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Master of Bold: Marcel Wanders

Stacy Shoemaker Rauen • June 20, 2018
Marcel Wanders. Photography courtesy of Marcel Wanders.

Bold. Layered. Fantastical. Audacious. Those are just a few ways to describe Marcel Wanders’ innovative designs. Since the Dutch designer founded his namesake studio in 1996 in Amsterdam, he—along with his team of 70—has put his signature touch on both residential and hotel interiors, as well as some 1,900 iconic products for the likes of Alessi, Capellini, and Moooi (the latter of which he cofounded in 2001 with Casper Vissers), to name a few.

His latest hospitality venture, the luxe 270-room Mondrian Doha for sbe (the first in the Middle East for both Wanders and the lifestyle hotel company), with its black and white palette, intricate mosaics, and grand gestures—including oversized furniture and a multistory spiraling black staircase—definitely does not disappoint. “There’s nothing in the region with this type of creativity,” he says, adding that each of the eight F&B spaces, ESPA spa, and the ballroom (the largest in the region) has its own identity. Wanders worked closely with local firm South West Architecture and sbe’s in-house team to create the museum-quality hotel. “We planned to make Mondrian Doha iconic that could also serve as a reference in the region,” says South West Architecture’s president Wadah Azrak. Inspired by the Qatari pastime of falcon hunting, the building is “shaped like a falcon landing to its nest. Its wings spread to the sides of the building while the beak of the falcon creates the shadows and canopies of the main entrance.” We caught up with Wanders to chat about his second Mondrian­ and how he tows that fine line between too much and just the right mix.

What was your inspiration for the hotel?
There are three storylines. We created some novel icons in the Mondrian South Beach in Miami, and we picked a few to relive and grow, like the stairs. And yet, we also wanted to make a new design that [fit] Mondrian, but in Doha. We always want to make something that speaks about the culture, about where you are, about the locale. And then, obviously, it has to be something that no one else could have made—a Marcel Wanders signature hotel. These storylines gave us a lot of flavor, a lot of sensitivities, a lot of ideas.

How do you create that sense of place?
We always find a way to get into the culture, to breathe it, to find out what is logical, what is important, what is normal, what is special. What’s in the museums? What’s the culture? What’s the history? What’s the future? We want to know what excites the locals. It’s something that is new and different, but it’s also something they recognize as part of who they are and want to be. The people of the region have a pure sense of beauty. They’re ambitious. They’re not interested in doing a hotel like others have done [just to] make a few bucks. They want to do something important for their culture, something that stands out, innovates, and changes the fabric of the region. That was amazing for us to work with because, of course, we like to be bold. We like to do things that are meaningful, that change the status quo.

And that starts at the atrium of the hotel.
It’s the grand entrance with a black and white floor, big columns, and this beautiful gold desert flower sculpture. On the left side is the atrium, with its grand staircase. It is a very special place because it has this faceted glass façade and soaring ceilings. In this nest-like area, we created a colorful, Tiffany-inspired leaded glass ceiling. We wanted to keep the space white and serene and to make the color the light of the morning and the light of the evening in a subtle way, but then to have a beautiful highlight of color on the top. The space has these big lanterns that give it a human scale, because in spaces like this, it’s easy to get lost. You feel like you’re in a space that’s not made for you but for dinosaurs. With these light fixtures, we create a human-sized element, and all together I think it became a magical place.

Why the black and white palette?
To be honest, it’s a very bold way to do something refined. But now it has matured. The mosaics on the walls in the elevator lobby are connected to the [black and white] floor. That makes it work. If everything was black and white like the floors, it would be awful. If everything had color like the elevator lobby, it would be a mad house. White makes colors live together. You can be bolder if you allow yourself the contrast in white.

For the mosaics, we made the design in such a way that if you are walking in that space, it’s very hard to recognize the pattern—only if you take a photograph of it, does it become evident. It’s made of different drawings placed on top of each other. There are so many different stories to tell. There are Arabic textures, European textures, Aztec textures. It’s a mélange of worlds. We wanted to do something that has some depth. We use simple materials and put a lot of creativity in them.

Guestrooms seem serene, almost residential in scale.
It’s what we wanted. [Doha] is a place people go for the sun, and the light is so beautiful there. The rooms have big windows, great views—we really wanted to celebrate that. Obviously, we added a lot of color. A cut floor resembles the desert, and then there is the headboard wall. We loved Arabic miniatures and worked for four or five months on a miniature that we then blew up to the size of the wall. It’s such an endless amount of detail that you can sit in front of it for a half hour and not have a moment that you look at the same thing. It’s how we bring culture to life in a contemporary way. These drawings create a deeper fiber, a deeper design, and it’s something we do and have done a lot in the past because it really is a political statement more than anything else: We don’t have to be the same, we can be different and live together. If you do it well, these things can make each other stronger.

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