Cover Rengy John and Clint Nagata of Blink Design Group (Photography: Benny Loh, assisted by Wong Yuk Ling)

Clint Nagata and Rengy John of Blink Design Group discuss the growing importance of holistic design and wellness in their projects, which include the Wirra Wirra Wellness Resort in Australia, Capella Shanghai and Raffles Maldives Meradhoo

There have been two fateful encounters in American-Japanese architect Clint Nagata’s professional life. The work of American hospitality designer Bill Bensley in Asia inspired Nagata to move from Hawaii to the region, while the influential oeuvre of Jaya Ibrahim persuaded him to acquire Jaya Ibrahim Design (JID) after Ibrahim’s sudden passing four years ago.

Nagata was approached by Ibrahim’s business partner Bruce Goldstein in 2016, inspired by the creative commonalities between the two firms. “For me, it was more of a personal endeavour to acquire the firm and to make sure that his legacy carried on properly. So we have been working on some projects out of China that he started,” he says. Today, JID is a part of Blink Design Group, a firm that Nagata founded in 2006 currently with offices in Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai.

The third fateful encounter could arguably be with Rengy John, the firm’s managing partner, who joined the practice three years ago; their dynamic is instantly palpable when we meet them in their office. After working briefly together a decade ago on a hospitality project in China, the two reconnected during an event a few years back and bonded over their multicultural backgrounds—John is a Singapore citizen who grew up in South Africa.

The rest, as they say, is history. “We work really well together, we argue less and less and finish each other’s sentences; kind of like an old married couple,” shares John. Quips Nagata: “You have to work with someone you enjoy being around.”

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When most hospitality projects typically take between three to five years to complete, designers constantly work as creative soothsayers to anticipate what guests will need to ensure the longevity of their designs.

“As designers, we always try to embrace what the users are saying; in so many ways, you have to guess how the space will be used years later,” explains Nagata. “Right now, there’s the sense of interiors becoming more residential and more personal, so that people can relate to them.”

Their goal is to create interiors that cater to unique experiences for each hotel or resort, in order to entice guests to visit and also make return trips. It’s a challenge that the firm rises up to—whether by including nods to its Singapore roots for the brand-new Raffles Maldives Meradhoo resort, or when designing a property on a conservation estate, such as for Capella Shanghai. “The Blink approach doesn’t take something cut-and-pasted. It’s always reimagined to create a new story for each new location,” says John.

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1. Designing restaurants and bars as destination venues

More hotels are looking at transforming their restaurants and bars into destination venues that draw both hotel guests and visitors to their property. “Nowadays, the hotel operators want to separate the hotel design from the restaurant design by hiring two firms,” says Nagata. “We are able to do that with our own teams led by two different directors that can drive the designs independently from one another. You get that distinction between the spaces but there is still some visual commonality because (the design) is from the same firm.”

“I think a good bar and restaurant are essential to any hotel,” adds John. “In Asia, it should provide enough privacy and enough comfort, as people don’t tend to sit at the bar.”

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2. Seeking inspiration from both the past and present

Combining contemporary accents with timeless style is what Blink Design Group strives to do, while staying true to the cultural heritage of each location. “We’ve always managed to put a modern touch on designs, even if an operator wants a traditional-looking hotel,” says Nagata. “It always goes back to how you reinterpret (tradition) to create something that is of today, and not of yesterday. I think that’s what makes our designs look timeless.”

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3. Facilities that care for your well being

Ultimately, wellness is both a lifestyle and state of mind. More hotels are now looking at incorporating gym equipment and other amenities catered to specific sports and workouts that cater to travellers keen on being active during their stay. “We’re building more purpose-built facilities that reflect the wellness lifestyle—more yoga decks and male or female-only facilities that make women feel more comfortable working out, to embrace that wellness direction even further,” says Nagata.

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4. More greenery through biophilic design

According to John, biophilic architecture is on the rise, not just in terms of landscaping but also through blurring the boundaries between the interior and exterior while maximising the use of natural light and ventilation. “Hotel owners are beginning to feel that there is a sense of well being associated with biophilic architecture, being around greenery and what it does to you visually when you’re connecting yourself with the outdoors,” he says.

See also: Woha Founding Directors Wong Mun Summ And Richard Hassell On Creating A Greener Singapore


This story first appeared on the April-May 2020 issue of Tatler Homes Singapore. 

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