Sydney-bred Paul Semple has spent then last eight years working in Singapore, and at the same time, being a spectator to the grand urban changes that have altered the island’s cityscape. Now a principal at international design practice, Hassell, he originally started a design firm, Distillery, with his partner, Matthew Shang, which merged with Hassell a few months ago. He recently was invited to be a judge for the Best Dressed Hotel category as part of the Smith Awards organised by Mr & Mrs Smith Hotels. With Distillery, he and Shang were the design minds behind notable hospitality and F&B projects in Singapore such as the recently refurbished The Club, the luxury Singapore emporium Malmaison, and hip cocktail bars such as 28 Hong Kong Street and Manhattan Bar at the Singapore Regent Hotel.
What does good design mean to you? Good design should be about good function and efficiency, and frankly, good economics. There is an innate sense of that behind some of the decisions that have been made about investing in the design culture in Singapore, and I think there has been a very apparent drive by education authorities and the government to actually invest in design and understand what it means. And there results have come about in such a big way — just look at the quality: in terms of the F&B space, the quality of design and what clients are prepared to invest has changed so much. I think that Singaporean’s expectations have grown and Singaporeans themselves have become sophisticated; I mean, the days when Delifrance was the only option for coffee is long done. Singapore has changed so much, and in a good way.
Is there a way to define good design? I think that any design that involves some kind of uplifting experience, that changes a user’s experience, that allows you to better enjoy that cup of tea that you are having, and that allows you to enjoy the comfort of the experience…. is good design in a way. Just take the simple plastic stool at the hawker centre that is stackable — it’s not necessarily about monetary value but about experience and efficiency.
Why do you think Smith Hotel’s has looked to Asia for judges this year They recognise the concept of Asian hospitality and the levels of service that’s been around in Asia, and there is also the fact that there are lots of resorts on this side of the world on their portfolio. There are plenty of hotels with cool designs sprouting up in Asia, such as like Alila Uluwatu, The Upper House, amongst other interesting hospitality and design concepts. They appreciate as well that in Asia, there are a lot of movers and shakers pushing boundaries in design and hospitality. So this year they looked to this side of the world to offer its expertise. These days, there is a real drive for F&B operators to invest not only in interior design but also the overall style around it.
Southcoast Bar and Lounge
Are you familiar with your fellow judges who were on the panel? In the category that I was judging, there was Neale Whitaker, who is a legend and has been around for along time and is a real taste maker. I was definitely in good company.
Ulysse Nardin boutique
What trends do you see happening in the Asian hospitality and hotel industry? Speaking for Singapore, I think that there is a trend for small-scale hotels, such as The Scarlet Singapore and The Club, and some other boutique projects too; there is definitely a real drive in the Singapore market for a 20-to 80-room hotel. And there are interesting projects development that really exciting neighbourhoods such as Duxton Hill and Little India.
Guest room at The Club
In terms of trends for boutique hotels, do you find clients looking for anything in particular? Again, the thing about good design is the styling component and meticulous attention paid to individual objects and how it all works together. For instance, and a guest doesn’t expect just one type of gin at a bar but a range of options. It is this thorough guest experience that people are looking for now, and it certainly takes a lot more work. These days, people in Asia are better educated and better travelled, so their expectations are representative of that as well.
Suite at The Club
Incidentally, Hassell principal Robert Backhouse has described Singapore is the ‘centre of gravity’ for the world’s hospitality. Do you agree? I definitely do think it sits in the same league as Hong Kong and Bangkok, in the sense that most of the world’s big scale operators that have representation in these places also have a presence in Singapore.
Apart from projects that you have been involved in, are there bars in Singapore that you personally enjoy? I quite like Jigger & Pony — you know what you are going to get, and you know you are always going tor run into people. It’s a bona fide institution.