In the hotel business, what makes for a good client-designer relationship?
Hospitality trailblazer Ian Schrager and Liran Wizman, the founder of Europe Hotels Private Collection, didn’t want a good new hotel for Milan. Instead, they dreamed of an architectural masterpiece that, beyond a series of intimate and personalized private spaces, could also compete with some of the best restaurants, bars and coffee shops in the notoriously fast-paced city. It’s a delicate balancing act that EDITION Hotels, the newest family member under the Marriott International umbrella, has been able to achieve with its first seven properties.
How could the duo find a design partner who understood the complexity of mixing styles and environments with subtlety? Enter Piero Lissoni. Under their direction, the Milanese architect has been working on turning an 11,000-sq-m historic palace in Porta Romana into a past-meets-future destination that will open its doors in 2021.
With more than 100 combined properties under their belts, the three professionals already have more than enough practice on how to pick every part of the hotel launch equation. So, during the most recent edition of our Frame Lab, which took place last month in Amsterdam, we invited Wizman and Lissoni to discuss the keys to ensuring a fruitful client-designer relationship.
 BIRDS OF A FEATHER BUILD HOTELS TOGETHER
Wizman is better known for the vibrant newness of his Sir Hotels line, but this project required someone with an eye for past lives. The Milanese palace used to house an electoral site, and is now protected by the local municipality’s Landmark Office. Wizman needed a designer who could both respect the standing structure and, furthermore, see its possibilities. He found his man at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem. ‘I was stunned by the way Piero took an old stone building and combined it with the glass, the new and the old,’ he said on stage. ‘He put it together with a lot of respect for the building, but it was still something very futuristic.’ By the time he saw his work at the Conservatorium in Amsterdam, he knew exactly who to call for the task.
 MAKE IT PERSONAL
Piero Lissoni is as Lombardian as it gets. At this established stage of his career, how does he pick his clients? Quite simple: he has an Espresso Rule for initial discussions, to know how respectful and embracing a potential partner will be in his discussions. ‘If the first meeting starts with a classic shaking of hands and at a distance, that’s more or less wrong,’ he mused. ‘But if you start, like Liran did, sitting around a table at The Duchess in Amsterdam with a fantastic espresso, that tells you of someone who is willing to accept a true collaboration.’
The hotelier, who has been known to conduct negotiations at one of his restaurants instead of his office, was a mutual fit right fit from the start.
 A HEALTHY TENSION
But too much leniency can be a negative trait. That’s why Wizman has his own rule: ‘When you bring your dream to the table, you need to bring in talents that create a little bit of tension,’ he explained. ‘But it’s a healthy tension, and that’s what brings hotels to the next level.’
What does that healthy tension look like? When we asked them who is in charge of making the final decisions, they each pointed to the other. But in the end, instead of a tug of war, the relationship works more as a relay race: Wizman and his team are well informed of the weight of logistical details, from the allowed extent of a landmark renovation to matters of circulation, room size and the distribution of public spaces. ‘Liran knows very well what happens inside a machine like that – how many seats, how many rooms, restaurants, bars, logistics, movement,’ offered Lissoni. But the hospitality entrepreneur has learned to push those exacting standards as far as possible, in order to give designers and architects room to question what a luxury hotel should look like. From then on, it’s Lissoni’s call.
 IN REALITY, THE REAL DECISION-MAKER DOESN’T EXIST YET
‘There are no borders today, compared to 30 years ago: a lot of other things happen in this place we call a hotel,’ explained Wizman. Back then, public spaces were the preferred spots to kill time waiting for a taxi. ‘Now it’s a main course.’
So, with this property, Lissoni and Wizman left their egos behind and started thinking of a hotel guest that doesn’t exist yet. They’re trying to leave room for technologies that will exist 20 years from now, while sprinkling a few spatial tricks that will still leave some wiggle room for surprise. ‘In the original palaces, some places were connected, but then became disconnected with some tricks,’ the architect said. ‘So I’ve put inside some secrets. We’ve put inside a lot of functionality, but also a lot of beauty.’
See the whole discussion here.
Europe Hotels Private Collection was the main hospitality partner for this year’s edition of the Frame Awards and Frame Lab. The EDITION in Milan opens in 2021.