Inside View: LW Design Group

It’s increasingly difficult to dine out in Dubai without unwittingly stepping into an LW-designed space. Boasting over 60 restaurants in its portfolio, and having five hotel projects on its drawing boards at any one time, the prolific nature of this company cannot be understated.CID collected together all six managing partners and encouraged them to wax lyrical about the plans LW has of design domination.

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  November 6, 2006

|~|LW-Body-1.gif|~||~|It’s increasingly difficult to dine out in Dubai without unwittingly stepping into an LW-designed space. Boasting over 60 restaurants in its portfolio, and having five hotel projects on its drawing boards at any one time, the prolific nature of this company cannot be understated. Conceived solely as a hospitality interior design practice, LW Design Group launched in 1999.

It encompassed an architecture arm in 2003, expanded into graphics in 2005 and then in spring 2006, the engineering division was established. CID collected together all six managing partners and encouraged them to wax lyrical about the plans LW has of design domination.

With an ease of familiarity that can only be cultivated over ten years of knowing each other, the three founding members of LW Design Group, Lars Waldenström, Jesper Godsk and Morten Hansen lounge on their black leather sofas in the director’s room on the top floor, joined by Colin Doyle, managing partner lwd architects, Christian Loets, creative partner lwd graphics and Finn Theilgaard, managing partner lwd engineers.
CID: Firstly, congratulations on winning the Interior Designer of the Year Award at last month’s Construction Week Awards. How can you account for LW’s success?
LW: When we set up LW we had a clear idea to just focus on commercial interiors, despite our first project being a villa in Khawaneej! Speed, quality and choosing the right designers from around the world is our key. We have a holistic approach.
CID: So how did it start?
JG: In 2000, we did the Rotana Beach Hotel in Abu Dhabi and the Emirates Golf Club, both of which led onto many other projects. Our relationship with the Rotana Group was cemented with this project.
CID: You’re certainly do seem to be the designers of choice for the Rotana Group…
MH: We’re actually doing this interesting project with Rotana currently, The Rotana Centro project. It is a three star hotel that will be in the same category as the Ibis hotel in Dubai, which raises the standard for budget hotels. In a three star, the real challenge is creating an elegant hotel with all the aesthetic trappings that consumers are used to, but with a reduced budget.
JG: Also, the space we have to play with is a lot more limited than usual, each bedroom is only 22m². If you compare this with the 60m² bedrooms we are designing in Raffles, it shows how diverse our projects can be. ||**|||~|LW-Body-3.gif|~||~|
CID: Would you say that you had a project that brought more clients to you? That was a landmark project for you?
MH: At first, our association with Emirates Towers brought clients to us,
LW: Emirates Towers was the first project to be so daringly contemporary in Dubai.
MH: But recently, I would say that Grosvenor House has been a real benchmark for us, bringing a lot of projects in.
CID: You are continually stressing the teamwork involved in each of your projects, why is this?
JG: Many people are involved in a project, from the designer, to the graphics dept, to the studio.
LW: This gives the designer the chance to do what they do best and just design — to not worry about the behind the scene logistics and site management.
JG: So we take the best bits of every team and put them all together. But so many articles about us have just mentioned one designer as though single-handedly they designed every room in a hotel, and that’s not the case, it sounds like a cliché, but we do pool our talents and work together.
CID: Is that what prompted the expansion from just interior design into architecture and engineering and graphics?
JG: Architecture and interior design is so ingrained, from the master-planning to the execution of the designs and site management, the two are inextricably linked, and so it made sense for us to be able to offer the full package and combine the two disciplines.
CD: The architecture arm was launched on the back of client demand for a service that encompassed everything.
LW: It was actually Dr. Gargash who first asked if we could do the architecture as well which planted the seed and it grew from there. To this day he is still very supportive. It is a very convincing argument to clients that we can provide the whole package.
JG: To have the interior designers, architects, engineers, all in one meeting, all in one building means that the project is far easier. Projects are held up all the time if the architect is in a different country to the designer. Trying to co-ordinate all these elements is a real challenge and one of the reasons streamlining it all appealed.
