Truly great design is more than just Instagram-worthy moments, hospitality consultant Florian Sander tells Hong Xinyi
It is barely 11am when we step out for this photo shoot, but the sunlight washing over us already has the harsh potency of high-noon heat. Welcome to yet another
scorching day in Singapore—weather that is all too common here, and something that shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to design, says hospitality expert Florian Sander.
Take, for example, KeSa House, the 60-room flexible-living concept along Keong Saik Road that opens this month. Back when this row of 10 conservation shophouses housed the Naumi Liora hotel, it was painted a warm shade of coral. Florian, whose iThink Consulting Group worked on KeSa House for developer 8M Real Estate, decided to go a different way. “Singapore is very bright, and I wanted to give people a refreshing feel using colours,” he explains enthusiastically. The resulting aquamarine exteriors and grey walkway tiles are inspired by the hues of the Mediterranean coast, “and these are colours that are modern but also classic. They have an elegance that makes you feel you are
encountering something of a certain calibre”.
By night, artfully placed spotlights along the walkway create an even more striking atmosphere. “It feels like you’re in a movie when you stroll down this walkway,” is how Florian puts it. Such elements help to forge a sense of emotional connection, and that, he believes, is the key to truly great design. “Very often, spaces are designed in a way that invite customers to be spectators, with elements that attract their attention. But that can also mean you can’t focus on the experience you’re supposed to be having in that space, or that you don’t feel comfortable using it. I want customers to be active participants, to be able relate to the space they’re in, so they can create memories there.”
There is a simple gauge for whether he has managed to accomplish this. “If we design a restaurant, and when I walk in after it opens, it’s filled with people laughing and engaging with one another, then I know we’ve done a great job. If everything’s too stiff, or you feel irritated because the acoustics or lighting is not quite right—those are not projects we want to be associated with.”
Born in Munich, Germany, Florian’s career has been largely forged in Asia. He developed Bangkok’s La Scala and Cy’an restaurants, then served as food and beverage director for the prestigious Hong Kong Jockey Club before becoming vice president and head of hospitality at Goldman Sachs Asia. “The end of that job was not glorious,” he says candidly. “I organised many events during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and met the movers and shakers of the world. Three months later, the global financial crisis hit, and I was out of a job. It totally sucked, but it did give me some time to reflect.”
He decided the cut-throat world of banking was not for him and launched iThink to offer turnkey hospitality solutions from concept development to project management. Two years ago, he and his wife decided to move here from Hong Kong for the sake of their two young children, as Singapore had better air quality.
Hong Kong has more variety in its hospitality and lifestyle offerings, he says when we ask how his new home compares with his former one. Being closer to China, which is still the world’s factory for now, Hong Kong also has access to a greater variety of materials, not to mention more professional contractors. “At the same time, I love that people in Singapore are very friendly,” Florian says. “It’s very easy to connect, and people don’t always have an agenda, they just want to hang out.”
His affinity for forging authentic connections is particularly handy since he is on the membership advisory committee of Soho House in Singapore. The members’ club is actively looking for a location here, Florian shares. “Soho House is a wonderfully diverse place where creativity and personality take precedence over social standing and financial wealth. Passionate people with a creative soul and an unconventional lifestyle should find a home with Soho House. We are recruiting people we feel will be good members, and it’s been really fun.”