hotels, it’s just magical.

Geraldine splits her time between London, England and Gent, Belgium, but you can reach her via her website here: geraldinedohogne.com 

Please send enquiries to geraldine@gdohogne.com

You can follow her work on Instagram @geraldinedohogne

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