The beautiful mind behind the recent high-end revamp of the Sheraton Grand Edinburgh and the forthcoming facelift of the legendary Metropol Belgrade, London-based architect and principal of MKV Design Maria Vafiadas is a powerful and pioneering force in the hospitality industry. With a portfolio of significant resort projects throughout Greece and a host of big city hotel work-from Switzerland (Hotel Schweizerhof) to the Middle East (Abu Dhabi's Regent Emirates Pearl), to the Czech Republic (Alcron-Radisson SAS) - Vafiadas and her accomplished team are refining and redefining the industry, one guest room at a time.
Interior Design: Maria, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. What would you say people are looking for when it comes to hospitality, today?
Maria Vafiadas: The hospitality world has evolved enormously in the last year. Guests are so demanding that it's not easy for hoteliers to please them in a simplistic way anymore. Globalization has changed the interaction between cultures. At the same time, hoteliers need to give originality with a sense of place. This is also our philosophy, and I consider it very important. Everyone wants to experience a different culture yet feel like they're in familiar surroundings.
ID: So many of your spaces are in world-renowned locations... hallowed ground, if you will. What mindset do you adopt when taking on a project such as the Schweizerhof or Metropol Belgrade?
MV: If it's an existing building-especially an iconic building or hotel that was part of local life in its location, such at the Schweizerhof or the Regent Esplanade in Zagreb-we have to find a way around the building and its history. As we are doing the Metropol in Belgrade, we can't ignore that it's been an iconic part of the city's daily life for fifty years. That said, our clients don't want us to give them a repetition of what is already there. There's a reason why the cycle of this hotel has stopped, so its life has to continue in a different way.
ID: Which kind of clients make you excited to go to work?
MV: We like clients with whom we can converse, and who want to break the mold. Each project must have its own identity... We will not impose our style, no matter what. I find this collaboration very gratifying, for I don't particularly like the blank canvas. We prefer the challenge of a client's vision.
ID: Tell me about the sense of collaboration within MKV? How have you created your team, and what is the process between you all?
MV: Every design is teamwork, and I'm lucky to have a fantastic team. We've all been together for quite a long time, and have developed many great ideas together, Members of our team hail from very different parts of the world, and that helps us. The most important thing is to share the same values, so we can sit down and exchange ideas with the same goal in mind. That's how all the projects develop: A shared responsibility and evolution of ideas.
ID: What's the bottom line for you when it comes to taking on a new project?
MV: We attract certain clients because they expect collaboration and an exchange of ideas. If a client has extremely fixed ideas that we believe are wrong, we will tell them. We'll have lengthy conversations, and unless we feel comfortable to do so, we won't move forward. In the end, for us it's always about unique and original ideas that perfectly suit a location.
ID: What is your take on sustainability-from a design integrity standpoint?
MV: We aren't designers that follow any fashion. We're influenced by fashion, of course, and cannot ignore it. At the same time, we are designers of five-star hotels, not the kind of hotels that do something that is only going to last five or ten years down the line. Our design is sustainable, meaning timeless, with timeless values. Design has to be coherent and true to its surroundings.
ID: That said, how do imbue a project with elements that conjure a sense of fun and frivolity?
MV: There is nothing wrong with surprising guests. A hotel is a theatrical setting, after all. Its job is to take them away from their daily life. You can do something out of place, if it's meaningful and has a message. What's key for us is to create a story that makes sense, not just for the sake of fulfilling an impulse.
ID: What were some of the earliest instances when you found yourself engaged by good design?
MV: I think I discovered design in Milan, a long time ago. These days, everyone is traveling to Milan for design shows and such. When I was, at the age of seventeen, it wasn't as fashionable as it is now. However, I really believe that Italy is what formed me as a creative person. Milan in particular... because it is so extremely design oriented.
ID: How have your aesthetic choices changed since you began your career?
MV: I see it as a process that never stops. I see things with different eyes. Ten years ago, I might see one aspect of something, then come back and revisit and simply discover other aspects of it. When I was looking at things at the beginning of my career it was an architect's eye. Now, with more of an interior design perspective, I look at spaces from the inside out. These days, I find inspiration in very simple things.
ID: What excites you most about your career today?
MV: We are working on several projects that are very important, but one, in Switzerland, is quite special. It's is a hotel project in a big resort called the Icon, high in the mountains, with the most amazing view of a lake on one side and the mountains on the other. It's a new-build, very much inspired by the modernist architecture in California. I think it's all about celebrating the location and surroundings.