“In my opinion,co-working spaces are bringing people with different mindsets together in one place, allowing siloed thinking to be destroyed and new ideas to emerge”
We sat down with Pascal Frey, Director of Business Innovation at Design Hotels, to explore new ways of travel through a Promadic approach, the shift from accommodation to hospitality, and the need for innovative spaces in all industries and aspects of life. With over 300 locations around the world of boutique and lifestyle hotels that combine local neighbourhoods, art, design, architecture and sustainability; Design Hotels sought out East Room for a workspace that not only reflected similar merit, but allowed their team to tap into a local market, to connect with a community and which provided the opportunity to create something new.
Do you remember the first time you heard of East Room?
⎯⎯⎯ Well, the first time that I heard about East Room was actually 6 years ago when, as Design Hotels, we came to Toronto to look for a location to do an event. At that time, we didn’t have a hotel in the neighbourhood, so we were looking for a place where communities come together from different sides — entrepreneurs, creatives — and a friend of mine told me about East Room. As soon as we walked in, we knew this was the place to host the event. East Room has this warm ambience and environment, and at the same time this amazing group of people coming together, so that made the choice simple and easy.
How do you envision your perfect work environment?
⎯⎯⎯ My perfect work environment is a place where I can, at the same time, connect with people and find new ideas, innovate with people, and have the opportunity to be in the flow to move projects forward. I think what East Room does in an interesting way is understand how to play with the not-so-obvious pieces of architecture: the light, the plants, the parquet on the floor. All these little things together bring a kind of ‘in presence’ moment to my work, and bringing that together with the community creates this beautiful moment where you can be in the flow, and at the same time innovate and create new things.
How important is it to be around other creatives, businesses, and disciplines?
⎯⎯⎯ I think it is very important to be around creatives from different disciplines, because it is the core of innovation and the core of creating something new. Throughout my work I always try to get out of silos and work with people from different fields. This has helped me to personally build new business models in the hospitality industry by always trying to find hubs around the world and plug into them. I feel the most important thing is to enter the hubs of different thinking people so we can all communicate and innovate together.
What was your previous workspace/office like?
⎯⎯⎯ When talking about workspace, I did all kinds of things. For a while, I was working with corporate-style locations. The positive aspect of that was, of course, you had one location you could work from, and you always knew where to go. Then I tried a more nomadic work environment. I traveled around the world and stayed closer to hoteliers, travellers and local communities. It was then that I realized the perfect combination is to actually find the point in between, where you know there is a community around you you can plug into, where you get the creativity and the flow you need for your work, but where you can also have the opportunity once in a while to move out of that space and bring new ideas into it. For me, this combination exists at East Room.
What made you decide East Room was the right place for you and your team?
⎯⎯⎯ What I saw in East Room — and the reason I think it was the right place for my team — was the fluid membership opportunity. Our team was still able to travel the world and connect with all the hotels we have, but at the same time have a location where we could ideate with the Toronto community, and build new ideas together. I think this is something that is really important in today’s work environment: to have these locations around the world, and this is why we decided to join this membership. With Design Hotels, we have over 300 locations around the world — all small boutique hotels that fit into local neighbourhoods. With that being said, we were looking for a location in Toronto where we had a type of environment that combined fluidity into the workspace. When we walked into East Room in Toronto, we immediately realized that there was a connection between what we were looking for in hotels, but in a workspace. In East Room we saw this local integration, this understanding of architecture and design, this understanding of how communities come together to create something new, and so we decided to join this community and have it as our hub in Toronto.
How has travel changed in your opinion?
⎯⎯⎯ The big difference when you look at how people travel nowadays is that they are looking for locations where they can learn something about personal development and transformation. Therefore it’s not just about where a location is, but also who the people around you are, and how they can influence your learning experience, your travel experience, and the community. I think these are the most important components moving forward when we see how hospitality is evolving; it’s not just about how you can consume travel, but how you can explore, educate yourself, and learn from it. I think this is something that needs to be built into work as well. With that being said, where we work is more and more relevant and with whom we share our work is more and more relevant, and so co-working spaces that understand that can really help shape the world in the right direction.
