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Creating a hotel concept from a poem. / Margaret Larmuth \

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

My philosophy on any creative project that I do is: “Say what you see, until your see what you said.” I invite you, now to follow a simple green thread through the process of how I created a concept for a hotel. If you have every asked a creative person where they get their ideas from or if you are a designer, or work in Hospitality, then maybe my story could be useful to you:In 2011, I had an idea that exploded and changed my life. I don’t know why ideas explode, but they do, and they are accompanied by a physical sensation in the body, each person being different. The concept  would draw on all the things that I loved; architecture, literature, poetry, making guests feel comfortable, food, colour and so the list goes on…. Maybe it is similar to your list?

So how did that spark come?I like Tilda Swinton, a Scottish actress and had just created her own perfume with the French company, Etat Libre d’Orange called “Like this.” She said, that it was made to “bottle her childhood memories of Scotland.” Because I like Tilda and because my mother was Scottish, I ordered the perfume. When it arrived, I opened its box to find, with the perfume, a small folded paper with a poem printed on it. The title of the poem was the same as the perfume and was called “Like this.” I smelt the fragrance and read the poem. It was written by Rumi, a13th century Persian mystic who died in the Central Anatolian province of Konya in 1273. I thought this was the most beautiful poem :—blog/like-this-from-rumi. It was about love and longing and sensuality and I was wanting all those things at that time. I was open and vulnerable, so I drank that poem, digesting it and making it part of every single cell of my body. For anyone doing creative work this “emotional opening” is the essence of any  design. His poetry compelled me to read avidly, and plenty was available. A vast jeweled palace had opened its crystal doors to me, and I discovered I was part of a larger collective, an indispensable component of popular culture. There were thousands books on Rumi, media and social media about him and I was overwhelmed and could not get enough.  Each morning I would wake up and say, “Thank you for this beautiful rich world that I am experiencing now.” Every wait for the tram in the rain, every long queue, every irritation transformed itself through the lines of his beautiful poetry that I had memorised. (The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks.

From this came the first ground layer of my concept, universal love and  “the mystery of opening the heart.” The  next step was to watch an “unfolding.” This unfolding came as a building, a structure. My background being that I was working for architects on international projects and my job was how the interiors of the projects looked and felt. I was in my element. I specified architectural material, furniture, lighting, and specific colours, etc. and maintained a large architectural materials library. It would follow naturally that I would funnel my research and emotions into a form that I could understand, which  was architecture.The idea had begun to gel: I would develop a concept for a hotel which would be a blend of Islamic and European art, made possible through architecture and design. The idea is not new, but the 5 essential principles that I created  were a little  different. The idea was born years before influx of millions of Muslim refugees into Europe. None of this, nor the terrible devastating war in Syria had happened yet. However, it was something that I “felt.”  I felt it as a strong need to unify Islamic and European cultures, and that it should be for the benefit of all, or at least the many.Steve Jobs said that creative people are able to make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.  It has also been said that very little comes out of “brain storming” and creative workshops on “how to be creative.” Ideas take time to develop, and there is no App to tap for that. Useful creative ideas are not always theatrical and generally come from quiet people, sitting at their computers, head phones on, music on repeat. It is not difficult to come up with great ideas. But it is difficult to come up with ideas that people actually want!Back to the journey: I wanted to translate the poetry from Rumi into a visual format and create this “coming together” of 2 cultures through the medium that I was working in. Imbedded was the idea “We are all the same under the eyes of God,” and so I set about creating a 5, 4, 3, 2 and one-star rooms all under the same roof of the hotel.The response was; Why would rich people want to mix with poor people? The answer is again a question: Who is really rich, and what is poverty of spirit?I started obsessively working on the concept, setting out its five main attributes which would make it different from any other. It was important to establish the elements of its uniqueness. These 5 main attributes were inspired, and I would go as far as saying, that they came in visions, as I was walking to work, or doing seemingly mundane things. I wanted to interpret some of decorative elements and functions of Islamic and European art into a modern suggestion. The main goal was feeling the presence of a culture without it being obvious, and to sense a universal connectivity of ease, without force.

After I had outlined the concept and found the images I needed to make a presentation, a terrible doubt started to invade me. This is a natural phase of all concepts that I have done; an exacerbation of the wound of self-doubt and a broadband of limitations, which one tries to overcome. The echo is; what would people say, would they think it fanatical, fanciful, political, absurd, impossible…?The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses the Jameel Collection and while I was there I looked at the work of the Jameel prize, which is an international award for contemporary art which highlights the richness of the Islamic tradition as a source of contemporary creativity. and gardens are part of the concept; they set the atmosphere, the colour and heighten our sense of sensuality. I was looking for contemporary ways to interpret these. For example, of David Chalmers Alesworth, both gardens and carpets were connected in his work. His ‘garden carpets’ are repurposed Iranian carpets and overlaying the original designs, with European gardens designs. In “Garden Palimpsest” (2012) he embroidered an image of Versailles Palace Gardens onto a 150-year-old Kerman carpet and “Hyde Park Kashan”(2011) is based on a fragment of a Stanford map of London embroidered on to a large 75-year-old Kashan carpet.  It was the juxtaposition of the traditional with the very modern that I wanted to create in all elements of the concept and at the same time introduce hi-tech designs and variations, through a collaborative network with artist and designers.

There is a quote from Germaine Greer which says: “The true art form of our time isn’t music or dance or painting or poetry; it’s marketing.” I agree with this now. Back in 2011, I knew nothing about branding or marketing and crowdfunding had not been invented. I was a “one-woman-band“ armed with a vision and a PowerPoint presentation. I tried to present the concept to friends and those who I thought could help steer me in a positive direction, but no direction was shown. In Dubai I passed the idea to an Emirati with a fine hotel chain, and he too, was totally disinterested. I could not understand why nobody thought it was a good idea, in fact I could hardly believe that I had crashed & burned.  To use a  term from psychology, I was “in denial.” I stayed in denial for a long time, creating other concepts for boutique hotels.Looking back on my personal journey, I can follow the line that a perfume and a poem sparked an idea. And by using architectural tools that I was working with, I could develop a concept. There is nothing new in this and it is a classic creative process. There is also nothing special about my obsession and relentless pursuit of my project, this too is part of the creative process.I should have found  collaborators  earlier on who were prepared to work for nothing, until the project started to get funding. And acquire knowledge of  branding, marketing, crowdfunding  and to collaborate. I never got the starter finance or an investment. A good idea is a beginning, not the end.The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks.

About the Author:Margaret Larmuth was born in Cape Town South Africa.  She studied Fine art in Cape town as well as history of art and started painting in her 20s. In 30s she studied textile design and at the same time developed her own clothing business, designing fashion for the South African surfing community. She then worked in the film industry in the wardrobe and art department. Moved to Paris and then to Switzerland where she continued painting and starting to co-write film scripts.Margaret contributed to an Art Brut magazine called Raw Art and  studied Colour design in Architecture.She have written her own novel which has not been published, about a woman who comes from Africa to live in Brussels.At the moment she is working on a book called “Ash to Aria” which is a collection of short essays about art, design, interior design, and concepts that never materialised etc.Margaret’s plan for next year is to research a book about women artist over the age of 70. These will be women who have worked on their art all their lives.

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