Focus: Q&A - Robin Chadha

Robin Chadha brings us up to date with the latest projects for citizenM’s design-led, value-conscious accommodation

What does your role at citizenM entail?
I’m chief marketing officer, but my role goes beyond that to encompass everything to do with the experience of the guest, from the physical and digital right through to music, scents and uniforms. I am also a member of our creative board, which includes our regular design practice Concrete and our in-house team of architects, designers and stylists. We look at upcoming projects and consider all sorts of questions about what each hotel needs. My job is to inspire guests to come back chain-wide.

Did you have a background in design and development prior to citizenM?
I joined citizenM right at its inception in 2006. Before that I’d had various jobs, first working on Wall Street for the New York Stock Exchange, then for Tommy Hilfiger and for my father’s company Mexx. I then set up Rain, a restaurant/cocktail bar/nightclub in Amsterdam, which was a great learning experience for me.

What sort of guests are citizenM targeting?
We named the company after our guests – mobile citizens of the world. These are the new generation of business travellers who are typically well-informed and, most importantly, value-conscious. They are design-driven. They want contemporary design, they want service that is genuine, and they want to be inspired. While three quarters of our customers are travelling on some sort of business, citizenM guests may also be leisure travellers – all our hotels are suitable for both. We’re urban, but we’re not trying to be cool. We’re accessible. We offer value and contemporary design – we want to be known as the smart hotel choice.

One of the hotel’s chain’s latest projects is CitizenM ShoreditchOne of the hotel’s chain’s latest projects is citizenM Shoreditch

CitizenM offers ‘affordable luxury’. What do you mean by this?
We never wanted to be a luxury hotel brand in the traditional sense. Our luxury is about experience, emotion and convenience. We wanted to make luxury affordable so we’ve really thought about what customers want from a good hotel. We realised that it’s a generous bed – our beds are bigger than king size – a great shower, huge windows, all the technology they need, and great art and design. We use Vitra furniture and commissioned artist Julian Opie to design a piece for the Tower of London hotel. We’re aware that citizenM isn’t for everyone – but strong brands are only built by saying no to some people.

Can you deliver luxury with such compact bedrooms?
The reason why our rooms are small is that we prefer to build modular bedrooms – for the quality, speed and cost – and for that there are size restrictions. We also didn’t want the array of different room types that you get at some hotels. Instead, we have just one room type, because everyone is equal at citizenM.

One of the hotel’s chain’s latest projects is CitizenM ShoreditchOne of the hotel’s chain’s latest projects is citizenM Shoreditch

Why did you decide to give such priority to the ‘living room’ areas of the hotel?
How much time do we actually spend in the bedroom at home? I spend most of my time in my living room and kitchen. We decided to recreate that by offering an amazing space downstairs, and looked at what people might want there – a bar, something to eat, a place to work. I like that in hotels you can see lots of different behaviours at different times of the day – some people are working, some meeting, some having a drink, some watching TV.

We’ve realised that there is a particular demand for creative meeting spaces, so have been retrofitting them into some of our hotels and will include some in our new hotel in Glasgow. We decided not to have big restaurants, but we do have a 24/7canteen for guests so that they can order what they want, when they want.

How do you go about commissioning designers and architects, and what qualities do you look for in your design team?
We see Concrete as founding partners of citizenM. Rob Wagemans [Concrete’s founder] is also our creative director. The way he and his team think is the same as we do. Our brand is about consistency, and working with Concrete ensures that we can be consistent.

We also work with a local architect every time we open a new hotel, and our in-house design team – sometimes they all work together. We look for architects who understand our way of thinking.

CitizenM GlagowCitizenM, Glasgow

When considering a new hotel project, do you prefer to take a new-build or a refurbishment approach?

Our original thinking was new build, but that limits our choice of sites. We’ve just completed our first refurbishment – of an office building near Gare de Lyon in Paris. We’re open to new build and refurbishment, and building in both traditional and modular ways.

How long did it take to develop the citizenM bedroom module? Are you continuing to revise the design?
Our first, Room 1.0, was based around two cylinders, one housing the shower and the other the toilet. We combined these into one in our Room 2.0 for our Glasgow hotel and created more efficiencies for the two new Paris hotels (Gare de Lyon and La Defense). We’re now busy testing Room 3.0 at our experience centre. The design is constantly changing – we’re not standing still.

You’re recently opened near the Tower of London. What was the biggest challenge for that project?
Definitely securing planning permission, given its UNESCO World Heritage location. We had a lot of resistance from neighbours but we didn’t give up – it took us three years. It’s a fantastic place, enhancing the urban realm and improving access to the Tube.

CitizenM La Defense, ParisCitizenM La Defense, Paris

What is the most rewarding part of your role as a design client?
I get most enjoyment from seeing our hotels being used. I love seeing people’s reactions, whether it’s enjoying a fantastic cocktail, taking selfies in front of the art pieces, or kicking off their shoes and relaxing.

What’s coming up next in terms of new citizenM ventures?
We’re opening three more hotels this year to add to the nine we have already. Two are in Paris and the other is in Taipei – our first project in Asia. We also have five more in development in the USA including our first modular skyscraper hotel – 22 storeys in the Bowery in New York. This brings new challenges, but we do like to push the boundaries. We’re also looking at another site in Copenhagen. We aim to have 40 hotels open or under development by 2020, including hotels in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.

Do you have any favourite hotels that you take inspiration from?
Every time I go to a new city I get a lot of inspiration from museums, art, restaurants and bars. I like the eco-friendly luxury of the 1 Hotels. André Balazs finds a way to bring Hollywood magic into all his hotels – everything is perfect and special. I also like the very classic rooms of Hotel Costes in Paris.

How do you see the design of hotels changing in the next 10 years?
Right now we’re going through this revolution in technology and what to do with it. Technology is going to play a huge role in the future, but it’s all about finding the right balance between technology and experience. I also think there will be an evolution in new materials. At citizenM we plan to stay close to our customers so that we can give them what they want.

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