Forced to lock the Blenheim Design studio doors, due to Covid-19 , I’ve been revisiting my original passion for the hospitality design and wondering when will restaurant designers be needed again.
For two weeks before my decision to hand studio keys to our landlord, I was bombarded about Covid updates from clients, suppliers and friends. All of our projects were frozen and we went from long work days to nothing.
Without any unprecedented experience of my living memory, I spent long weekend wondering what would be the best course of action. Moment of deadly calm came over me and I moved the whole studio back to where I originally started Blenheim Design - family home.
I spent ten days working well into the night sifting through our extensive material library and project documents, labelling boxes, dismantling furniture and taking awards and pictures off the walls. My colleagues helped with the move and we parted at the car park with a strange mixture of grief and uncertainty forcing ourselves to act positive and upbeat about the future. As I was loading the car with the sample lamps, loaned to us for the clients approval, news came on the radio announcing wide spread lock down.
It dawned on me that this was going to be my last time at the office. I stood on the first floor looking through the window at an empty street below with tightness in my chest. Street lights were on, Brighton Pavilion was illuminated and once busy roads and pavements were ghostly quiet. I switched all the lights and put the keys through the landlords door.
I had spent 12 years building studio, starting with one domestic project which lead to a restaurant project and slowly developed to an award winning hospitality design studio. It was all word of mouth, no marketing, no brand managers, just recommendations. In my previous position I was heading the design team with posh hospitality clients. I was used to specifying plush armchairs, leather flooring, Picasso miniatures but I was working 60 hour week for 8 years and I was burned out.
I wanted to create a design agency that would take as much pride in creating a small noodle restaurant as design a 5 star hotel. I employed my knowledge acquired throughout the years using painters, trimmers, shopfitters, illustrators for our clients.
I worked day and night and enjoyed every minute of it. Moving from my front room to an office was an idea I dreamed about and dreaded at the same time. Having to increase the costs of our service to reflect new expensive rendering programs, industry education, larger material library and increased skill cost was scary. At first two of our clients went to competitor’s studio but came back and we still work together.
In spite of having 9 Design Awards and 12 nominations, being a guest speaker and grand juror for hospitality awards, I found myself sitting on the floor surrounded with removal boxes trying to get the printer hooked up to a laptop and wondering how did it all come to this. I chose proactive road and sorted all materials in our large working basement. Reference books and current files have replaced neat feature shelving, whilst servers and plotters are happily humming in the spare bedroom. We are ready for work again.
Being in hospitality industry is hard, I know, I worked in restaurants during my college and university years. Designing for hospitality is equally tough: changing legislation, new building laws, demanding landlords, navigating through high street planning, public liability and new building laws are not for the faint hearted.
Just as I was wondering how relevant hospitality or design is during the pandemic, I read the words of Gabrielle Hamilton:” I have to hope, though, that we matter in some other alternative economy; that we are still a thread in the fabric that might unravel if you yanked us from the weave.”
After couple of weeks of stillness, I found myself getting inspired again. I’ve had number of calls from existing and past clients offering kindness and support. I’ve had past colleagues and fellow jurors calling for mentoring and idea exchanges.
I am daydreaming again, researching design styles and finding exiting suppliers, testing material durability and making notes. I feel electrified and exited again. Some of our projects will be defrosted and some will be cancelled. Not all restaurant brands will survive and not all designers will see it through but some of us will emerge fresher and younger, eager to rebuild the restaurant industry.
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