We were honoured to be invited recently by the Hilden Style Guide ) national awards (now rebranded as the Vision Style Awards) project organisers to participate in their winners’ magazine for 2017 with an interview on the theme of current and upcoming trends for the hospitality industry. Sarah’s Style Guide provides Answers to Questions from Editor Anna Gillespie are featured below and we hope provide an insight as to our projections for trends for the months ahead.

Is there a single theme you would pick out as being key in hospitality and restaurant design this year?

Celebrate individuality. Strive to be unique and embrace the authentic. Hotels and restaurants are looking to offer their customers bespoke experiences that are so special they’ll come back again for more – and the interior design and décor of the space they’re staying in or the places they’re dining in has an integral role to play. Globally, we are in a transitional time and with currency fluctuations, there is a very positive opportunity now for UK establishments to tap into and build a strong ‘staycations’ market. This means delivering hospitality experiences that rival the best in the world. So, how can good design be best utilised to lure the visitor back again and again? Indulge your guests and create intrigue that will keep the flame of interest burning and entice them back for more – for us, that means uniformity is out and individuality is King. Unique is the way forward.

What do you see emerging as the key trends over the next year?

Perhaps in search of our own slice of exotic escapism, designers are turning back to the natural world for inspiration. Natural materials, already a strong trend in 2016, continue their stampede – but there are some new beasts joining the pack and well worth looking out for. Whilst marble and slate are always popular staples for hotels and restaurants, we’ve been particularly excited to meet a new best friend, cork. Renewable and recyclable, it’s an eco-friendly, sustainable material that’s appearing on the scene in a host of different applications. Use it on walls to add warmth and life and it’s super practical too – it can absorb noise (perfect for hotel bedrooms) and from a practical angle, it can even double up as a giant pinboard for guests. The move to all things natural extends also to finishings and soft-furnishings. Tropicana meets Out of Africa is a trend that’s set to be hot this year as botanicals and animals feature strongly in décor. From fabrics and wallpapers to accessories and lighting, you’ll find plants and your favourite safari friends showing up all over the place. Sometimes you need to be brave to commit to that feature wall of bold plant prints or wandering wildlife, but used in the right context, it can really create the wow factor.

Trend Watch. Others to look out for: Rich bright jewel colours; fabrics that ooze texture including gorgeously opulent and sumptuous velvets; geometrics in all shapes and sizes; one-off artisan handmade or hand-woven pieces that can lend a more bespoke finish to a hotel or restaurant scheme; earthy metallics such as brass or bronze – farewell to copper, though rose gold is still very much in evidence.

What have clients been asking you for recently?

Clients have been seeking to commission designs that look visually stunning but at the same time help to add value to the overall guest or dining experience. In terms of our own Sarah Jane Nielsen interiors work, this has meant we have been required more than ever to ‘think smart’, going beyond the superficial design aesthetic to provide practical creative solutions – for example, in our award-winning hotel spa lodge project, our client required suites that would provide a full mind, body and soul experience and we were tasked with creating not only beautiful spaces, but ones that would also double up as bespoke spa treatment areas. And in our recent restaurant scheme we devised four distinct spaces each appealing to different tastes – but amongst the options, one area was to be easily transformed into a cinema for exclusive screenings or a board room for private business meetings, whilst another  area has been designed as a venue where talented chefs take centre stage to entertain their dining audiences with their cooking wizardry. Multi-tasking seems very much to be the request of the times – and it’s one that clearly pays. This approach has helped our clients achieve robust occupancy rates and bookings schedules and has resulted in glowing customer reviews also.

What advice do you have for establishments which are looking to refurbish their premises over the next 12 months?

Ensure you spend with consideration. If you have limited budget, don’t spread it too thinly. I would suggest completing one room to a high standard, rather than taking a piecemeal patchwork approach to several. Tempt the market with a peek at what’s to come and build upon that as funds allow. Go for longevity. Trends come and go, but the underlying design should always reflect the presentation and quality of your hospitality offering; it should be personal to you and your brand. Be clear about your objectives – are your guests looking for an in-vogue fashion statement or an aspirational version of a home away from home?  Whichever direction you go in, warmth, comfort and a welcoming reception are always paramount.

What design challenges do you think the hospitality sector faces over the next 12 months?

The uncertainty we are facing as a nation over Brexit is already having an impact on our costs – and we believe this economic insecurity is only likely to make things more challenging as we head forwards. Like many in our industry, we have a strong supplier base in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Holland and prices have already been adversely affected by the value of the pound against the Euro. This is something we will need to really watch carefully in 2017 and be ever mindful of ensuring we continue to deliver value to our clients. As designers, we need to strive to be even better than before; to be even more creative, to be super extra-innovative and to provide solutions that will wow our clients so that they can stand out from the crowd in a sometimes difficult marketplace. By pushing ourselves even harder on the design-front as a studio, we are continuing to attract great commissions and in fact we are busier than ever.

Do you have any words of wisdom for establishments looking to hire an interior design company?

With Instagram, Facebook and photo-led websites, a picture speaks a thousand words – and customers will often be influenced by the visuals they see, before they make their booking decision. That means your revenue can have a direct link with the way your establishment looks aesthetically and creating rooms that match your target market’s aspirations is a highly skilled job. So choose your designer carefully, do your homework first, check out testimonials, visit schemes they’ve completed if you can (not just how they look, but also how they function) and take the time to draw up a good brief. Underline practicalities, provide your guest feedback research and share your commercial objectives to help your designer maximise your investment for you. Most importantly, you’re paying for their expertise, so listen to their recommendations.

Lastly, which projects are you most proud of over the last year, that in your opinion epitomise the year’s trends?

Two recently completed projects – both for our long-standing client, the Gilpin Hotel in the Lake District – particularly stand out for us. As part of the hotel’s ongoing development programme, we were asked to design the interiors for five new spa lodges within the grounds and a Pan-Asian restaurant that was to be housed in a former stable block. I drew upon my own personal travel experiences to take guests on a tantalising global journey with inspiration based on collections of influences from Africa (Birdoswald); Morocco (Glannoventa); North Carolina (Maglona); Scandinavia (Voreda) and New York (Hardknott). Reflecting the appetite for wellness in bathroom design, for all five lodges, luxurious shower and steam rooms and our selection of unusual and interesting hand basins, floor and wall finishes add to their individuality and that Zen spa-feel. In Birdoswald, we had fun introducing a Tropicana theme that looms large with palm prints adorning a statement wall. Voreda continues the ever-popular Scandi-theme and features an abundance of the ‘naturals’ we’re seeing for 2017. Glannoventa comes to life with a clever eclectic mix of geometric prints in jewel colours, again another popular theme for the year ahead, whilst Maglona also benefits from geometric soft-furnishing. And Hardknott, whilst in a timeless, understated and calming white, channels a wall of a graffiti-style sky-line in keeping with the look-of-the-moment for art-inspired papers. Meanwhile, our work for the hotel’s new Gilpin Spice restaurant – inspired by the old East to West spice route – has a different aesthetic altogether. Separated into different zones, each according to its scheme, our China theme is bursting with vibrant shades of reds and yellows, whilst a Malaysian-influenced area also features brights in other palettes – and in India, a private dining space, a striking geometric paper steals the show.