Jacu Strauss is co-founder and creative director of Lore Group, which includes hotels such as Pulitzer Amsterdam, Sea Containers London and Riggs Washington DC in its portfolio.
What attracted you to design?
I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fascinated by my surroundings. I grew up in the middle of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, so I taught myself how to paint, draw and build things. It developed from there. I felt that architecture was for me, because it’s a bigger umbrella of so many design things – I wanted to be greedy and do everything.
Architecture and interior design are so fundamental to our existence. There’s something quite poetic and beautiful about how something physical can really affect something emotional.
How important is locality in the design of a project?
We want projects to have longevity; it’s about how it fits into the context and neighbourhood. It was very important for me, especially with our first hotel in America (Riggs), to move to Washington DC and live and breathe the city.
Ultimately you want someone to walk into the hotel and immediately have a connection with it. We’re moving to a world where it’s much more about experiences and it has to be really contextual. You want to wake up in the morning and know exactly what city you’re in.
I design about 90-95 per cent of everything in the hotels, and also find some antique and vintage pieces around the cities to add a bit of heritage. It’s always fun to predict what people might respond to. Sometimes people find the tiniest thing that they really connect with.
What draws you to hotels?
Hotels are very much about storytelling and we have such freedom to be expressive. We don’t need to be for everybody, but there’s so much diversity in hotel design as a whole that there’s something for everyone, everywhere.
We also don’t need to [play it] safe, and that’s the dream for a designer. We can really inject personality into hotels. Plus, hospitality is about people at the end of the day, and there’s nothing nicer than seeing someone being delighted by something you’ve created.
F&B areas are a key feature at your hotels. What are the main considerations when designing restaurant and bar areas in comparison with guest rooms?
Hotel rooms are always very private and feel like no one else has stayed in them, so they need to be designed to feel fresh. Public spaces are much more social and the design needs to celebrate that. There should always be a real disconnect between the rooms and public areas – a moment of decompressing when you leave the public areas to enter the room.
At Riggs in Washington DC, we describe the room as a safety deposit box because the hotel is located in an old bank building.
Does sustainability impact your design?
Sustainability was my major at architectural school. For me, the most important thing is designing something once and doing it right. The most unsustainable thing is redoing something every five years. Interior design is becoming a little like fast fashion in that way, and quality is the price you pay. Reusing and repurposing is something I love doing, and it taps into a bigger vision of sustainability.
Which project are you most proud of?
Creating the Lore Group, as it involves all of my projects. It’s small but we have ambitions. All the hotels are so individual but there’s a common thread tying them together.
What’s your favourite hotel?
I’ve always loved Le Negresco in Nice, where every floor has a different theme. Of course, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it has a special place in my heart.
Which designers have inspired your work?
Tony Duquette’s flamboyant and brave design; Trix and Robert Haussman’s post-modern inspired pieces (I would love to own a piece one day); and Tom Dixon who taught me a lot.
What’s been your most rewarding travel experience?
Driving a green 1980s Mercedes Benz, without a radio, about 11 hours through the South African desert. It was a wonderful experience of peace.
I had my passport stolen in Mexico. I always have a glass half-full attitude (I definitely had a glass half full of tequila after that). I’ve learnt not to panic. It will always work out.
What also bothers me is when I see developments that completely dismiss heritage and have no consideration for the bigger picture. That really sticks with me. When design is abused to create things that are not for the people and not respectful of heritage, history or character. Or when nature is being used as a gimmick or something feels completely out of place.
What’s your dream destination?
Kolmanskop in southern Namibia. It’s an old, deserted diamond mining town where desert dunes now move through abandoned mansions. I love the drama of it and the interaction between man and nature.
I also really want to go to Antarctica to experience a dramatic landscape that feels relatively untouched and see how the world’s changing and what we should be afraid of.
What’s your indispensable travel gadget and inflight entertainment pick?
I like to dream when I fly. I always have my notebook and sketch things. Spotify has also changed my life – I discover new music through that – so I need good headphones.
What’s next for the Lore Group?
Hotels are never finished, they are quite organic and we always build on them. The Pulitzer in Amsterdam, for instance, has these four collector suites with their own theme. It’s worked so well that we are creating a fifth one.
Our first hotel is ten years old now. We have ambitions to do more hotels but only if they are right for us. We want to keep our strategy the same and for all our hotels to be equal in their own special way. The response we have had has been so phenomenal.