W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Toby Scott.

 

When I ask most interior designers about their dream project, most put hotels at the top of their wish list. But designing hotels is complex and challenging, to say the least. These projects require a steady combination of hospitality and residential, even retail elements, they need to support moments of seclusion and elements of theatre. With many of us travelling more than ever for both work and leisure, where we stay is often one of the biggest decisions of any trip. For designers, staying in a great hotel represents a perfect opportunity for research (tax deductible hotel stays, anyone? That’s what I’m talking about!). But in all seriousness, hotels are incredibly intricate beasts, and no matter how much we feel we know about designing them, there’s always so much more to learn.

We recently caught up with Australia’s leading hotel designer – Nic Graham, who’s eponymous Sydney-based design practice is behind several notable hotel interiors around Australia and Asia. Today we chat to Nic about one of his latest projects – the highly-anticipated W Brisbane which opened earlier this year. As the first five-star hotel to arrive in Brisbane CBD in 20 years, this hotel from the Marriott International stable marks the re-entry of the iconic W brand into Australia.

In partnership with Kohler, we unpack Nic’s design approach for W Brisbane including the big vision and the small details, public spaces and inner sanctums alike, and his approach to creating a sequential and congruent design journey. From mirrored ceilings and strong horizontal forms inspired by the river banks of Brisbane, wall graphics created in collaboration with Fabio Ongarato, layers of colour and pattern that capture the W brand’s outlandish and bold attitude, those birdcage-like wardrobes, and beautiful guest bathrooms with fixtures supplied by Kohler. (Btw, you can access Kohler’s latest Commercial Catalogue here. You’re welcome.) 

All right, that’s enough from me already. Let’s dive in!

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Toby Scott.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Toby Scott.

 

+ Hi Nic, can you tell us about how this project came about? How long did it take from inception to completion? And what set this hotel apart from others you’ve designed so far?

W Brisbane came about after a long-standing relationship with Starwood and Marriot spanning over 10 years, since the W Hong Kong. Since 2008, we also worked on W Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. It took about 2 years to complete our role on this project.

We were excited about the opportunity to weave and Australian narrative into this international brand that is so focussed on design and modern culture.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Toby Scott.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Toby Scott.

 

+ Could you take us through your creative process of designing the interiors of W Brisbane? What was your design vision for this project?

Each project always starts with a detailed narrative that is guided by the W Brand protocol. Key DNA touch points are addressed based on location, and we needed to show how each of the stories would be delivered through image boards and sketches.

The floor planning is always urgent as the building had fast-tracked construction and services coordination is paramount.

Key stories for this project was ‘A River Dreaming’, an indigenous-based narrative of the Brisbane river. We also tapped into Brisbane’s history, culture and key social aspects that support the brand goals of providing an engaging hotel experience from, Food and Beverage through to guest stay. We touched on the river and the effects on the landscape, the floods, the Queenslander heritage, flora, fauna, Australiana and Brisvegas.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Toby Scott.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

 

+ Do you have a favourite space within the hotel? Or anything else in particular that you love about this project?

I love the pool area and how we transformed and underground space into a cool designer cave. The rooms are all very interesting and we are proud of the design elements we have created in them. The client was so supportive of the fantastic bathrooms, circular wardrobes and key minibars.

The Extreme Wow Suite is s a stunner – our customary use of bold colour and graphic, along with dark floors and mirrored ceilings is an amazing space for mini functions. At the opening party, The Veronicas played to a small group of guests up close and personal, and it was so cool to see it being used in that way – not just as an upgraded guestroom.

I love the restraint in the restaurant too – the original thought behind this was a kitchen table in a Queenslander, hence the timber panelling, with downplayed accessories that create a more tangible, warmer aesthetic.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

 

+ What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this project to life?

In any hotel project, the biggest challenge is always budget and timing. Thoughtful design comes naturally to us, but we always have to remain open minded and flexible in our approach. Today’s building market is very demanding, and construction in Australia is expensive, but of high quality and standard. We therefore design a little differently in Australia as opposed to Asia, by being mindful of the high local cost of materials and labour.

