When ideas from BASE transform into hotel interiors all around the world

March 1 2024  |   Naši členovia

DeGraffenried Purchasing International specializes in the purchase of personalized furnishings for hotels and hotel chains worldwide. The company collaborates with world-renowned designers and oversees the entire process from consultation and logistics to the actual purchase of design products. In an interview, Martin Gurčík, the company's Project Manager, sheds light on their comprehensive services and their indispensable role as a partner for their clients.

Could you briefly introduce your company?

At DeGraffenried Purchasing International, we primarily focus on the purchase of furnishings for hotels and hotel chains. We provide customized furnishings to hotels according to the standards of individual brands and designers' proposals. We have projects all over the world, in England, throughout the European Union, in the Caribbean as well as Africa. In Slovakia, we have only done one project so far, specifically the Sheraton hotel near Eurovea.

To put it simply, I would explain it like this: if you were to take a hotel, turn it upside down, and shake it like a salt shaker, everything that falls out would be supplied by us. This includes furniture, cushions, fabrics, carpets, mugs, cutlery, and also technical items like kitchen equipment. Essentially, we cover everything that a typical guest interacts with, as well as the so called "back of house" essentials like office furnishings. Mostly, it involves designer furnishings.

Our services also include budget preparation, item quantification, and technical specifications for the required products and services. Additionally, we oversee delivery tracking and warehousing. Our custom-tailored software, which records and calculates all necessary data and makes this work so much easier.

How many employees does your company have?

There are only eight of us, which can be quite challenging. We are based in Bratislava, Amsterdam, and some colleagues are in France, Greece, and the United Kingdom.

Given the nature of our work, which involves gathering feedback from people, we need to be constantly available and keep in touch with all parties involved. It's not uncommon for me to find up to 150 emails in my inbox daily.

At what stage do you enter a project?

Our involvement largely depends on the project's stage of development—whether the design has been approved or is still being developed. For instance, we have a project in Vienna that we have been working on from the very beginning, for three years now, and it will not open for another year and a half. However, we also take on projects where join mid-stream, with only six months remaining until the hotel's handover and opening. It always depends on the specific hotel and chain we are working for.

Typically, from the moment we join a project, we have approximately one to two years to see it through to completion. A crucial factor in this process is whether or not we have the model rooms prepared. These rooms are finalized in great detail directly in the hotel which is still under construction. They are furnished down to every last fork and spoon. Based on this model, the design is approved or modified for the entire project.

Have you ever worked on the renovation of an already existing hotel?

Yes, we have. We recently concluded a renovation project in Brussels, and we have two more in Luxembourg and Amsterdam. These are the most challenging projects, as the hotel typically remains operational throughout the renovation process. In these cases, the renovation is executed in phases. The most difficult part is coordinating the entire process and enabling delivery during the hotel's full operation. Sometimes, it can take up to two years.

To what extent do you participate in interior design?

Our role is to fulfill the brief, which includes various aspects that need to be considered. In larger projects, different designers tackle different tasks; one may focus on rooms, another on public spaces, and a third, an architect, is responsible for building solutions. Moreover, each hotel brand has its own so-called brand standards that must be met. These ensure consistency across locations, so in practice, this means that whether you go to a Hilton in Paris, London, or New York, you know what to expect. The rooms will always have the same safe, the same cutlery, etc. While we often assist designers in creating the interior, ultimately, they have the final say.  

What does your collaboration with architects and designers entail?

We collaborate with big names like Snøhetta, OMA, HBA, and Tara Bernerd Studio, with whom we maintain daily communication throughout the entire implementation process. The interior designer prepares the specifications and design concept, which we then put into practice. Our task is to verify whether the design can be implemented in the desired manner and then proceed to price it accordingly. Should any problem arise, such as something proving difficult to implement, we compile special reports that are sent back to the designers to explore alternative solutions. We begin purchasing furnishings only after the design has been approved.

Do you also oversee the production of custom furniture?

Picture a typical hotel room; every piece of furniture, from wardrobes and tables to bed frames, and accessories, is custom-made. When we receive a design proposal, let's say for a sofa, we have to undergo a tender process, find the best price, then proceed with production and sample testing. It's rare for a sofa to be crafted from a single fabric; more often than not, it involves a combination of at least two. The backrest may use fabric sourced from Turkey, while the seating area may utilize material from the Netherlands, both of which must be ordered for production, perhaps in France. Furthermore, this sofa might have five cushions, each sewn from different fabrics, sometimes two or three. So, upon reflection, one realizes that a single sofa involves up to 12 different suppliers.

We rarely buy standard products, and even when we do purchase something like a chair, we customize it with fabric chosen by the hotel. In 99% of cases, we buy fabrics specified by the designer, rather than those offered by the manufacturer. It is in this process of combining materials of products where our magic comes to life.

