Behind the scenes with Nic Graham

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    Behind the scenes with Nic Graham

    Nic Graham heads up the successful studio, Nic Graham & Associates. He established the studio 1998. Graham’s career started in Melbourne with Inarc and Carr Design Group before he launched his own practice. Graham has received many accolades for his hotel projects including the W hotel in Hong Kong, QT Hotels in Sydney, Canberra, Gold Coast and most recently the Melbourne hotel. Born of his work for QT hotels is a bespoke range of products in partnership with Stellar Works. Living Edge sat down with Nic to get a sense of his creative approach to hospitality design.

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    News - 23.11.2016

    LE: You were responsible for the design of all of the public spaces within the QT in Melbourne. What was your overarching vision for the spaces? 

    Nic: When you start designing a hotel you always have something in the back of your mind and it’s based on not only the DNA of the hotel group but you always try and get a sense of space, a sense of place. 

    So you do a bit of a background story on the history of the area, the history of the city.  What are the features of the city that you want to embellish and tell a story about  - and incorporate in the design?

    In Melbourne, it was about fashion because the hotel is located in the old fashion precinct. We gleaned some background from street stories in Melbourne, so laneways, graffiti and also being at the Paris end of Collins street. So we’ve incorporated a little bit of a Parisian story as well. 

    Take us through your creative process when approaching designing the QT Hotel in Melbourne. What’s been the most fun?

    I think that the first 10% and the last 10% of any job are the most fun. In the first 10%, you’re getting the information, you’re learning an understanding about the constraints of the building. You’re working with the architect and obviously the owner. There’s a lot of number crunching. How many people? How many bums on seats? What are the logistical constraints of a space? And then you start developing a grand vision on where you want things to be, what are the features?  

    So in here it was the grand staircase, it was an open void, it was the contrast between the concrete, the polished and the smooth. So unlike the QT Sydney where it was an older building - a classical building with historical overtones, the QT Melbourne was a brand new build. 

    It sounds like you really love your job!

    I love all of it. I love my job. I think that because I am so hands on I love the sketching to start with and I particularly love designing the furniture. Designing the furniture and then placing the furniture. So for the last three weeks before opening I was here for long days, so for four days at a time, setting up the hotel and placing artwork. There are all sorts of things that we do - we’re up on ladders, we’re unpacking boxes, we’re styling. Seeing everything come together and then seeing the reaction of the team, the client, the architect and then everyone else involved in the process as well as the training of the staff at the time… just seeing their reaction to the space coming together, that’s probably the most satisfying part.

    At what stage of the creative process do you really start thinking about the furniture that is going to go into the spaces? 

    I think about 3D volume and building up the spaces in which I’m placing objects, I always wear two hats.  Because I'm a furniture designer as well, I always try and think about how I am going to extend that QT collection for Stella Works and Living Edge and I get excited about some of the new ideas that we are bringing together. 

    You have worked on myriad hotels, in your experience what would you say defines a good hotel? 

    I like all sorts of hotels. I like a good American 5 star experience. I like an Asian minimalist spa hotel. I like small boutique hotels. I think for me it’s about ticking all your sensibilities in some way. It’s got to invoke a memory or a sensibility. 

    In the QT Hotels we always deliberately try and mix old with new. So there’s always a bit of vintage, there’s always a neighbourhood story that we’re telling. So you can walk in and identify something that is bespoke, unusual and different. Maybe it’s just in the artwork that evokes a memory, that’s what I like.

    Tell us about a detail that people have really responded to in the QT Melbourne?

    There is a wall that we filled with vintage silver trays scoured from op shots. It cost us a thousand bucks, we had mirrors made to put in them, but the silvers trays were a wink to the French service of Pascale (QT Melbourne’s fine dining in-house restaurant). That was a way of filling a void on a large wall but the reactions that people have when they look at the trays and see the little embellishments and the engravings is quite special. They are all the sorts of things that our nanna’s used to have and serve sherry on Christmas Day on a sideboard. I really enjoy adding touches like that.

    Tell us more about the process for designing the bespoke pieces that are featured in the hotel and form part of the QT Stellar Works range. 

    When I am designing the bespoke pieces for the QT Hotel I’m thinking about how we can expand on the collection we have so far. Whether its sofas, tables or armchairs. I’m thinking about fabrics. This collection has is a vintage wink to it. You can see this in the details.  I’ve introduced comfortable shapes and unusual shapes. There is a common theme with the framework on legs and arm detailing - in particular, stud details and the metal work behind.  So it’s about finding the places for the little conversation areas of furniture. Nice backdrops also, but also having a common group or family of furniture that is linked with some key design elements.

    What’s your favourite piece in the Stellar Works QT range?

    Definitely the high back chairs. I think there is something really nice in having a high back in a public space. A hotel space where you want perhaps a little bit of privacy in and around your ears. The high-backed pieces we've developed are a really nice progression, having a low backed collection and then going to a high back. I think that it’s just a nice way of developing a furniture family.

    You’ve also developed some very bespoke pieces with some local street artists for the Melbourne QT. Can you tell us more about these?