+ At what stage of the design did you start thinking about things like furniture selections, lighting, bathroom fittings/ sanitary ware, artwork and countless other items that make up the interior?

Our concept phase is always well rounded with the end product in mind. Our in-house 3D rendering in sketch plan stage always includes ideas and concepts on artwork and accessories. From day one furniture forms part of the concept as 90 percent is custom designed.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Vanity features Kohler’s Purist 90 degree Wall Mount Basin Set in Blackened Bronze Finish. Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Vanity features Kohler’s Purist 90 degree Wall Mount Basin Set in Blackened Bronze Finish. Photo by Toby Scott.

 

+ There is immense importance being placed on design hotels to deliver an experience that’s either consistent (or deliberately contrasting) between first impressions of the public spaces, all the way through to the inner sanctum of the hotel, like its guest bedrooms and bathrooms. How did you go about creating a sequential and congruent design journey in this project?

Our narrative guided us through that design journey. We wanted to have some key elements that are linked, but it’s just as important to make the lobby spaces different to the rooms. W is a multi-layered brand… large public gestures and private intimate spaces are balanced.

Graphics, materiality and colours are linked but not repeated to make a guest feel like it’s a W experience – unlike any other brand, it enjoys to push boundaries. There are many different stories told throughout this hotel.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Kohler’s Stillness Freestanding Bath Filler in Blackened Bronze Finish inside W Brisbane’s Bathroom. Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Kohler’s Stillness Freestanding Bath Filler in Blackened Bronze Finish. Photo by Toby Scott.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Kohler’s Purist Tall Basin Mixer in Blackened Bronze Finish. Photo by Toby Scott.

 

+ Let’s talk more about the inner sanctum spaces, and more specifically the guest bathrooms. What role did bathroom fixtures and sanitary ware play in your design development? How did they help you achieve the balance between creating beautiful spaces, that were also hardworking and built to last? Were there any additional benefits in choosing Kohler for this project?

A few years ago, I was a guest at Kohler headquarters in the USA and it really opened my eyes to the brand. We paired their product with the Agape Baths to highlight an outback bathtub quirkiness.

The mock-up room clearly defines what works and what doesn’t in the design process. Kohler were exemplary in their support and knowledge for the project and ultimately in price.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Kohler’s Purist 90 Degree Wall Mount Basin Set in Blackened Bronze Finish. Photo by Toby Scott.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Heavenly shower featuring Kohler’s 200mm Rain Can with Katalyst Air, Awaken Handshower on Slide Bar, Two Studio Shower Mixers, all in a Blackened Bronze Finish. Photo by Toby Scott.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

 

+ What’s your favourite piece from the Kohler range you’ve specified for W Brisbane?

The heavenly shower!

+ Are there any other interesting facts you could share with us about this project?

The circular cage-like wardrobe has many people curious. Many selfies have been taken of people coming out of the closet! It wasn’t so much a birdcage, but a way of exploring rooms differently, and creating a sculptural object out of a cupboard that normally sits with its back to the wall.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Concept rendering of W Brisbane’s guest bedroom from 2015 supplied by Nic Graham.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Concept rendering of W Brisbane’s bar area from 2015 supplied by Nic Graham.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Concept rendering of W Brisbane’s swimming pool from 2015 supplied by Nic Graham.

 

+ What do you love the most about working on hotel projects in general? And in your experience, what do you think makes a good hotel?

I love the narratives that can be explored with hotel design. Big gestures and bold finishes are usually encouraged. The brands we work with love to explore and push boundaries. Our niche tends to be contemporary and bold. No more minimalist beige!

And yet I love the restraint of other brands too when I go on holidays.

 

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Photo by Justin Alexander.

W Hotel Brisbane by Nic Graham & Associates | Yellowtrace
Image courtesy of W Brisbane.

 

This Yellowtrace Promotion is sponsored by Kohler. Please note that all our sponsored content is carefully curated to maintain utmost relevance to our readers. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Yellowtrace.

 


[All images courtesy of Kohler, Nic Graham and W Brisbane. Photography by Toby Scott and Justin Alexander.]

 

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor
Google+

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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