der Innenarchitekt Florian Kienast während seines Vortrages

We met up with Florian Kienast in Munich during the "F&B in the hotel industry" trade symposium , where the Lüneburg-based interior designer was giving a presentation about room concepts and efficient use of space in hotel catering. His firm, formwænde, which he founded in 2001, develops design concepts for German and international brands. The team is made up of interior architects and product designers who focus predominantly on designing hotels and catering operations and on redesigning existing properties. The firm's references in Hamburg include "Störtebeker" in the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, "clouds" – the rooftop catering project in the Dancing Towers – and "Heritage" and "Coast" restaurants with their river views.

Portrait Florian Kienast

How do you define modern hotel design?

It is important that a hotel does not try to follow each and every trend. It needs to make its definitive own statement and tell its own story. That may involve classic elements present in the hotel that are coupled with ultra-modern and extravagant touches. So it is difficult to give a precise definition. I think it is all about entering a property and saying: "Wow, I wasn't expecting that. It grips me and touches me emotionally." Which can relate to all sorts of different planes. Most importantly, it must tell a story and guests must feel at home. That can be true of a stylish modern country house, which is of course meanwhile quite commonplace. But it can also be quite spacey and off the wall, depending on which target group feels at home there. To my mind, there is no exact science for classifying what is or isn't modern. Modern existed 100 years ago – we are just now celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus and seeing things popping up again that were around 80 years ago.


How do you and your team approach a new assignment?

The classic approach is to hope that the client answers a questionnaire we provide, and indicates their objectives. "What story do you want to tell? What sort of food will you be offering? What is your price range?" These are primarily hard facts that also relate to the business side. They are then joined, of course, by the emotional side. "How do you see yourselves?" And then we sit down together as a team at our office, everyone provides input, and develops an opinion – while ultimately evolves into a design concept that we take to the client and tell them the story behind it. Then there is this or that direction that we could take and the may require tweaking. Fortunately, so far everything has gone very well, without friction, and clients have accepted our concepts and joined us on the journey in the direction we proposed. There are always a couple of adjusting loops, of course, that have to be incorporated for functional or budget reasons. That's it. We present a concept, inspire our client with the idea, and take them on the journey with us. That is how we approach assignments.

Das Restaurant Heritage in Hamburg.

Florian Kienast always tries to create a multi-faceted design – like this one in "Coast".

Das Restaurant in den Tanzenden Türmen von Hadi Teherani.

The restaurant in Hadi Teherani's Dancing Towers was designed with love and an eye for detail and offers breathtaking views.

Photo: © David Burghardt/teNeues Digital Media 

Das Restaurant Heritage in Hamburg.

The cuisine in Heritage is a modern take on the traditional. The art chosen by formwænde features photographs taken by Sacha Goldberger (Paris) of pop culture heroes transported back to the 17th century.

Photo: © Andrea Flak Fotografin, Hamburg

Im Restaurant der Elbphilharmonie.

The restaurant in the famous Elbphilharmonie concert hall

Photo: © Störtebeker Elbphilharmonie GmbH

You do a lot of redesigning and optimise existing projects. How do you go about redesigning?

If you take a look at the cities along Germany's coastline, for example, they are mostly way behind in terms of design and infrastructure. I believe they offer huge potential for redesign, converting traditional hotels, giving them a facelift. A couple of hotspots already exist. Nevertheless, the market potential is huge and planners If you take a look at the cities along Germany's coastline, for example, they are mostly way behind in terms of design and infrastructure. I believe they offer huge potential for redesign, converting traditional hotels, giving them a facelift. A couple of hotspots already exist. Nevertheless, the market potential is huge and planners could really let themselves go. When we are working on redesign concepts and talk to our clients, the first step is to identify their core competence. "What has made your hotel so special all these years? Why does a certain type of guest keep returning time and again? What are you at heart?" Sometimes, that is a very difficult question for restaurant and hotel owners to answer. So we have to listen for the nuances and then think about how we might change the property without forcing a whole new concept onto it that has no meaning for the regular guests. On the other side is the new generation who increasingly love to travel and spend and for whom a lot of old stuff is totally anathema. It then becomes a balancing act: Preserving enough of the old character while incorporating a whole lot of new stuff. We inspect the entire property and make suggestions as to what might be improved or changed without totally upending the hotel. If you see rising numbers of guests but changes in the structure, it is time to make some alterations. In addition, more and more people are opting for staycations. A lot of regions need to catch up in that respect.

How important are "Instagrammable Moments" in your concepts?

We have already worked on some projects where the client quite clearly asked for "Instagrammable Moments". Whether or not you like them is a matter of personal taste. If you look at the young people of today, as a target group they expect to incorporate Instagram into their everyday lives. If you don't cater to that and don't set some parameters correctly, they will take no notice of you whatsoever. We don't just operate in hotel and catering. We also work in retail – where such focus is much stronger. In the fashion industry, especially, it is absolutely essential. The young generation is developing a growing affinity to pictures and videos, modern technology is standard for them – and we have to incorporate that to a certain extent into our designs. That might mean oversized video or LED walls, which will become the standard eventually – it is all becoming increasingly important for a certain target group. And, of course, the classic approach will continue – there will also be people who don't want any of that at all. Will that still be the case in a couple of years? There is no way of knowing, but at present it features very strongly in all the projects we are working on. Clients want unique solutions that only exist in this one place. Be it the highest rooftop bar in town or a story that is only told in this one place – these are the things that are suitable for Instagram. Stories that are so worth photographing that everyone wants to share them and send them around the globe.

