In Conversation With: Olga Polizzi Behind Jeddah's Assila Hotel

BY Harper's Bazaar Interiors / Jun 7 2018 / 15:37 PM

The British hotelier, Director of Design and Deputy Chairman at Rocco Forte Hotels, talks about her art-filled hotels and how location is key to her design

In Conversation With: Olga Polizzi Behind Jeddah's Assila Hotel
A view of Assila Hotel's interior that is imbued with Arabian motifs and elegant luxury

Harper's Bazaar Interiors: What is your greatest source of inspiration?

Olga Polizzi: Italian and British cultures, which are my heritage, and from where I get most of my ideas.

HBI: You recently completed the design for Assila Hotel in Jeddah with Martin Brudnizki. How did you incorporate a traditional Arabian aesthetic into Rocco Forte's signature look and feel?

OP: For the Assila, we wanted to combine the cool feeling of a Middle Eastern interior with the warmth of European design, and so its interiors mix both contemporary and classical elements. We also wanted it to share a language with Jeddah and so included Arabic motifs within the design and carefully considered the furniture and layouts to ensure it was a sociable space and a destination for the city to enjoy.

Finally, it was important that the interiors reflected the elegant luxury synonymous with Rocco Forte, so the use of quality materials throughout the design was essential. The owners curated the art which is all from the locality and adds to the strong Arabic feel throughout. I love working with Martin’s team. We have worked closely with them on other projects including Villa Kennedy, our hotel in Frankfurt.

Assila Hotel

Deluxe room at Assila Hotel in Jeddah

HBI: How do you select the interiors for each hotel? Do you try and use local names from where the hotel is situated?

OP: We try to use local fabrics, artisans, suppliers and products as much as possible, as this gives a sense of place to the hotel. At the Assila in Jeddah, we used loose covers on sofas and chairs in keeping with the historic relaxed look of social areas. We also used iron work in many areas, and coloured lanterns and Arabic tiles, as well as rugs that we found in some of the markets in the city. We have over 2,000 pieces of art by local Saudi artists displayed throughout the hotel. It is an extensive collection of both traditional and contemporary art, which really gives a sense of the city of Jeddah. They are curated by the owner’s daughter Nora Alissa who is an artist in her own right.

HBI: How does the local culture influence the design of your hotel?

OP: The local culture and the location of the hotel are some of the most important influences of my work – sense of place is very important. For example, Berlin is a young, vibrant city – and this influenced our design of Hotel de Rome. We have used a lot of contemporary art, which reflects the many art galleries in the city, yet we have also kept some of the historic elements of the building that used to be the Dresdner bank.

The swimming pool and spa rooms are in the old vaults of the bank for example; this mixture of old and new mirrors the feel of the city. I also love to include books from local authors in our suites as it again brings in some cultural elements of the city. As Rudyard Kipling wrote much of the Jungle Book at Brown’s in London, we have placed all the Rudyard Kipling books in the Kipling Suite library together with some photographs of the author himself. We also have a framed hand-written letter that he penned and sent during a stay at Brown’s Hotel many years ago on the wall in the suite’s hall.

Assila Hotel Jeddah

An exterior view of Assila

HBI: What is the first thing you do when you start to design a place?

OP: I always look to the location of the hotel for inspiration so I start by walking around, getting to know the city I am working in and reading its history. Next, I go to space planning and proportion as these are important to get right.

HBI: What are some of your favourite Rocco Forte properties that you have worked on?  Please cite locations, venues, cities, the hotels themselves and what makes them unique to you?

OP: Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, London is one of my favourites as it is one of the first hotels we bought. It is the oldest hotel in London and has a very special atmosphere, and as it is very close to our offices, I get to go there so often. It has some of our best suites, and it is in the best location in London for shopping and galleries. I suppose my favourite hotel changes as it is always the last one I am working on - I get excited that I may be able to design the perfect property – Assila is currently at the top of my list.

Assila Hotel

Royal Suite at Assila

HBI: Which cities make your heart sing and why?

OP: I love Berlin, it’s one of my favourite cities. Hotel de Rome is in walking distance of Museum Island which is one of the most exciting museum complexes in the world – the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum in particular. There is so much to see there between the seven museums. The historic Reichstag is also a must-see, including the glass dome designed by Norman Foster. The restaurant in the dome, Kaefer’s, is worth trying. Munich is like the Grand Lady of Germany and definitely worth a visit. It has some beautiful, historic buildings and also lots of green space which makes it a city to visit all year around. Maximillian strasse is home to some of the most magnificent shops in Munich. Whenever I am visiting the Charles Hotel, I tend to go there to seek out accessories, and often end up finding lovely costume jewellery.
HBI: What do you do when you are not designing hotels for Rocco Forte?  Please can you give examples and provide imagery that supports this example (love of gardening, for instance).

OP: I garden, I walk, I listen to classical music – mainly opera. I live near Glyndebourne (home to the opera festival) and this gives me the chance to see and listen to some wonderful productions of opera.