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Maria Katsarou Vafiadis

May 16, 2018
Maria Vafiadis

Photos: Recent Projects

For more than two decades, founder Maria Vafiadis has expanded a portfolio of hospitality projects that have positioned her as a definitive voice in luxury. Here, she discusses the diversity of several new properties, the evolution of her style, and why it’s an exciting time to work in hotel design.

How do you define luxury? How has it changed since you became a designer?
I define luxury as the sense of time and space, two enduring values that, on one level, never change but which, on another, are always changing in terms of how we perceive them. Over the years that I have been a hospitality designer, hotel design has come to place far more focus on connectivity with the natural world—perhaps as an antidote to our increasingly urbanized lives—and on authenticity of both concept and details. Design now acknowledges that luxury is an experience which brings a sense of well-being, discovery, and transformation. Good design has become more thoughtful.

What are your signatures as a designer?
We have signature creative principles rather than a signature creative style. Our interiors are timeless, yet distinct, sometimes bold, sometimes quiet, but always, I hope, engaging. Our aim is to achieve spaces that go beyond the expected, spaces informed by intelligent design, which are ingeniously captivating. To my mind, it is not about taking risks with particular spaces. Instead, it’s about taking risks all the time by not repeating oneself with a signature style and by always striving to create unique designs.

In a project like the in Switzerland, how do you juxtapose the contemporary with the classic so naturally?
We take our cues from the original building, go into the archives and honor the history and legacy in our design thinking. However, we don’t simply want to recreate the old hotel. In the case of the Royal Savoy, our aim was to reinstate the ambiance of the previous establishment within a contemporary hotel, in a way that is relevant for guests today.

What inspired the design of the ? 
We introduced blood-orange punches of color in the velvet upholstery of the Palm Court and in the leather upholstery of the seating in the Club Lounge, inspired by hints of this tone in the historic ballroom areas. It is a vibrant, warm, and rich color, ideal for inward-looking spaces in a hotel located in London where the weather is rather gray.

How did you conceive the design for the in Tenerife, Spain?
The name says it all. The patterns are a representation of corals but in white to complement the striking white architecture of the building, which was designed by the acclaimed . Our design also uses the contrast of black and white, referencing the volcanic nature of Tenerife. The interior aesthetic is simple and pure; it is about space, light, and connection with the location. It is also welcoming and luxuriant with local materials, detail, and texture creating a supremely comfortable ambiance.

How did you approach the hotel’s outdoor environment to maximize the space?
I like to plan interiors as a sequence flowing toward the view through the window or an exterior terrace. After all, what do most of us do as soon as we walk into our guestroom? We go the window and take in the view. I also believe profoundly in the restorative power of nature. Where possible, I design to achieve a seamless flow between indoors and out and like to create [outdoor] rooms with all the comforts of an interior room.

How did you push the idea of wellness at the?
Normally spas are introverted, but we wanted the Alpine Spa to be extroverted—or look outward—because of the magnificently calming and rejuvenating views. The spa is an opportunity to connect us as human beings with nature by contemplating it and feeling part of it. The wellness areas wrap around the fully glazed walls providing the ultimate in revitalizing views. The spa restaurant’s terrace, the three outdoor pools and a private spa terrace are surrounded by an abundance of open-air natural elements from the lake, mountains, and skies. The Serenity Room with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows is the centerpiece at the heart of the complex and the gateway to an Alpine world with an uninterrupted view of the monumental mountain landscape.

What’s next?
It’s a truly exciting time to be a hotel designer with great potential for hotels to evolve and take on new purpose. I am thinking here, for example, of hotels as ambassadors for the environment. People travel to discover the world; therefore, it’s right that hotels play a bigger part in saving that world and there are some signs that the industry is responding to this responsibility. I am also interested in hotels as convergence spaces where people work, play, and sleep, and the impact this has on the design. One result is that we are seeing more hybrids—members’ clubs and hotels, for instance, or long-stay apartments with traditional guest accommodations. Already, we are seeing that hotels, whatever their precise makeup, are seeking to engage their guests more fully with experiential activities, authentic design, and individualized service. I suspect that this will only become more important as they need to distinguish themselves from Airbnb and long-stay apartments sectors.

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