Olga Polizzi rocks the boat in Rocco Forte Hotel

Rocco n Roll


A luxuriant stay at a Rocco Forte hotel wouldn’t be nearly as special without the attentive hand of world-renowned interior designer and hotelier, Olga Polizzi. Luke Thomas meets her to find out what common-sense design is all about

How do you differentiate between designing for a hotel and a home?

You can take your time with a home – you can add to it in stages and enjoy the free-flow process. With a hotel room, the results are much more immediate.

You also have to take into account various practical elements – light colours aren’t ideal and the material used must be beautiful of course, but resilient too. The room has, in effect, to be future proofed to be robust enough to last.

Style wise, we try to make our rooms homely, but also inviting. We mix old and new. They’re not ultra-modern – more classically modern.

I always try to incorporate something fun and unique as well. I spend a lot of time at the Battersea Antiques Fair looking for one-off pieces.

Do you have a favourite hotel design?

The Hotel De Rome in Berlin springs to mind. I especially love it because it’s a mixture of two different concepts – I worked with the most wonderful architect, Tommaso Ziffer. It’s brash, bold and fun – it really suits the Berlin vibe.

Hotel Amigo in Brussels is another very special place. It’s very different to the Hotel De Rome, softer, more ladylike yet quintessentially classic. I’m a huge fan of Brussels. It’s such a wonderful city - easy to get around and the perfect place for antique hunting.

I also have to mention my own lovely boutique hotel near St Mawes in Cornwall. It’s all mine. I’ve had complete autonomy when designing it – to do whatever I like. I’m constantly finding stunning new things to put into it – I’m a bit of a buyaholic.

How has your style evolved over the years?

It’s still very much evolving. I look at everything new that comes along, whatever it may be. It’s always worth considering. The interior design world is rather like the fashion industry, just at a slower pace.

I feel we’ve come out of an era where everything was pared back and minimalist. Now we’re being hit with lots of vibrant colours and bold patterns. It’s quite invigorating.

One key aspect of hotel design is that you can’t update it that frequently. I’d say we remodel our rooms every ten years or so.

Styles change so quickly that it’s not always about keeping up with them. Change can come without you even noticing it.

Who is your biggest influence?

I have always loved Luis Barragán – a Mexican Architect from the 50s. He was so ahead of his time. He was working brilliantly with clean lines and bright colours long before everyone else. I also love staying at Kit Kemp’s hotels. She has such a talent for using patterns in her work.

Does your work at Rocco Forte influence the design of your own home?

I work almost every day, so I don’t have a great deal of time to work on my own home as a project per se, but influences are all around to tap into when the opportunity arises.

One example is my bathroom. At Rocco Forte we always make sure that our bathrooms have the space for personal items and for at least one chair. Practicality prevails, but then so does out-and-out glamour.

What’s your favourite city from a design perspective?

I’d have to say Rome or New York. I love Rome because you can find beauty all over the city. Everywhere you look there’s something enchanting to savour, not to mention the amazing food and fabulous shopping.

New York engenders similar feelings but in a contemporary way. It has an energy like nowhere else. I always feel like I’ve learnt something new every time I go.

Any trends you’re keeping an eye on?

Trends always reappear. They won’t necessarily be the same, they’ll be influenced by an older version in some way. Take fashion for example, some of the new styles of trousers may look similar to bell bottoms, but we’re certainly not calling them bell bottoms.

I think we’re seeing increasingly bolder styles with a luxurious touch – velvets, bright colours, reds and royal blues. I also think that the art of crafts is coming to the fore – it’s wonderful to see more and more people making beautiful, unique products and accessories.

What’s next for Rocco Forte?

We’ve a couple of wonderful new hotels opening in Italy that we’re incredibly excited about. The Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia has been a whirlwind, as we’ve only had six months to work on it after taking it over. It initially had 30 rooms. We added a further 10 and then redesigned the original 30 rooms. It’s been an amazing challenge ensuring that the remodelled property blends with the surrounding countryside.

Opening late this spring, the Hotel De La Ville is a stunning residence located at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome with 100 rooms and a wonderful courtyard. We’ve designed it in the Grand Tour style with a contemporary flourish.

We’ve several more projects in the offing including a hotel in Shanghai. We’ll also be updating the rooms of The Balmoral in Edinburgh.

Which style trend do you wish you could bring back?

I don’t think I would bring a style back, but my little hotel, Hotel Endsleigh, in the Tamar Valley belonged to the Duke of Bedford and was built by him in the 1820s. I love to buy furniture for it – I adore that period.

How do you stay responsive to guests changing needs?

We have wonderful managers at each of our hotels who always take the time to speak to guests and then relay any feedback to us. A good example is the menu offering in our restaurants – people are much more health conscious these days and we reflect that by providing many more healthy options as well as a greater variety of vegetarian dishes.

We’ve found through years of experience that guests love to be able to read. We’ve swapped out tired old lamps for state-of-the-art reading lights in most of our rooms. I also always try to make sure that we have a selection of books available. Usually short stories or poetry, something quick and easy to devour – PG Woodhouse is a particular favourite.

A hotel room can be designed in 100 different ways, but it’s important to pick a vision and run with it – you have to be brave. I love the idea that a guest can wake up in their hotel room in Brussels and instantly know where they are because of the décor. We try to use local artisans wherever we can. That way authentic design always takes centre stage.


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