CL: Having a graphic tool within the company is really good as well, enabling us to do our visuals and packages in house which strengthens the lwd brand.||**|||~|LW-Body-4.gif|~||~|
CID: So what projects have all the departments worked on together?
CD: The Missoni Hotel is an example of all the disciplines coming together in one project. We did the architecture, interior design, we provided the F&B consultants too.
MH: We had to brainstorm what would stand out on the Palm where hospitality projects are so numerous. You have The Atlantis hotel nearby and many other well-known hotel chains, this one had to have a brand to entice people.
JG: Serious patterns went into the Missoni hotel, obviously you need to incorporate the brand identity and for Missoni this was retro patterning and bold colours, so the background canvas had to be fairly neutral.
CID: How important is client input?
JG: When we are doing restaurants, the first things we ask are, what foods will you be cooking and who is your target market?
MH: We are on our 9th Noodle House now. That is a chain with a fantastic concept – the clients knew exactly what they wanted and relayed the idea perfectly to us.
JG: Yalumba is another example of a client knowing exactly what they wanted and the input from Stephane Blanc helped us tremendously in executing their ideal.
LW: The client will only agree to what they are comfortable with, so it is so much easier to design within a brief as being given a carte blanche, while exciting, provides much more scope for designer/ client conflict.
||**|||~|LW-Body-5.gif|~||~|CID: How do you rate the success of each of your projects?
JG: A hotel needs to have attitude, not just in the design, but with food, the staff, the support. We are creating a product that fits the brand.
MH: You can’t have a design ego in these instances. If you don’t have the whole package then a project simply doesn’t work.
CD: The Grosvenor House is a good example of the whole package working well. The hotel operators have ensured that they are working with our design, maintaining it, and creating a fantastic hotel through the training of their staff and upkeep of all the areas.
CID: Would you agree that LW has a definite house style?
JG: It is true that a lot of our interiors are contemporary though, which could be described as a trademark style, but then if you look at the work of Richard Myer, Lord Norman Foster and Philippe Starck, their designs all have a distinguishable quality too.
LW: The content we are producing is actually quite different, but it is deceiving because we present it in a similar way.
MH: Yes, but often the client will say ‘I want this like the work you did on Grosvenor House for instance, and so of course we follow the same lines, but create a different product.
LW: Is it good or bad that people recognise an LW Design? For me, I think it’s excellent.
||**|||~|LW-Body-6.gif|~||~|CID: How are you going to diversify further?
FT: We’re going to expand the engineering, MEP and graphics sectors.
JG: And team up more with the F&B consultancy in Denmark.
MH: We’re trying to take the company out of Dubai to other countries – we are definitely pushing to achieve international projects, this gives the designers more inspiration and scope for research if they are involved in a wide variety of projects. LW can currently stand shoulder to shoulder with projects being undertaken in more established cities such as New York, London and Sydney, and know that our interiors can withstand scrutiny.
CID: Do you think Dubai itself can compare to these cities design wise?
FT: Dubai is equal to any capital city in terms of the standard of hotels and restaurants, so it is a place of amazing opportunities for designers.
MH: The only difference to designing in Dubai is the amount of time you are given. Dubai is driven by project managers. You have to have an international standard and as one of the biggest design studios based in Dubai, LW are pushing for this standard across the board.
||**|||~|LW-body-7.gif|~||~|CID: And what else is currently on the drawing boards?
MH: The Avari Hotel in Islamabad; the Rotana Hotel in Kuwait; the Radisson Park in Riyadh; Emirates Park Tower Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road; the second Grosvenor House; Al Masa Tower; the Bonnington Hotel in Jumeirah Lakes development; the refurbishment of Al Bustan Rotana; Media One Tower in Media City. There’s also a UK project coming up in Central London. [They also all seemed very excitable (and secretive) about the prospect of designing an unnamed hotel on Palm Island that is large and modern that has yet to be announced…]

The list of projects, like their unbridled enthusiam for what they do, appears endless, so this is definitely one company to watch...

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