Wanda Hotels & Resorts is rapidly expanding across China and the globe, and keeping a sense of unity within its walls is a South Korean born designer with a penchant for creating interiors that blend culture with luxury and function. New York-based D.B. Kim, former vice president at the Wanda Hotel Design & Research Institute and currently a project manager in the U.S., has worked on numerous projects for Wang Jianlin’s hotel group, including Wanda Reign Chengdu, Wanda Vista Xishuangbanna, and many others.
D.B. Kim previously worked out of Beijing after almost 25 years of design experience in the United States, giving him an undoubtedly international perspective when it comes high-end properties. As Chinese consumers increasingly show interest in not only travel, but in design and lifestyle, the award-winning designer is making strides in translating his own globetrotting experiences into region-friendly hotel interiors that speak to China’s jetsetters.
Jing Daily caught up with Kim, who will be speaking at Design Shanghai, which takes place from March 8 to 11 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center. He shared with us what it’s like to design for China’s leading luxury hotel group and what exactly Chinese travelers are looking for in hotel room aesthetics.
Wanda Hotels prides itself on creating spaces that are traditionally Chinese. Can you tell me more about that process in creating hotel interiors that evoke this feeling? What does “traditionally Chinese” mean in this sense?
Wanda Hotels prides itself on creating spaces that provide a sense of Chinese culture—hotels that are highly luxurious and rich in design details with regionally popular natural materials. My projects are located throughout China and the designs are inspired from mostly regional culture and arts. Additionally, we rely on the beauty of regional landscapes. For most of our design team members, the design process has been highly educational as they have learned about the art history of each region.
Our designs can be viewed as repeating the traditions, but I strongly believe that our executions are contemporary and timeless. I feel it is important to provide traditionally Chinese expressions but also apply a modern spin on them. I believe Chinese traditions are complex and rich in layers through colors, materials, patterns, and textures. It is important to learn these characteristics and to be able to implement them within contemporary lifestyles.
Do you feel like Chinese travelers are seeking familiarity when it comes to interior design? What are they looking for?
Regardless of which culture I focus on when designing, it is important to understand why we travel. One’s journeys are not just about comfort, but also about discovery and experience. In China, there is so much variety in culture, history and arts. Chinese travelers demand to be inspired and experience the stories, and this is what I have sought to accomplish with each property.
How have you applied your experience in the U.S. when doing interior design for Wanda?
I immediately noticed that in China the design process was different from what I learned in the West, which means having opinions and asking questions in order to grow and learn from each experience. In China, it was a challenging quest to encourage my designers to start asking questions and having their own concepts instead of following orders. I truly enjoyed acting as a teacher. Mentoring young designers is my favorite thing to do when I collaborate; however, here in the States we don’t get to do a lot of that due to time and budget pressure.
How would interior design for Wanda Hotels in other countries compare to design in the mainland?
The level of luxurious detail is so incredible at Wanda hotels to the extent that I will probably never be able to repeat it outside of China. It is very rare to discover such layers of design detail outside mainland China. I was the envy of other designers for what I was able to accomplish while at Wanda.
How do you go about balancing design with the level of consumer and the location of the hotel?
I appreciate the philosophy of each brand, and represent each brand distinctly. I also follow project budgets carefully, which helps to define the parameter of each project. Additionally, once again regional characteristics come into consideration during our creative process.
What advice would you give to hotels looking to expand to the mainland?
While it would be an important factor to remain focused on each brand’s philosophy, I’d highly recommend studying closely regional and cultural traditions. I don’t agree with the idea of making hotels a theme park—while learning about the local culture, I think one can be inspired to create innovative design concepts. We always have to remember to elevate expectations in every way.