    So we had a couple of chairs in our office that we got from a different project and we wanted to use them in the hotel. The colours weren’t quite working so we found some street artists out of Sydney. They were working for a friend of mine doing some big mural work and they were really keen to have some fun on the chairs. So the brief was to do some Parisian women in a style that is a wink to the sexiness of the QT brand and so they spent an afternoon in our office painting these beautiful women on these chairs. So the ideas were that you could sit in a chair and have a selfie or what not but in the end of the day, it was about adding another piece of art – another focus or discussion piece in the hotel. 

    What do you personally see as the role of furniture in defining a space?

    Well everyone is going to have a different opinion on that. My point of view is that I look for a balance in colour, texture. I look for a balance in height –something high, something low. I look for those moments in a public space where you can create some intimacy.  So some quiet areas, some low comfortable areas, some areas that can be flexible as well. So areas that can be easily moved, so when it gets busy downstairs, you need to be able to move the furniture out of the way quickly so it needs to be light and easily moved or stacked.  

    So when you are doing a lobby, in the back of your mind as a designer you’re not looking for a hero shot necessarily but I tend to design something in elevation. It's all about proportion. It just brings back those defined skills that you had as a student. It’s a combination of creating a balance while also taking into account all those human condition issues of people wanting to get away and be quiet but be part of the action as well. People who want to be observers but they want to be a little bit voyeuristic about what is going on in a hotel. People who are travellers who get tired of sitting in a room on their own so they want to come down and be present – be part of it – bit they still want to be private as well. 

    How did you move into industrial (furniture) design?

    I am blessed as a designer to have the opportunity to design all of the furniture in the hotel. When I was starting out in my career there was a tendency in Australia for everything to come out of a catalogue, because manufacturing in Australia was just too cost prohibitive. 

    It has only really in the last 10 years, that the opportunity has really opened utilising the manufacturing skills of our Asian neighbours. The reality is the production techniques here in Australia were pretty expensive. There is still some phenomenal product being produced here in Australia so we use phenomenal Australian artisans for lighting and furniture but having this connection for me with Stella Works just meant that I was able to provide designs that have very high-quality materiality combined with high-level craftsmanship. 

    What is the DNA of the QT Hotel brand? 

    Since we did the first one on the Gold Coast the core values have remained the same. It’s always been about finding something local – and that’s not a new idea by any means. There are a lot of hotel companies around the world that are doing that but finding a sense of humour in it, not being afraid of having a flirtatiousness or sexiness to it and definitely mixing the vintage with the new – whether it be the photography or furniture or artefacts –that is really at core of the QT Hotel brand. 

    We have collected a huge number of artifacts from junk shops, from Salvation Army, from roadside collections. Pieces that evoke memory and stories we have put into the restaurants on the shelves, we have put on the walls; we have put in all sorts of areas of the various hotels. That has developed a richness and layering within the property and we have been blessed by having a client who supports us in that. Who really believes that it’s the finishing off details of a job that make the brand. 

    So the DNA of the QT brand would be about fashion, it’s about music. It’s about film and arts culture. It’s about supporting the local community. It’s about supporting local artists - young up and coming artists. We have the privilege of working with many of those. We also do, where we can, support other Australian designers in furniture, in lighting, artwork, homewares, and cutlery – all sorts of things. We try and use local where we can. 

    How can you summarise a QT Melbourne experience? 

    I think just following social media and seeing what people are saying – everyone loves taking a selfie but they are taking it in all sorts of different areas that I didn’t expect. When you travel the world and come across a really interesting space, be it a hotel or public space, for me, it’s about that feeling of warmth or welcome. A huge part of that is the staff. They are a really big part of hotel experience. 

    In terms of spaces - they look polished and fashion forward. But also there is a level of detail of familiarity. So there are books, there is art, there are flowers. There are comfortable places to sit. There are places that you want to be seen. There are areas where you want to be quiet.  

    People are excited by the little surprises they find. Not only walking up the grand stair, which is an old notion of a traditional hotel but then going into spaces like the bathrooms – where we’ve used over-the-top wallpaper on the walls and on the ceilings. 

    I enjoy seeing people’s reactions to the hotel. At QT Melbourne everywhere you turn there is something new to look at. Each time guests return there is something new that they didn’t notice before. Again that’s what we work really hard on with these properties - the inspired details. On every level, in every area, there is a different experience, every corner you turn there is a different experience.

    Products featured in this news

    QT Chillax Low Chair in Grey Stellar Works
    Stellar Works QT Chillax Low Chair 02
    QT Chair with Cupholder Stellar Works
    Stellar Works QT Chair With Cupholder 01
    QT Chair Stellar Works
    Stellar Works QT Chair 01
    QT Coffee Table Large Stellar Works
    Stellar Works QT Coffee Table Large 01
    QT Coffee Table Small Stellar Works
    Stellar Works QT Coffee Table Small 02
    QT Chillax Low Chair in Orange Stellar Works
    Stellar Works QT Chillax Low Chair 01

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