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Robert Louey: On Hospitality & Home

Tzelan co-founder and brand ambassador, Robert Louey, speaks about the value of authenticity and experience in today’s hospitality industry.


“‘Standards’ would be the word that laid the foundation for what would become an unintentional homogenization of Hotels abroad a wide spectrum of development in countries worldwide,” Robert Louey, the brand ambassador of Tzelan and founder of Robert Louey design, tells us of an earlier, global shift in the hospitality industry towards an almost uniform, monotonous feel. “Standards offered a growing population of both business and leisure travelers the consistency of quality they were seeking,” he says, which was not without its consequence. “The downsides were a loss of the sense of place, a loss of the unique cultural enrichments that make travel so inspiring.”

As one of the industry’s most celebrated branding gurus whose portfolio includes the creation of numerous identities for Rosewood, Park Hyatt, and Andaz hotels among other award-winning properties, Louey has been privy to the overarching movements that have shaped the global hospitality scene to date. “Following two decades of rampant expansion and development of major Hotel brands up until the pre-2008 financial crisis, skylines across continents became hauntingly similar,” he explains, “driven by the commonality of consistent standards, rooms across the globe became what we now call ‘cookie cutter’.”

Its saving grace, as Louey sees it, was the growth of a diverging, counter cultural trend among independent boutique hotels that was later adopted by larger hotel chains. “The world began to question the values and definitions of comfort and luxury,” he reveals, “guests began looking for the greater value of authenticity and experience which was not driven exclusively by expense.”

Here, we speak with Louey on this continued upturn, whereby hotels around the world are seeking to adopt newly defined standards of design and living, in which the notion of hospitality as home (also Tzelan’s raison d’être) is at its very center.

What do you think are the qualities, aesthetics and things that comprise a home? 

As is said, home is not a place. It is an emotion. It is the hearth and the heart, where our lives originate from, where one always returns for warmth and comfort. The feeling of home is a history of the humanity, of people, of family, of the ones we love and who love us back…comfort, and the feeling that somehow in this crazy, unpredictable world, coming home, is the infinite constant, where everything will be, just as you left it. Home is part of you, intangible, effortless and always imperceptibly present. Home is where one always returns to. The beginning and end of one’s every day and long journeys. The feeling of home is driven by powerful emotions and memories. Home needs no translation. It is an infinitely human emotion. It transcends time, language, country, culture and custom. The things we surround ourselves with, objects personal, collected through life, are ciphers, emotional bookmarks along our journey. Romance, inspiration, discovery, wonderment and beauty represent meaning and extraordinary moments of curating a life.

Do you think it’s possible to actually recreate or replicate that intangible feeling of “being at home” in an environment that in actual effect, is not?

To create the feeling of home, in a described commercial environment, requires unimaginable talent, sensitivity and a bit of magic making. It is a distinctive passion, an ability to collect and curate every single item which best defines the unique and authentic emotion of the experience. Innumerable hours are spent in the choosing of what would be collected items found in one’s own home. Creating unforgettable emotions of comfort and well being in a well planned, warm and residential experience which feels authentic, enriching and culturally relevant for the country it resides in. All the while avoiding crossing the fine line of a staged set and a themed space. This is the goal of many and the mastery of only a handful in the design and development industry today. A richness of experience. A wealth of inspiration. Emotions which make lasting memories and those intangible, yet definable moments of the feeling of home.

Who then best represents that new breed of person (whether traveler or consumer) who is after that exceptional experience of the home as hotel?

Anyone who is human and alive. It is all of us. The 21st century will be the century of the global citizen. We are now all connected, continent to continent, by technology. Life, however, is not about emails, it is about relationships and relationships will be pursued more than ever with a plane ride, a hotel and a gathering of people. While people travel further and more often from home it will be more important than ever to create residential, home-like environments and experiences throughout both the travel and the hospitality industry.

Who do you think—if anyone—is most resistant tot he concept?

It is said that ‘good design is good business’. I can not see who in the business of hospitality development would be resistant to the concept, as even simple service sectors in hotel development are creating ‘home like’ operations and ‘home like’ design and décor and experiences. A cold un-hospitable environment garners little revenue. In the age of the consumer, it is not a demand I feel, which will go away anytime soon, or ever. The market goes where the consumer wishes and the true innovators will deliver levels of these experiences which the consumer has not yet even thought or dreamed of.  Innovation will redefine the very definition of hotel, home and hospitality. Creative, intelligent, sustainable development in the future has an unimaginable brilliance of remarkable possibilities.

What are the properties around the world (whether you helped brand them or not) that successfully capture the hotel as home experience and aesthetic?

Certainly one of the first more residential hotel design concepts was the Park Hyatt Tokyo, followed by the Park Hyatt Shanghai whose concept was distinctly the ‘Chinese Scholar’s Mountain Home’. Most recently, the Rosewood London, Virtuoso’s Hotel of the Year, expresses the ideal of the home-hotel with an exquisite and exceptional attention to detail.

Lastly, where is it that you feel most at home?

As a native New Yorker, residing in both Santa Monica and New York City, who is on the road more than 200 plus days a year, I find, amongst our friends and colleagues, over the past decade, that we have become the norm rather than the exception. I travel with a number of small and special personal items, which I set up in every room to give myself a sense of familiarity and consistency of place. I like, whenever possible, having the same room in each city and I find for me, I feel at most at home in the cities where I have friends and loved ones. Hospitality and the craft of being hospitable is a large part of feeling at home…how song goes…‘where everybody knows your name’. For me, it is the relationships that drive the emotion of home. Eating at our most familiar places with those we came to visit and work with, homey, authentic and simple rituals which gives one a constant and consistent, comfort of, well, being… home.


//TFQ Issue 1 – Winter 2014/2015