The human experience is what Leonard Lee of multi award-winning design firm, Wilson Associates, strives to achieve with every fine detail in his designs.
Tell us about Wilson Associates design ethos / principles
At Wilson Associates, we seek to redefine the creative industry by inspiring, enriching, and engaging the human experience. Over the years, Wilson Associates has strived for design with poetry and the relentless pursuit of perfection. I see myself as blessed to lead Wilson’s diverse talent in the Asia Pacific region, as each distinct creative voice shapes the future of our firm and the future of interior design.
The Wilson Associates design culture across Asia Pacific continues to evolve, challenge convention, expand their craft and forge new relationships with luxury, lifestyle and food and beverage brands. We innovate through mentorship and collaboration that will set the stage for luxury design moving forward. We firmly believe that every project should have its own distinguishing spirit and do our best to exemplify this in our design narrative yet always conscious of the owner’s / operator’s brief and strive to make them aware of how good design is when a guest is taken on a journey and is able to experience a deeper level of emotion.
We want to bring people along on a journey of transformation. This is particularly imperative because Wilson Associates is a legacy firm that has been in the business for 50 years, and so we need to evolve and innovate as we continue to influence people’s mindsets and appreciation of design.
What are some of the projects you’ve done; and tell us about the design process for those projects, what inspired you, how does it push your boundaries /challenge your capabilities?
Presently, we are seeing a rise in independent hotel chains, and we find ourselves collaborating with more local brands as well as the major hotel brands. In Asia Pacific, we see clients building large scale hotels and resorts with a view to establishing themselves as independent operators with multiple locations, while still maintaining a boutique character and feel. With these independent operators, the brand identity is still a blank canvas and this gives us an exciting opportunity to work alongside our clients to create an identity with them through our design, creating something unique and new that reflects the client’s own ideas and individual character.
Project-wise, we have quite a number though notably I would like to highlight a project we are working on for a well reputed hospitality brand situated in a historic site in Kyoto, working alongside a renowned architect. Another project I am excited about is one that we have undertaken in Auckland, it is the operator’s first entry into the Asia Pacific market and whilst we wanted to establish a narrative built on culture and heritage, there is (understandably) a legal framework to protect Māori culture and traditional knowledge which we had to be mindful and respective of.
As such we created a narrative that gave ode to the culture as well as was inspired by “Relativity” a lithograph print by the Dutch artist M. C. Escher, first printed in December 1953 – one of Escher’s most beloved works – a series of staircases crisscross in a labyrinth-like interior, creating optical illusions to add on to the guest experience. A signature component in the lobby, cementing the “dream-like” ethos of the design narrative and embracing this storytelling in subtle hospitality that the brand will likely be known for within the region once it is opened.
I find inspiration from the minutiae of everyday life. It could be an article I read, something I see online or just an idea that comes into my head during the day. Every project presents different challenges, as a designer we are always challenged to satisfy the client and hotel operator – how to get people to tell the story / narrative – how it is applied into planning and what makes it different.
Our challenge as designers is to find the balance between the regional vernacular and the operator’s established ideals, channelling the local character into our overall aesthetic.
What are the current trends in the design space?
I am not one for trends and I impress this onto my team and colleagues. Design should be organic and unrestrictive. My professional opinion is that it all boils down to starting with a strong narrative and ensuring consistency in the execution of this. Once you step into the finished space, if guests come in and understand the “story” you created that is more important than any trend. have always strived towards making less more than enough. It is about meticulously composed and orchestrated subtleties rather than an obvious approach.
How do you see the future of design changing over the next few years as we recover from Covid-19?
The pandemic will reshape the way we consume when we travel and hospitality will evolve with it. I always challenge our designers to focus on redesigning the ordinary, re-imagine and redefine the design to make the space more efficient and ultimately more enjoyable to use.
We will see less contact points though guests will crave the social nature they are accustomed to. Undoubtedly it does fall to the owner / operator of hotels to invest more in terms of accommodating these requirements, after all hospitality is all about service.
At Wilson Associates, we offer services to facilitate this and I see hotels and even restaurants gearing towards wellness and well-being – collaborative efforts with established brands or even creating their own – just to pivot during this time of uncertainty.
Hospitality will certainly change for the better with the “touch points” or points of interaction with guests will resonate even more so – the more thoughtful the gesture, the more likely the guest will return.
Technology is playing a pivotal role here as we navigate the waters of determining what measures continue to weave themselves into the day-to-day of hospitality operations and how we can integrate it design-wise.
What are some of the most exciting opportunities in Singapore in terms of design / architecture / interiors?
I cannot create an emotional connection, but I can evoke it – that to me is an exciting opportunity for us at Wilson Associates. Opportunities will always be there and are limitless, particularly now for every business, as many are adapting their raison d’être and looking inward and how to attract as well as retain guests.
Less hotels are being built or are on hold as owners re-evaluate, so it’s pretty tough competition. We always aim to create spaces where our guests become immersed in our storytelling; where they become the ‘actors’ in our elaborate stage production.
The bigger goal is to create curated experiences that are different, not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of creating one-off, emotional experiences that you can’t get anywhere else. And as designers, we get to be part of creating that lasting experience.