Even the scent is custom-made. Although we don't directly oversee its production, we purchase specialized machines that are installed on the ceilings of public spaces, from where the fragrances is dispersed into the room.

What are some of the challenges associated with this work?

The primary challenge lies in effectively managing the logistics and coordination of the entire process, as well as in being proactive in problem-solving. Prior to the hotel's opening, various professionals, from painters to electricians, participate on the project. We have come across situations where four furniture trucks arrived at the site where painters were still working. Once, the elevators malfunctioned, leaving us short-staffed unexpectedly. And sometimes, the opposite happens: a truck arrives only partially loaded, and yet, the entire team is there ready to unload it. These challenges occur on every project and require immediate attention.

Undoubtedly, it will come as no surprise when I say that the biggest challenge is budget management. Design is one thing, but ensuring its implementation within the approved budget constraints is another. Sometimes, we have a clearly defined budget ceiling that cannot be exceeded, and other times there is no ceiling at all, and we have to find a reasonable balance between design and its cost. Conditions also depend on how the project is financed. We have worked on a project in Britain that was funded by public resources, and in those situations, going over budget is simply not an option.

In case we need to find a more cost-effective alternative to the required product, we can maintain its quality at a much lower price, just with a slightly different design. Of course, we cannot copy the designs of specific products, but we can find very similar ones. This process of finding alternatives occurs several times within a project and is subject to designers' approval. Our strength lies in our ability to tender the furnishings advantageously with our suppliers. However, in case we join a project at a stage when everything has been already approved, we only oversee the purchasing process.

What led you to pursue a career in this field?

Chance. A family acquaintance who worked at this company approached me one day and asked if I would be interested in working for them. He inquired about my English skills, my stance on frequent travel, meeting new people, handling numerous phone calls, and so on. I gave it a shot and ended up liking it. My first business trip came just three months into the job, straight to Amsterdam. So, while most people would be just wrapping up their probation period by this time, I was already in Amsterdam. While some may think this line of work is monotonous and repetitive, in reality, it is quite the opposite. Every project is completely unique, involving entirely different people.

What have been some of the most interesting moments for you so far?

Once we bought an armchair for €60,000 that had rather unusual tusks on the sides. That was probably the strangest thing we have ever bought.

Cultural differences are also interesting. I can mention our projects in Morocco, where we had to buy arrows that were stuck to the wall, indicating the direction of Mecca. Similarly, we had to ensure there was a Quran in every room. For rooms in Marriott hotels, we buy the Book of Mormon. I believe a similar custom is in Hilton, where they require a Bible in every room.

What are the current trends in the industry?

There is an increasing focus on sustainability and environmental consciousness. All furnishings must have certifications. For example, wooden products must have certificates verifying that the wood was sourced legally.

There is also a shift away from using glues in production, with a preference for metal screws and traditional wooden joints. Many materials are being recycled; for instance, we recently ordered 300 lamps with shades made from recycled materials, similarly to carpets and other fabrics. There is also a trend towards avoiding the use of real leather. In some projects, we received explicit requests to replace real leather with faux leather.

In Sweden, we have a project that emphasizes local sourcing, meaning that all materials used must be produced locally. While this concept is interesting, it can also present logistical challenges, as some products can only be produced in India and nowhere else. So, once again, we find ourselves in a position where we need to find balance between the given requirement and the actual possibilities.

However, certain key elements within the individual design proposals must remain unchanged, as they are integral to the designers' vision.

What stands out as your best personal experience?

The feeling of accomplishment upon completing a project, which I first see on paper, then through the implementation process, to witnessing its final realization, is truly gratifying. After countless phone calls and emails, seeing everything come together brings a profound sense of satisfaction. Only then can I genuinely say, "Good job!". The only feeling that surpasses this is seeing the hotel featured in a catalog, for example, among the top 100 hotels in the world.

Of course, working in this field also tends to skew one's perspective a bit, haha. When I was renovating my apartment, for example, I started with grandiose ideas, but the budget quickly brought me back to earth. And even when visiting hotels for leisure, I can't help but examine every product to identify the supplier. And when something catches my eye, I write it down right away.

Why did you choose BASE to be your seat in Bratislava?

In short - exceptional location and beautiful space. We are very satisfied here and given our collaboration with design and world-renowned architectural firms, I can't imagine a better place for us in Bratislava. I have had many visitors from around the world who liked it here and always complimented this space.

I especially appreciate the dynamic environment here. I enjoy talking to the many interesting people from various sectors who work here. I always find our conversations engaging, covering a wide range of topics. It is completely different than if we all worked in one office and did the same thing. A bunch of us even make lunch together every day. I would also like to compliment the entire BASE team—they are truly fantastic. So far, there hasn't been a situation they couldn't help me with.

Similar articles