Natalia Miyar on what it takes to be a hotel designer
When The twenty-two, an opulent hotel and private club, opened in Grosvenor Square earlier this year [May 2022], it positively shimmered with glamour. Everything was due to a renowned architect Natalia Miyar, in what was his first hotel project. Here, exclusively for Forbes, she talks about what it means to design an iconic building.
As a first hotel project, did you approach this differently from a residential project?
Absolutely. I’ve always been interested in hotel design, but I wanted to wait for the right moment. When this opportunity finally presented itself, I knew immediately that this represented something completely unique. It was unlike any previous project, not least because of the scale of the proposal: a 31-bedroom hotel, restaurant and members’ club in one of London’s most prestigious locations. So, to make it manageable, I decided to treat it like the mansion it originally was – it was once a five-storey, Grade II listed family home – and gave the different spaces their own unique personalities.
I would say that the most similar aspect of the design of this hotel to that of a residential project was the element of collaboration between me and the owner Navid Mirtorabi. I felt like my creativity could be unleashed, while realizing Navid’s singular vision – of a hotel that would feel like a lavish haven for the creative and the curious, in the middle of Mayfair. I am very satisfied with what we have created.
What was your starting point?
The Twenty Two is a Grade II listed Edwardian building on Grosvenor Square, it is reminiscent of the buildings you find on Avenue de Montagne in Paris – that grandeur and elegance, with layers of history. The extraordinary exterior is the first impression customers have of the Twenty Two and it was important that this same awe-inspiring feeling continued inside. This is what inspired the design inspiration for the interiors: we chose to mix classic French details from the 18th and 19th centuries, but with a modern twist.
How would you sum up the interiors of The Twenty Two?
We wanted to highlight a sense of luxurious informality in the hotel space. We did this in large part thanks to the material choices and textures that then set the tone for the feel of the hotel. With the hotel carrying 18th century themes and Napoleonic influences throughout, materials and colors were a key element in showcasing these hallmarks of classic French decor combined with modern Mayfair.
What is your favorite room at the hotel?
Rooms are a modern take on glamorous 18th-century Parisian style — lots of rich palettes, plush draperies, patterned papers, and trimmings [decorative trimming] – each one is unique and decorated with refined custom-made furniture. I especially love the eaves bedrooms, where I’ve applied the same pattern to virtually every surface, for a contemporary take on classic French decor.
The rooms are rich in color and texture – can you tell us more about your inspiration?
It was important to me that we focused on materiality to help create Navid’s vision for the hotel. It caters to a relaxed and vibrant clientele, so you’ll find inviting rich velvets, piping and fringes, vintage crystal chandeliers and beveled mirrors’ plus we’ve opted for saturated color themes. By juxtaposing classic design elements with luxurious materials, like velvets and fringe in distinctive, bold colors, we imbued the space with exuberance and energy. I had so much fun shopping at the Paris flea market for vintage artwork, furniture, and other items to make each space a truly unique experience. The overall effect is fun and memorable without taking itself too seriously.
In terms of public spaces, each has its own personality – can you tell us more about your thinking behind some of these spaces?
Each room has been designed to create a sense of fluidity and cohesion throughout the hotel, so in this respect the approach to members-only areas has not changed. We viewed the project as an overall experience rather than isolated pieces, and chose to accentuate it with signature touches that can be seen throughout the hotel. Some areas of the Members Club are designed for evenings only, so although they serve a different purpose, it didn’t make sense to change the style or material palette. We wanted The Twenty Two experience to be universal for guests and members alike, and to allow everyone to benefit from the same level of bespoke detail, quality and style.
Were you inspired by other historic hotels or residences?
In the early design stages. I visited Malmaison Castlehome of Joséphine Bonaparte, and I also tried to Christian Diors opulent Parisian apartment. In particular, the lobby’s black and white cabochon marble floor was influenced by the classic elegance of the French Empire.
What are the “musts” of the hotel for you – in terms of design for The Twenty Two?
19th century woodwork is a classic detail that we have used throughout the hotel, to help reflect the grand nature of the exterior. Design signatures, such as poufs and club chairs, reappear in different spaces and help maintain that sense of cohesion between private and public spaces.
Tell us about some of the special bespoke pieces – wallpaper/fabrics/lighting – at the hotel?
Decorative arts specialist Fromental collaborated on the hand-painted wall coverings, which are framed by a decorative border in 19th century panels. The bedroom in the one-story Mews House is adorned from wall to ceiling with bespoke wallpaper by Iksell. There is fabric to match, in order to obtain a trompe l’oeil effect.
The Heritage Suite is inspired by exotic landscapes and distant lands, with walls covered in bespoke Mughal-inspired mosaic wallpaper, again by Iksell.
For the restaurant and private dining room, we used whimsical bespoke chandeliers in hand-blown blue glass cadets, designed in conjunction with a bespoke lighting specialist Tyson, a skilled British craftsman who made them in his workshop in Sussex. We also specially ordered trimmings by Samuel and son and Trimmings from Ile de France. Working with a selection of trusted decorating specialists and craftspeople has been both inspiring and fulfilling.
Finally, you have also launched a new collection of wallpapers with Fromental, which is inspired by your Cuban origins. Did Cuba influence you in your career as a designer?
My style is influenced by my environment – my interiors are grounded in a deep understanding of space from my architectural training – as well as my cultural heritage and an intuitive love of color, craftsmanship, artistry and of beauty. Color plays a key role in my work, it helps anchor a project with individual identity and a sense of place.
In Cuba, you can stroll and see old colonial buildings alongside houses with incredible colorful combinations. Then you have the art scene, the people and the food, all of which influence me when I’m there. I am an avid collector of Cuban art and my parents really drew me into it, so I grew up feeling inspired by the colors you see in the lush greenery, sky and ocean, the people.
The initial spark for the Ambia wallcovering collection was drawn from the famous Cuban painter and master of cubism and surrealism, Wifredo Lamits painting with striking colors, The Jungle. It is Lam’s best-known work and is widely revered as a critical painting of Latin American art history and 20th-century modernism. This collection is in a way a love letter to my Cuban heritage.