View all LONDON CREATORS in Issue L

An Interview with Ariane Steinbeck, RPW Design

On a very typical grey and breezy London afternoon, we made our way into the heart of London’s busy financial district, where RPW Design Studio resides. We were invited into the wonderful space, contrasting modern, elegant design with creative chaos, to visit interior design guru, Ariane Steinbeck. Her vibrant energy flooded the room as soon as she walked in, immediately spreading a positive and happy atmosphere. Her captivating, infectious, and genuine laughter echoed within the walls and immediately brought sunshine to the distinctively gloomy London weather. Ariane Steinbeck gave us an exclusive insight into the world of interior design and told us about her journey toward her passion. She explored the definition of luxury and just how essential good design is for instilling a happy vibe and setting the groundwork for excellent service in a glamorous hotel. 

Tell us a little about your career before taking on the role of Managing Director at RPW Design, have you always been passionate about interior design? 
I’ve been passionate about all types of design from a very young age but firmly steered into the hotel business because of my parents, who weren’t even in it.  At Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, I was introduced to hotel design and have never looked back.  Upon graduation, I could not find a job in the field that paid me enough to survive, so I was thrust into an entrepreneurship!  I was very fortunate to have met some friends at Cornell with whom I started a design and consultancy company, specialising in hotels.  We grew that company from nothing to close to 100 employees with offices around the world in the span of two decades.
What attracted you to RPW design?
First of all, I thought RPW was the right size...under 20 people. I have no ambition to grow beyond that number.  I strongly believe that smaller is better, when it comes to a design firm—where it is ultimately the senior leadership that clients buy into.  Even though I was a partner at my previous firm, I had only limited input about what the “vision” was and our respective visions were becoming quite divergent over the years.  It was the right time for me to leave the company and take on the new challenge of shepherding RPW design into the future. London was another city I imagined I would very much like working and living in, after close to 10 years of spending my life in Hong Kong.  Jan Wilson, the founder of RPW and I met on a business trip and she confided that she was looking for a successor, the timing could not have been more fortuitous.

What has been the most creative project you have worked on so far? Do you have a dream hotel you would love to get your hands on in the future?
Most creative project?  That depends how you define creativity; For me, the definition means to do the utmost possible, that includes the best quality and most sensible choices for the budget and timescale you are given.  To me, that is true creativity. Just picking a bunch of beautiful things and putting them together in a room?  Not so creative, in my opinion. A dream project would be to design a restaurant with rooms attached in a fantastic European or Asian location—a true hedonistic destination, in a similar vein to the small collection of restaurants ‘The Pig’ - hospitality hardly gets any better than that!
In what way does London inspire your creativity? 
I love the fact that London is so international, sophisticated, vibrant, and so connected.  Arts and Design are on a very high level here and it helps keeping you on your toes!
Do you consider the surroundings when planning your interior designs, aesthetically and ethically?
Of course, you have to relate to your surroundings and having a certain sense of place is a must.  However, hotels aren’t just for visitors, they should also appeal to a local clientele.  Therefore, I feel that it is imperative a hotel reflects the aspirations of the well-travelled, well-informed guest and not simply pander to the local for the sake of creating a “local” experience-which is never that local anyway.  I’m experiencing this in Eastern Europe in particular, where guests simply desire a space that is chic and international in their city.

How do you feel luxury hospitality will change in the future?
I hope it won’t change much.  Good old fashioned hospitality is always in style!  Some of the gimmicks currently being experimented with are unlikely to last and great service combined with soothing design and detailing is always a timeless approach.
What does luxury mean to you? And how does this influence your vision and your work with RPW Design?  
Luxury for me is very strongly tied to a high level of service that is not obsequious.  At a certain level, good design is expected, and this is absolutely correct.  It is the element of service that makes a simple experience become a memorable one. I strongly believe, the outcome of any project is better when we get to know the operations team and can inspire them with the possibilities.  It’s never just the designer or the operator individually, it takes both teams working collaboratively together for the ultimate success
Ariane Steinbeck

Interview by Jade McSorley

Introduction by Constanze Pilger

Portraits by Curtis Gibson