Title: A battle between appearance, practicality and cost
Pages: 38 - 39
Author: David Wainwright
Text: A battle between appearance, practicality and cost
Sir Geoffrey rowther,interviewed by David Wainwright,talks about interior design and architecture, and the part they play in the policies of 'The Economist' and Trust Houses. Former editor and now chairman of The Economist, Sir Geoffrey Crowther is also chairman of Trust Houses, the largest British hotel group, now in the midst of a £2 million-ayear modernisation programme. He is therefore ultimately responsible for one of the most remarkable recent buildings in London, and for the design of more than 200 of the country's hotels in London and the provinces. "I'd hesitate to claim any credit for the design policy of The Economist or Trust Houses," he says. "All I've done is to encourage others. As far as The Economist building is concerned, the person primarily responsible is the managing director, Peter Dallas-Smith. I backed him up.
"One design decision we did make was that we wouldn't go to a fashionable architect, because I believe that as soon as an architect becomes fashionable he becomes bad. You don't in fact get him, you get a junior in his office. we used some ingenuity to interpret the RIBA competition rules - which are tilted in favour of the profession and against the client - so that we got the architect we wanted. I don't believe architects should be allowed to do interior design."
The chairman's eyrie on the fourteenth floor of The Economist building is subtly different from the rest of the building. That is all brushed aluminium, glass, cream marble, white paint and metal furniture. The chairman's room is a translation of these tones into wood and leather. Sir Geoffrey sits behind a plain desk in a high-backed swivel-and-tilt chair of black leather. "I found it in New York: I couldn't get a high back in this country."The other chairs are examples of modern Scandinavian design, in teak and cream leather. These, with the fawn grass-paper on the walls, and the pictures - a Hichens, a Christopher Wood, a Montreal painter called John Little - are Sir Geoffrey's personal taste. He also has his own colour photographs of his house in Sardinia. He carries his belief in the separate character of interior design and architecture into practice in the organisation of he Trust Houses modernisation programme. "We have two departments there, architecture and decor. Design in hotels is a three-cornered battle between appearance, practicality and cost; and frankly we pay attention to appearance when the other two have been satisfied. Our architect's and decor departments are bullied unmercifully on cost.
"We have standardised throughout the group on modern cutlery and ancillary furnishings, but you can't just throw away the old and replace it before it's worn out. So when replacements are needed, we feed in the new designs.
"We have not been happy with our experience of outside designers for the hotels,and now we do the best we can within the company-for hotel modernisation, decoration, and graphics. The new symbol for Trust Houses, though designed outside, was based on a detailed specification from within the company."
The policy of Trust Houses, which has inherited a number of picturesque and often historic old inns which are of their nature difficult- if not impossible - to modernise, is to retain the traditional character of the main building, putting in new services as far as possible and adding modern wings. These contain bedroom-and-bathroom suites and have a high standard of functional and decorative design. Usually they are linked with the older parts of the buildings by the use of traditional materials, but the detailing of windows, and the interior furnishings, are scrupulously modern. Though the different regions have some autonomy in the choice of design, the company is moving towards a series of standard patterns for carpets and curtains which will ultimately form a basic house style of interior decoration, and also provide economies by centralised buying.
Sir Geoffrey, as an economist, likes things to work. Outside his Roehampton home, the street number is painted on the gatepost 12 inches from the ground, where headlamps catch it at night. Five years ago, he and his American wife added a single-storey brick barn of a room to the original Lutyens-style house.
"I like things to have grace," he said. "I can't remember any visual training in my youth (Leeds Grammar School, Oundle, Cambridge). Most of my design impressions were formed in the 'thirties. I was impressed by the work of Frank Pick at London Transport, and by the Bauhaus. The things they did in architecture and design had grace, they were simple and elegant. Today so much is simple and brutal. I don't like brutalism."