With previous clients including Roka, Taj Luxury Hotels, Harrods, Galvin Restaurant and D&D London, DesignLSM is no stranger to curating immersive and exceptional hospitality experiences for today’s ever-expectant consumers.

Bringing three decades of design, branding and hospitality knowledge to some of the UK’s most exciting restaurant groups, DesignLSM has picked up a slew of awards over the years. We caught up with Managing Director Holly Hallam, and spoke about DesignLSM’s recent project, the hospitality world post-covid, and the company’s slew of award-winning designs. 

What is the story behind DesignLSM and when did you become MD?

DesignLSM was established in 1988 and is a multi-disciplined studio that specialises in strategy, branding, architecture, and interior design within the hospitality sector. We have a great wealth of experience, both operationally and strategically, as our team come from different backgrounds, bringing with them a broad range of industry insights.

Working with a diverse portfolio of world-class clients, ranging from independents to iconic industry leaders, we have a strong UK and international portfolio, expanding to Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, South East Asia and North America.

DesignLSM encourages a spirit of collaboration with our clients, colleagues and suppliers, creating lasting relationships which enable us to deliver engaging and memorable environments and experiences.

I became MD in 2019, leading our talented team, pushing our strategic thinking and creativity forward, whilst working on award-winning projects.

You’ve worked on some award-winning projects. Where does your inspiration come from?

Our inspiration comes from a number of places. First and foremost, it’s about understanding the brand DNA and the entire concept, being clear about the tone of voice and the client’s desired guest experience, as these form the foundation for design.

We get our inspiration from everywhere, including outside hospitality. We look at retail brands, architecture, fashion, and art for example, absorbing other cultures and watching how people behave and react to spaces.

The natural world also provides a source of inspiration for us. It’s always interesting to see how fauna and flora evolves and grows in unexpected places and shapes, looking at the colours, tones and textures of the natural world.

Inspiration is never far away.

Have you always had an eye for design?

Having a design-based family, experiencing and visiting different cultures and some amazing hospitality spaces led me to see how impactful a space is on influencing and creating one’s experience and memories, which drew me into the industry. Coupling this with a commercial background, working with brands and marketing, led me to think beyond the aesthetic and how a space has to work hard on many different levels in order to create a seamless flow, purpose and true sense of place.

What is your career background?

My background has been in film and marketing, with my roles typically focusing around understanding how to build an emotional connection with the end user, be that someone watching a film, someone buying a product or eating in a restaurant. It’s about adding value and connecting with people.

My experience in brand strategy and marketing allows me to see how design is intrinsically linked to customer experience and how it delivers functionality, as well as giving a strategic sense of purpose to the concept. We, as an agency, are very strategically driven and we see that in the results of the spaces that launch.

You are based in Brighton. Does the creativity and vibrancy of the city impact on your design?

Our geographical location impacts the team ethos of DesignLSM, not least because the team is able to play beach volleyball during the week

It is great to have our roots in a creative city which provides an inclusive environment. We have a great life balance here, with a varied natural environment, being so close to the sea and the rolling landscape of the South Downs, and its natural beauty. It creates a stunning and creative environment for our team with the benefit of being so close to London and Gatwick as an international gateway.

You’ve worked on some significant overseas projects. How did that start and how do you manage that from the south coast of England?

Our practice has been established for 30+yrs, specialising in hospitality, working with cross-sector concepts and brands – from food halls to hotels to fine and casual dining restaurants; which affords us a vast knowledge across our sector which is a desirable commodity.

Pre-Covid, our team were able to travel the world in person to make international site visits.. In these modern times, you can work from anywhere and during lockdown we were still able to work on multiple international projects within a restricted travel framework, through really clear communications and video calls, this has shaped the way we continue to work, as it has the world of business.

What’s next for DesignLSM?

We will continue to grow, to nurture our talent, and to work with entrepreneurial hospitality brands, developing our strategic expertise to create superior environments.

Strategic thinking and creativity will remain at the heart of the studio, whilst we continue to explore new materials and mediums through which we can create and inspire –  ultimately ensuring we continue to be a respected studio within the creative and hospitality industry.

In your eyes, what does the future look like in your industry?

Hospitality has always been an important fabric of our society but especially over the last year, it’s become more recognisable that hospitality spaces don’t just provide a function but act as a place that brings communities and people together. Without them, high streets aren’t the same, they lack energy and dynamism – these spaces provide an anchor or heart to a locality and help to form their identities

We will see hospitality design continue to evolve becoming more sensual and immersive.

Hospitality spaces will become further entwined in our daily lives; providing spaces to commune for work, socialisation, celebration etc. I think we will also start to see a greater blend of residential, commercial, leisure and hospitality spaces being curated within one place as our lifestyles and everyday priorities become more fluid.

How will sustainability continue to play a role in your industry?

It’s vitally important to look at the circular product lifecycle for materials and furniture. For everyone to be accountable for their sustainable approach and to play their part in ensuring we are responsible as possible.

From a design perspective, DesignLSM has done a vast piece of work around alternative materials that are sustainable, but being sustainable isn’t just materiality and limiting the impact on the earth, it is about how you can make your business better for both planet and people’s mental and physical health.

How has the pandemic affected the industry? Are people more cautious now and has Covid impacted on the design and functionality of spaces?

We identified quite early on that there are two distinctive types of people: those who are more cautious, and concerned about venturing out of their homes; and those who are more hedonistic in their approach, wanting to socialise, be in spaces that feel more immersive and distinctively different from their home environment.

Both of these factors need to be taken into consideration when designing a space. Looking at places that feel approachable, secure and nurturing and those concepts that may demand a more elaborate and dynamic environment – curating a multi-sensory engagement.

Space planning is key post Covid – ensuring secure flows around the property, appropriate distancing and flexibility – as well as looking at tactility of the materials used – purifying the atmosphere through planting etc.

What does a typical day as MD of DesignLSM look like for you?

There’s no such thing as a typical day for me! However, it may include meeting clients, both domestically and internationally; creative brainstorming with our designers; strategically planning for our clients and ourselves; reconnaissance trips to get inspiration and see new concepts and to observe how different people react to different environments; as well as guest speaking at national events including The Restaurant Show, Sleep & Eat, Top Drawer and Decorex, for example.

What has been your most exciting/favourite design project to date?

I don’t think I can pick a favourite design as they’re all unique, but the below projects stand out are:

– Heythrop Park Resort – a beautiful Grade II listed 440-acre estate in the Cotswolds. We have worked with Warner closely to strategically plan the property, looking at what opportunities Warner can provide their guests across the estate, as well as curating and implementing the interior design ready for a 2022 opening.

– We have also worked closely with Warner over the last year on their overarching F&B strategy. Providing strategic focus and creating their F&B principles, alongside the curation of new F&B concepts that will be rolled out across their estate.

– Jiji in Islington is a fantastic recent project. This is a new concept from the founders of Sumosan, blending Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine set within an energetic and vibrant space.  It was a delight to create a playful and social concept that now sits proudly within the family of this respected hospitality company.

For further information on DesignLSM, see here.