Erik Nissen Johansen

As media partner of Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week, Design Anthology was privileged to speak with some top designers. Award-winning Swedish designer Erik Nissen Johansen shared his design philosophy with us

Design Anthology: You talked about the design style at Stylt Trampoli, which is storytelling — creating interiors that tell the story of their location and instilling a ‘sense of place’. How did you come to this design philosophy?

Erik Nissen Johansen: It’s a long story… and it’s pretty boring (laughs). Seriously though, I believe that all artists, creatives and people who make stuff are storytellers at heart, whether you work with pictures or music or sculpture. At Stylt we work with multi-sensory storytelling, so we use all those aspects — and more — at once. Our agency is a hybrid between an advertising agency and an architecture firm, and working not just with the product but also with the reasons why someone should want the product comes very naturally to us. We always work with the Why? of a project, and that means that we have to answer a lot of questions before we start building anything. For us to create a hospitality experience without first asking why would be as if a director tried to make a movie without a script. For example, when we based Hotel Sonya in St Petersburg on Crime and Punishment, we didn’t just get design inspiration but there were reasons to visit already built in — people visit St Petersburg for the culture, so what could be more appropriate than a hotel based on their most important and well-known piece of culture?

How important is it to have an understanding and supportive client to be able to create a successful space?

With our methodology, it’s absolutely crucial. The client has to understand the advantages of working with storytelling and with the whole guest experience, or we can’t realise our vision. The best results always happen when the clients are as passionate about their part of the work — the management et cetera of the hotel or restaurant — as we are about the design. Most of our clients are operators, not developers, and that’s an advantage, as operators tend to have a better grasp of the PR and marketing side of things. We always get the best results when the operator is really good at marketing their restaurant and understands that PR is an integral part of running a hospitality business.

Can you tell us some of the best hotels you’ve stayed in that you didn’t design? What did you like about them?

I recently stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs in Canada, and I loved it — it’s one of the true grand old ladies of the hotel world, it has a really old-world charm, and it’s absolutely packed with history — opened 1888 by Canadian Pacific Railways visionary William Cornelius Van Horne. ‘If we can't bring the scenery to the tourists lets bring the tourists to the scenery’ and boom, he created a new category in tourism. It’s the hotel that inspired The Grand Budapest Hotel movie.

I also really like the Michelberger Hotel in Berlin, which is the complete opposite of the Banff Springs hotel — I love how the hotel’s identity is totally meshed with its owner’s. Even if you don’t like the exact style of the hotel, you always feel very welcome, because the hotel is so personal and it feels like he’s opened the doors of his home for you, just because you’re you.

I can’t leave out Ace Hotel NYC — I love this hotel because they have everything from bunk beds to a penthouse suite, and everything in between. The result is that the guest mix really reflects the character of the city — all kinds of people meeting and mixing, just like on the street outside. Many hotels are so homogenous — there’s no excitement in that.

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