Hotel guests like to feel they are coming home. What relevance does that have when it comes to designing entrance foyers?

Arriving must generate a positive feeling of wellbeing – which is dependent on both visible and invisible factors – such as fragrance. Light is becoming increasingly important, as are familiar, well-known things, such as traditional pub designs that are very popular in Munich at the moment. We have memories of these places when grandma and grandpa took us out – they trigger emotions and all the attributes that we used to associate with them. I believe guests can be touched emotionally, in particular, by things that are not immediately obvious, that remind us of a certain time. Entrance foyers must be personal, inviting and emotional, not cool and hostile – although there are doubtless concepts that require a strict, cool architectural design for certain target groups. Having said that, there are always functional necessities, as well, such as a clean off zone, which is of course essential. The more colour there is, the better it is for us planners. The more surface textures and attention to detail of the whole thing – engineering, profile colours, excess and the like – the more helpful it is for us. The more inconspicuous the clean off zone – i.e. the better the visual integration of the same – the better. Colours and generosity of space that offer a lot of scope are hugely helpful.

Das Restaurant Irmi im Hamburger Le Méridien.

Storytelling: The restaurant in Hamburg's Le Méridien is called Irmi, named after the housekeeper of Monaco Franze, the main character in a German TV series.

Photo: © Patricia Parinejad

Das east Hotel in Hamburg.

Building on the design concept of Chicago-based architect Jordan Mozer, Florian Kienast and his team have been working on developing the east Hotel Hamburg since 2004. Meanwhile, formwænde is perpetuating the "east cosmos" in other locations on behalf of the east Group.

Photo: © Andrea Flak Fotografin, Hamburg

Im Restaurant der Elbphilharmonie

Dining in the restaurant in the Elbphilharmonie concert hall provides a view that is so typical for Hamburg. ​​​​​​

Photo: © Störtebeker Elbphilharmonie GmbH

So far, your projects have been mainly at the upper end of the price range. Let's take a look at Airbnb – where you can often find fascinating accommodation at low prices. What does good hotel design have to offer to enable the hotel

As far as design is concerned, it certainly has to grip guests by giving them an emotional experience. To a certain degree, Airbnb is of course limited. A lot of it might be individualistic, but what sensory perception does a hotel or restaurant offer? Whether fragrances or noises – a hotel can of course use them to much greater advantage. In that respect, hotels will always stay that nuance ahead, quite simply because certain things are beyond the reach of private individuals. In terms of design, Airbnb can, of course, offer certain things that a hotel cannot – the deeply individual nature of private surroundings. A hotel cannot afford to offer the same. Less of a design factor, in addition, is the staff. How am I greeted? How do people interact on the emotional level? Ultimately, it is often all about how people interact with each other. Of course I can rent a great room or an apartment through Airbnb, but I am alone and first have to go on a tour of discovery: Where are things located? Where is the light switch? Where can I find other things? I believe there are boundaries that an Airbnb host cannot cross.

While we're on the subject of staff: Nowadays, there are hotels that recruit staff based on their type, which forms part of the story, and less on their conventional training …

Of course you have to be properly trained to know what is important in the hospitality industry. But when it comes to staff, the increasingly important aspect is definitely the role they are supposed to play. Take an Italian restaurant, for example. It's got to have a pizza chef. Depending on what position they occupy, it may be irrelevant what they did beforehand. As long as they are good at selling themselves and people come to watch pizzas being made. I believe this will become an increasingly important element in staff recruiting over the long term. Less focus on conventional training and more on a certain type for a certain concept – depending on how niche-specific the concepts become. A certain degree of proper training in the hotel and catering industries is still essential, of course.


On hotel design, Instagram and the future of the hospitality industry

Talking to Florian Kienast
Managing Director of interior design firm formwænde



A personal question: Where do you most like to stay when you’re travelling?

Depending on the trip, it can be all sorts of choices. If I want peace and quiet and to relax, I prefer small country hotels and I don't mind if they are far off the beaten track. But I might also go for something fabulous in the centre of a major city – where the design doesn't have to be outstanding as I am out and about all the time anyway. I like walking around, down side alleys and all, to inhale the spirit of a city. Given that I have three kids, I might sometimes go to a horse ranch or the coast. So everything really. Having said that, I rarely go back to hotels I know because I am curious and like to keep making new discoveries. Which means I have to live with the fact that some of my choices do not come up to my expectations. But that way, at least, you get to see what is possible, and what is going on.

In closing, I would like to hear your opinion on today's event …

Everything I have seen and heard so far has strengthened my conviction about the journey we want to take with hotel and restaurant owners: Tell a story, spotlight your unique identity rather than diluting it – we have seen a lot of good examples of that today.

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