The best way to explore a hotel is by taking a stroll through the long corridors, peering into the bar, lounges, and different restaurants to marvel at the décor.
At the recently-reopened Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, the assortment of colour, patterns, and accessories that have brought the hotel back to life is the creativity and sweat of Tatiana Combs.
Ms Combs owns an interior design company in Nairobi, which she founded in 2014. Over the years, she has breathed new life into old hotels and given character to new ones.
Part of her creativity is on the walls and rooms of all the three Fairmont properties in Kenya; The Fairmont Mara Safari Club, the Fairmont The Norfolk, in Nairobi, and now The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club.
“I’m an architect by training and after many years, one of the offices I worked for had an interiors department, so I was introduced to interior design that way,” she says.
She loves designing hotels.
“I love that you can be playful and at the same time you are creating unique experiences. Design helps enhance hotel experiences,” she says.
“Hospitality design pushes you as a designer beyond your comfort zone and helps you grow your design aesthetics,” she adds.
Born and raised in Kenya, she says designing interiors is about storytelling and hotels are probably the most complicated projects to work on, especially if you are also doing the spa and wellness space, restaurants, guest rooms, and the lobby.
Weaving a story
On designing the Nanyuki-based hotel, she says it is a beautiful property that there was already good architecture and a story to work with.
"My job was really to weave the story through the softer design elements so that guests can pick up on it in subtle ways. One of the key elements that we worked on, was that guests feel at home at Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, and not that they are just staying at another hotel,” she says.
When doing hotel reception desks, she says she always asks herself, “How can we make people feel invited and comfortable and relaxed, even if it’s a very high-end, fancy hotel?”
The hotel was closed for two years.
“Two years sounds like a lot, but there was a lot of work going on in the background when the doors closed. Teams discussing areas to improve on, touchpoints we can grow on, and what the hotel has to offer.”
To work on the hotel, Ms Combs says the design team also had to ask themselves “What’s the hotel of tomorrow?”
“There was a lot of tapestry, embroidery and we reintroduced it in a much more contemporary way. We also changed to colour to create warmth. It was very earthy before and now this place is full of colour. You are at the foothills of the mountain, there is this beautiful forest, there is the bird life, and to me it’s colourful,” she says.
They also imported peacocks to add colour and spark conversations. She concludes that architecture and interior design should blend.
“You want a customer to be intrigued. If a customer enters a hotel and is put off by its appearance, it doesn’t matter how good the service or outdoors are.”
Does she advise a homeowner to borrow a hotel design and replicate it in a bedroom or living room?
“Your home should be a reflection of who you are, what experiences you have enjoyed, rather than a copy of some design that you have seen somewhere. I also feel that we should allow ourselves the freedom to be bold and experiment rather than try to recreate an Instagram-perfect home,” she says, adding, “ At the end of the day, just as the dress you wear today won’t be the only and last one you ever wear, neither does home’s interior need to be."