GA Design International has some of the world’s most standout hotels in its portfolio, including the classic Corinthia in London and ultra-modern Conrad in Tokyo. The practice’s MD Terry McGinnity tells Jamie Mitchell about how it has reached this happy state
In his 18 years as managing director of GA Design International, Terry McGinnity has had a hand designing the interiors of some of the world’s most memorable hotels, from the exquisite luxury of the Hotel Bel-Air, Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera to the sleek, ultra-modern Conrad hotel in Tokyo.
Founded 20 years ago, the London-based practice, which also has offices in Budapest and Kuala Lumpur, prides itself on creating hotels that people will want to come back to again and again, whether for business or pleasure. Things change quickly in the world of hotel design, but the secret to longevity, says McGinnity, is to ignore fashion and go for timeless quality instead. ‘Fashion changes but quality of design does not,’ he says, ‘and if you stay true to your ideals and pursue the best solutions for the project, you can create something that will last.’
Threadneedles, a five-star boutique hotel in the City of London that GA Design International designed 10 years ago is, McGinnity says, a perfect example of the firm’s ability to create enduring designs.
‘Threadneedles is special to us because it was one of the first projects we had where a client showed great trust in us and allowed us a lot of freedom to solve some complex design issues. Even 10 years on we think the design stands up.’ With a background in architecture, Australian-born McGinnity says he brings an architect’s sense of logic and spatial awareness to his practice’s work. ‘At GA Design International we believe very strongly that the interior has to work with the “bones of the building”. All the best designs, even the most fanciful, should be built on reason.’
Although many of its projects involve designing interiors for existing buildings, McGinnity and his team are perhaps most at home on new-build projects where they are able to work alongside the architect, as they did with the Conrad in Tokyo. ‘The Conrad demanded clean spatial design and a refined but simple approach; something that speaks directly to the way we design,’ says McGinnity.
‘We’ve won many of our projects, including the Conrad, precisely because we’ve been able to demonstrate to the project managers and architects how we were able to assist them. That means we can help them get more out of their building.’
Now with some 46 staff employed internationally and having recently opened the office in Kuala Lumpur, GA Design International seems to have weathered the financial crises of the past few years rather well. ‘I think that’s because the clients that we have tend to weather it quite well, too,’ says McGinnity. ‘We’re fortunate in that we haven’t really had to downsize and we’ve come through [the recession] relatively unscathed. What we’re finding is that investors haven’t stopped spending; they’re being more careful how they spend it. We’ve seen some projects stall in 2009, but they have started again now.’
McGinnity says that the firm’s continuing success is partly due to the care it takes in building solid relationships with clients. ‘Repeat clients account for a very large proportion of our work,’ he says. ‘Loyalty means you are doing something right. It affirms your design, but more importantly allows you to continue to develop ideas with clients over the course of several projects. You develop understanding and trust and that frees you up to concentrate more on design resulting in better quality, fresher ideas.’
Another key to the practice’s success, according to McGinnity, is its freedom from a ‘house style’. ‘Every single project we do is unique, and we have a hugely diverse portfolio, he says. ‘At one end of the scale is the W Taipai, which is bold and very modern in its design; at the other there’s the Corinthia in London, which we’d describe as classic-meets-contemporary.’
After 25 years in the business, the firm’s portfolio includes some of the world’s most luxurious hotels. But has the way we think of luxury changed during this time? ‘Yes,’ says McGinnity. ‘Our perceptions of luxury have changed dramatically. Even if we look at the past 10 years we can see a shift in our expectations.
‘Hotels and brands are increasingly offering a diverse range of experiences, from urban hotels with an increasing array of design-led features, to resort hotels, which evoke luxury through a more tranquil,calming and natural experience. Hotel guests have become used to restaurant menus devised by celebrated chefs, couture brands in the retail lobby and high technology throughout. People are more aware of what they want these days. Hotels need to give a unique experience, something different.There has to be the appropriate mix of location, design and service.’
This article was first published in fx Magazine.