Timeless and Elegant Design
Jeffrey Wilkes, founder of DESIGNWILKES, discusses his organisation’s drive to always put the customer at the forefront of decision-making
Writer: Sean Galea-Pace | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
A passion for quality.
It’s something that Jeffrey Wilkes, founder of DESIGNWILKES has in abundance.
Wilkes has always been passionate about architecture and questioned why things looked the way they do. He puts that down to his parents’ influence and credits them for being the key factors in setting him on the path he is on today.
“Hanging out with my Dad in the workshop he had at home helped along with a creative mother. They were very home proud,” he explains. “But it certainly rubbed off and they also let me contribute. They never put down my ideas.”
This laid the foundations for Wilkes who then went to fine arts and design school before designing high-end condominium projects in Toronto, Canada. This subsequently led to hotel designs which is a true mix of a variety of aspects of interior design, where in 1994, Wilkes moved to Malaysia to open a branch of a renowned design firm.
16 years later, Wilkes decided to open his own business. And today, DESIGNWILKES possesses an established group of repeat clients such as Mandarin Oriental, The Leela Hotels India, The Oberoi Group, and ITC Hotels, while employing 35 full-time members of staff, the majority having been with the firm since launch.
“We like to think that we excel at meeting our clients’ needs before our own,” explains Wilkes.
“Service is key as well as timeless and elegant design.”
However, Wilkes believes that what sets his organisation apart is its commitment to the end product and a drive to put the client first.
“We do try to keep people excited by the projects they are working on, and allow them opportunities to travel and work on site in the various countries we work,” he says. “On site experience is a huge benefit to a designer, and of course to the end product.”
DESIGNWILKES’ work on the Verandah Restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok was transformational. To renovate the All Day Dining Restaurant, The Verandah size was increased in conjunction with the adjacent Terrace and BBQ areas. As a result, the restaurant was able to increase the back of house kitchen.
There is an area for semi-private dining as the hotel caters to a number of groups for both business and leisure. The existing structure and kitchen location within the hotel site meant that additional space for the kitchen needed to be taken along the lengthwise position of the room, which was not originally the plan. Space across the front area with the river view is the more desirable space.
Ceiling heights are low, access to natural was compromised with a number of solid awnings along the access corridor. We moved the windows into the corridor marginally and created a stronger windowscape with a range of mullion sizes to add focus to the window, which accentuated the feel of a verandah.
The rear section of the room was lifted upwards with timber flooring, the front section in patterned marble. This pattern repeats out on the terrace connecting these spaces. Cream painted planked ceilings and a mass of hand - blown glass pendant lights provide a bright and cheerful nature. A Thai inspired artist mural provides a jovial garden atmosphere, which brings the outdoors to the inner room.
DESIGNWILKES values quality. The firm prioritises high standards of design and remains dedicated and committed, refreshed and rejuvenated with a new spirit of adventure. Despite its origins beginning in Southeast Asia, the company has expanded to China, India, Japan, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. DESIGNWILKES operate with its headquarters in Malaysia, however, conduct most of its work outside of the region.
“The majority of our work is in India, we have also done projects in Thailand, Indonesia, UAE, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and the UK,” explains Wilkes.
“Kuala Lumpur is a fantastic base. It has a fantastic loyal workforce and is a dynamic city full of architecture that inspires, both old and new. We hope to do more work there in the future.”
Wilkes strives for a green approach wherever possible and stresses that everyone has a social responsibility to do their bit.
“I am a great lover and admirer of craft so whenever we can use local artisans, we will,” he explains. “It’s very important to keep craft alive as it is disappearing as fast as the rainforests.”
“We believe in reusing and upcycling. When we are confronted with a renovation, we often look at what elements can be saved or manipulated to appear fresh and new. We don’t always blast out the marble and throw it away because what may appear unusable in one location may be better suited for another location. Locally supplied products are also important both for the environment and reinforcing a sense of place.”
Inside the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira project
DESIGNWILKES’ original design of the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira had been inspired by a trip to Dubai at the time of year when the flame of the forest trees was out in full bloom, while the canopy of orange blossoms brightening the landscape. Having opened in 2019, the Mandarin Oriental Jumeria is now regarded as one of the most competitive luxury hospitality markets and was the inspiration for the idea of a ‘Canopy of Light.’
In its planning of the lobby, DESIGNWILKES wanted to connect the front of the hotel to the beach side, so the idea of an islamic based garden stretching through the lobby was then accelerated with its Canopy of Light. Mandarin Oriental Jumeira could have used real trees,however, they would have been switched with artificial and look akin to an airport or shopping park. The idea of making the trees in crystal with sparkle would be unique. It spoke to its overall concept of the Dubai Riveria, simultaneously incorporating glamour and a resort setting. And so, its forest in its weathered travertine garden was created.
Mandarin Oriental showcases 256 rooms and suites, many with private balconies and terraces providing incredible views across the Persian Gulf. The hotel lobby is filled with 14 artificial trees, each possessing 900 lights and cooling white marble floors. One of the property’s most impressive features is a state-of-the-art 2,000 square metre destination spa, a complex whose curbed ceilings pay tribute to the rolling dunes of the desert, while the blue hues on display in the flooring call to mind the crystalline waters outside. The Mandarin Oriental Jumeria Dubai also features six restaurants and bars, each with their own distinctive design aesthetic and ambience.
Inside the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo project
In 2019, Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, completed the refurbishment of its 179 guestrooms and suites in a style resembling Japanese culture. Wilkes was appointed as the principal interior designer for the hotel’s luxurious Presidential Suite, which has picturesque views of Mount Fuji. The hotel confirmed bespoke fabrics and furnishings were used to reflect woodlands and changing seasons, with autumn leaf colours of gold, orange and purple, and springtime wisteria and sakura patterns embroidered onto headboards.
Wilkes himself is recognised for his ability to blend cosmopolitan influences with tradition. He has contributed to the interior design of some of the world’s most renowned hotels including the W Goa, Mandapa Ritz Carlton Reserve in Ubud, Mandarin Oriental Dubai, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, The Leela Udaipur among many others.
DESIGNWILKES’ future is bright, and it has projects such as the ITC Luxury Collection in Sri Lanka and Nepal on the horizon. At DESIGNWILKES, diversity continues to play an influential role as it challenges creative interpretations to reflect its client’s aspirations.
With the future in mind, Wilkes is optimistic about the next couple of years and is keen for his employees to continue to be happy in their craft.
“We’ll continue to work for our clients and ensure they are always happy with the end product,” he affirms.
“We’ve got lots of exciting projects underway. We’re renovating a beach resort in Goa for ITC Hotels, finishing up major residences in Geneva and a palatial home in Ahmedabad. We’re also beginning work on a penthouse in Chennai and turning an actual palace in Khajuraho into a six-star hotel and renovating Britain’s oldest Indian restaurant Veeraswamy. We will also complete three major homes in Kuala Lumpur by the end of 2021.”