The idea of the Promad (the progressive nomad) is an innovative way to view travel in the 21st century. Can you tell us a bit about why this is such an important idea now?
⎯⎯⎯ When we look at the idea of the Promad, this new type of traveler — somebody who is more aware of sustainability, who wants to learn something on their travels — they are plugging themselves into communities around the world. What they do is go somewhere and be transformed themselves, and transform the local community by helping and supporting. I think co-working spaces are doing something very similar: they are bringing people with different mindsets together, destroying siloed thinking, and allowing new ideas to emerge. This brings a lot of innovation. We saw that in boutique hotels, and I think this is happening in many different industries as well.
The entire ecosystem of Design Hotels (including the magazine Directions) contributes to a holistic vision of traveling as a lifestyle. How important was it to develop different branches of the curatorial experience to disrupt standard operating procedures in the hospitality industry?
⎯⎯⎯ Design Hotels operates as a disruptor because we understand that there is not just one touchpoint you need to build on when you are looking at a lifestyle brand. We are a hotel brand with hotels around the world, but at the same time we created the Directions magazine where we have deep conversations with our originals — the people behind the projects, thought-leaders, artists… and we try to touch different lifestyle points and bring them all together. We believe that brands moving forward in general need to be holistic and bring different products and services to their community, not just from a business side, but also from a curatorial side.
Jumping off from that, how does East Room's curatorial and lifestyle branding integrate with Design Hotels?
⎯⎯⎯ When we look at East Room's curatorial branding, we see it is very similar to what Design Hotels does, just in a bit of a different field. We’re talking about co-working spaces, but the community, the people that feel connected to the space are very similar. We’re talking about entrepreneurs, artists, creatives — people that are trying to innovate in today’s world. Ultimately we are speaking to the same people.
What was the genesis of the first Design Hotel movement?
⎯⎯⎯ When we look at the history of Design Hotels, we can go back 25 years when there was this emergence of a new cultural movement where people used hotels not just for places to sleep, but places where communities could come together. If you look back at the area of Studio 54 in New York , it was the beginning of an entire movement around the world towards boutique and lifestyle hotels to curate people. With that, Design Hotels and Claus Sendlinger at the time started collecting locations around the world that were little hubs of people that were trying new things out in the hospitality space. Locations that were innovative and brought art, design, architecture, sustainability and local neighborhood integration together in one place.
What was it about the nomadic experience of hotels that turned on the switch that made it obvious this was worthwhile to pursue?
⎯⎯⎯ I realized there was a shift from just accommodation to hospitality. When we talk about hospitality, for me, it’s about bringing all the senses together to make a full and fluid experience. That’s very difficult to standardize; there’s no protocol on how to do it. There are no SOPs on how to do it, but it has a lot to do with art, creativity, and innovation. In my position I try to identify creators and curators around the world that are able to bring this fluidity into the game. That’s something that’s really difficult to do, but, for example, East Room in Toronto was able to do that out of the workspace; out of the intentional creation of a location that is beyond just work, beyond SOPs, beyond bringing people together for just work.
Do you find this model is as much about strengthening the unity of other brands as it is about your own brand? Everybody working together to help each other?
⎯⎯⎯ When we look at a brand nowadays it’s a collective of different players that are like-minded and wanting to achieve the same goals. When we look at Design Hotels, we are focusing on a community around creatives, entrepreneurs, and innovators. When we look at East Room, we have like-minded people, so there are opportunities and synergies that can be played with, even though the actual purpose of the space is a bit different; the same people are going into the space. There’s different touch points where we can connect together, and that was something in my role as a business innovator to identify: new revenue streams and business models for the hospitality space.
Do you find that Design Hotels runs up against resistance from the hospitality industry at large?
⎯⎯⎯ What’s interesting to see is that even the big corporate companies are looking for more innovative spaces for their employees and their management to meet and come together for ideations. No matter if it’s for the hotel space or the office space, there will be big changes coming, and with that there is an opportunity for the smaller curated location to be the place for innovation, for curation, and for ideas to come together to create something new.
– East Room is a shared workspace company providing design-forward office solutions, authentic programming and a diverse community to established companies and enterprising freelancers. We explore art, design, music, and entrepreneurship. Visit our news & stories page to read more.