Pamela Babey, founding principal of San Francisco-based interior design firm BAMO, is a globetrotting enthusiast. Pamela is internationally renowned for her visionary designs. She masters the art of combining unique arrays of colors and patterns and elevates artisan crafts to luxury standards. A member of Interior Design’s Hall of Fame and Hospitality Design’s Platinum Circle, she has collected an award-winning portfolio by working on a variety of projects. Her design portfolio includes projects such as the Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan, a residential compound in Beijing and a yacht built by Benetti.
Between a work trip to Venice and another one in Hong Kong, she took some time to share with us her passion about her job and her point of view on the industry.
How has the hospitality industry changed in the last five years?
I think hotels are getting a little bit more boring than what it used to be in the past. Few months ago, I was looking for a hotel for my trip in London and did some research on hotel.com and expedia.com. I went through all the list of available hotels and they all looked like the same: the upholstery, the white sheets, the white pillows, the accente blanket on the bed. It was just boring. I know that a room in a hotel has a limited number of elements available, yet I think that there is an opportunity to make those elements more interesting. For instance, adding more layers to a fixed formula. When you look at magazines, you see the greatest historic hotels, such as the Ritz Paris or the Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli with their historical elements. Reading about them and looking at the pictures, you perceive a kind of soul within them and you know that there aren’t any other places that look like them. I believe that hotels do have a personality and it is not about expensive materials but about the use of creativity in the space.
Could you tell us about your process?
In the industry we developed the concept that a process starts from the eyes and goes to the hands. I always start a plan by asking the client a lot of questions. Then I pick up a pencil and I start drawing something about what the space could be. So I think, it could have a mezzanine or a particular door or a wall that can become an art wall, and maybe I can place a sofa in front of it. I just begin to build up these ideas of what the space could be and how a person can have dinner in it, spend a cold night in front of a fireplace, or stay in on a warm day. The next step is to think about the materials, the lighting and what I want the place to be visually.
Could you explain to us the concept of “design storytelling”?
The process is as I mentioned before, it is about telling a visual story. Sometimes the storytelling is unraveled into a mini series like at the Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli, which tells many different stories. There are four different buildings in the hotel and each building has its own personality, its own soul. Legendary hotelier and owner of the hotel, Bob Burns began his career in the industry as bartender for a hotel. So we did some research on cocktails to get some inspiration in order to incorporate some of Bob’s personality and life story into the design plan. However, from time to time the story we built from dies upon completion of the project. This happens because sometimes the management changes and they want to make adjustments based on their own vision of the needs for the space.
How have your travels influenced your work?
I have always traveled. When I was very young I used to travel a lot with my parents. I am sure I got a lot of insights from my trips, but I am not sure about how much all the places I visited have influenced me. I know it gives me a broad base to draw upon. At BAMO, we like to define ourselves as an International style design firm.
What was one of your most challenging projects?
When I was doing the Regent Hotel Milan (now Four Seasons Hotel), I remember when I went there for the first time that I was quite nervous. It was my first big hotel assignment. I was a designer from San Francisco and I had to design a hotel in a city where there all the best interior and fashion designers in the world are. So I shared all my thoughts with Paolo Moroni, owner of Sawaya & Moroni, an International firm of architects and designers, and he told me; “Thank God they have hired you, have you ever seen a hotel designed by an Italian that works?” Our concept behind the project was to leave everything as it was, old as old, new as new. So we added a modern flair without redoing or touching an al fresco that we found on the wall. At the beginning we didn’t realize it, but later we discovered that the concept “old is old and new is new” applied to the hotel, reflected the temperament of the city and the people. In Milan, you see people living in old apartment buildings with modern furniture a happy marriage.
What do you like about fabrics?
I guess that I inherited the interest from my mom and then later in college I became drawn to tribal fabrics and I would go and collect them. That was probably the first step into it. Then I met Fortuny and that was it. Fortuny has everything I always loved. Their items are made of natural fabrics and layers of colors. Those layers create the interest an cotton in such "simple' material.
How does technology affect your way of working?
I don’t quite understand technology and when people ask me about it I try to determine whether they are talking about the people that work in the Technology industry or the tools that we are using in our daily jobs. I think that the conversation is not about the Technology in itself but it is more about the wealth that Technology is bringing in.
Do you approach the hospitality projects and residential ones in a different way?
No, the process is always the same. Moreover, at BAMO we don’t have designers that only do residential or only do hospitality projects. We all participate. Personally, I think that I have a lot to offer in residential because of my hospitality experience. Of course, the process for a house is more involved and personal. Hotel projects are involved too, but you have to please different people’s needs. However, the quality of both residential and hospitality projects is the same. Both translate into the feeling of being at home.
What is design for you?
I don’t know what design is, honestly, or what it is for me. There is always an excitement related to the project that I am doing, or that I am going to do. Sometimes I sit in a bar and I look around and I think what if that wall was painted with that color, or what if they had put that coffee table there, then this place could have been a totally different experience. It is a great profession because it always changes.
What kind of positive impact do you want to leave to the industry?
When you are dead you are dead. I think that there are really few people that have left a positive impact worldwide. I love my job and I love working and always thinking about the next project. I just hope that my address book doesn’t get lost, there are very interesting people in it. BAMO is based on creativity and I guess that this is the impact I want to leave.