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Designing for Aloft: Interview with Mike Duncalf


We are delighted to have interviewed, Mike Duncalf, Director at Studio Duncalf, who speaks to us about his design style, personal philosophies, and our project collaboration for Aloft London Excel hotel (part of Marriott International) in 2019 and, again, for the Docksider restaurant within the same hotel in 2021. Following a brand refresh, Mike and his team have reimagined the hotel interior to give it a relaxed, quirky feel, using our range of contemporary chairs and stools upholstered in the most vibrant fabrics. Chairs used include our Kube Low Stools, Jo Lounge Chairs, and Alissa Armchairs.

Having created an impressive career for yourself, would you say you have developed a personal philosophy?

Every project is different, listen to the brief, dig deeper, and never be afraid to challenge the client.

Is there anything more you can tell us about Studio Duncalf and its signature style?

We don't really have a signature style. Our creative approach is based on the brief that we get from the client. We analyse their brand, their customers, the opportunities and constraints of the space, and we create a solution which, we hope, satisfies all of these demands. Our creative output is the result of a sound and well-tested process, solid creative and technical skills, combined with clients who are passionate about their brands and the quality of the offer to their customers.


Aloft Excel is certainly an unusual space to be working with, what was the inspiration behind its design? 

Aloft has a very distinctive brand style. Aloft hotels around the world are well known for their playful, colourful vibe. The brand underwent a refresh shortly before we began working on the project to more vividly reflect the core values of Aloft which are: ‘Savvy, Sassy, Space’.

It was our job to implement the new brand values in the London location. While Aloft is a global brand, the client, Marriott Hotels, wants all Aloft hotels to reflect their location. As part of this, we commissioned local artist, Lukas Novotny, to create artwork reflecting some of the most iconic buildings of east London.

What advice would you give to designers who, up until now, have only worked within large studios, but are considering starting a new chapter on their own?

It goes without saying that there is a lot more to going it alone than ‘creative freedom’. There are many mundane things about running a business which will take up your time, but are incredibly important to the success of your business. Accounts, new business, promotion etc. are all vitally important. Make sure you don’t neglect these things. If you can’t do them or don’t want to do them, then bring someone else in to help.

Ultimately it is extremely rewarding to build good relationships with your clients and to work closely with them to help them bring their vision to life. It’s particularly gratifying when they come back to you with more projects.

What is the most rewarding part of running your own studio?

Delivering exciting projects for clients, working alongside great colleagues, and deciding that we all need to finish early, from time to time, and head to the pub for a few drinks!


How did the pandemic impact your work?

We were lucky that we had a number of good sized projects which began fairly soon before the lockdown. One was Bonnie & Wild, a 1,600sqm food market at the St James Centre in Edinburgh. Another was Next House, a lifestyle hotel in Copenhagen. Our clients had the foresight to continue these projects, and now that they are open, they seem to be benefitting from the pent up demand in the economy. 

What are venues and restaurateurs looking for in order to future-proof their dining & drink spaces? Where do you see hospitality design headed in the future?

It’s a fast moving sector always reinventing itself, so future proofing is not easy. I think the best operators understand that the longevity and success of their restaurants and bars ultimately relies on an exciting offer, great food, drinks, service, and an interior which is coherent with the brand.

Regarding future proofing we have always avoided designing projects to fit with a particular trend, as trends by their very nature expire after a while and your scheme could look very dated very quickly. I feel that it’s important to have the confidence in your own creativity and the strength of your process to be able to buck the trend and produce something truly unique. The design which we did for Alchemist in Copenhagen is totally unique and has for that reason become iconic.


What is your favourite site/magazine/blog for design inspiration?

We look far and wide for inspiration across other sectors of the market place, delving into history and deliberating over details and materials. We also travel widely as many of our projects are outside of the UK (and hopefully will do again soon.) We like to search out exciting new places and local gems on our travels, actually experiencing spaces and places is by far the best way to be inspired.

Why is London considered a major design hub? Do you agree?

London is and has always been a hot-bed of creativity. Historically attracting people from all over the world, who bring with them new ideas, influences, and perspectives which has created a rich creative tapestry. This manifests itself in all areas of the creative industry including design. The fact that we have an ethnically and culturally diverse population here in London means that London has perhaps the most diverse F&B scene in Europe. These diverse influences lead to great diversity in design in our sector. 

We have seen that Brexit has caused major labour shortages in all sorts of industries. We can only hope that it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on London’s creative life. 

Have you experienced demand for sustainable design?

Yes, sustainability is no longer an afterthought. It is integrated into the way that we approach projects on behalf of our clients. These days, there are some fantastic recycled materials on the market that we regularly specify on projects.

Thank you so much, Mike!

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More details on this project here: Docksider Restaurant, Aloft Hotel, London

If you've found this interview interesting. below are the link to other similar articles:

Topics: Interior design interviews, Designer Interview

By Charles Nicholson Charles Nicholson on 09/12/21 15:39
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