Meet the global design studio focused on sustainability

Founded by Robbyn Carter, Studio Carter is an international design firm with offices in Los Angeles, Singapore, Shanghai and Amsterdam. Specializing in boutique hospitality and lifestyle projects, Carter and her team bring a thoughtful and sustainable approach to every order.

How did you get interested in design and hospitality? I started my career as a sculptor, casting and welding large pieces of metal art. As starving artists often do, I had a second job working in restaurants at the same time. It was in the restaurant business that I realized my affinity for the hospitality industry and dreamed of a career in hotel design where, unlike an object, I could create an immersive experience.

What are some of the trends you’ve noticed in hotel design and what are some of the trends you see for the future, both in technology and aesthetics? I consider hotel design to have a more positive impact on the environment. At Studio Carter, we practice environmental sustainability by choosing responsible materials. Rejuvenating materials such as hemp wood and mycelium products have come a long way in terms of aesthetics and can be used as beautiful elements in a hotel. Additionally, sustainable water practices are a must and we remove all plastics where possible.

We also like to introduce flexibility into our designs. This can be achieved by doubling the functions, such as a suite converting into a meeting room or a hotel room combined with an exercise studio and workshop. It is a tailored but adaptive lifestyle approach.

You note on your website that your inspiration is often drawn from local stories. Can you share any significant stories or discoveries? The first hotel I designed in the Maldives was inspired by objects found on the island. We stayed on the island for a few days before starting to design and finding endless inspirations in nature. We found crab footprint patterns in the sand, which translated into textures in the plaster finish. A bouquet of fishing nets inspired light fixtures and artwork. We even tried to capture the smell of native plants with an olfactory museum (a cabinet) filled with the native smells of the island. One of my favorites was the smell of cool rain on the white coral-filled sand, translated into a diffuser.

Craftsmanship and quality are essential to what you do, and you often create bespoke pieces in your designs. Can you tell me about a few specific pieces that stand out? One of my favorite pieces is a six meter long seamless copper bar we made for a nightclub in Vietnam. We visited a small village in Java where you can hear the chime of artisans’ hammers annealing copper into shape. It’s amazing how they can mold a flat sheet of metal into a beautiful sculptural shape.

Another amazing memory was creating a hand-woven headboard from rope and decorative knots in India. We supported a small group of women weavers who could not logistically manage a family home and at the same time work a day job in a factory. We provided work that supported both a dying craft and local women.

What are some of the technological innovations that are helping you and your business through Covid-19? Having three global studios located in Europe, Southeast Asia and the United States has proven incredibly effective. If one office goes down due to unforeseen circumstances, the other offices are there to help. We are constantly looking for platforms to ensure smooth communication between our offices around the world. Miro is an amazing visual communication platform that my designers and I use every day that allows us to brainstorm ideas as if we were in one office.

How do you think the hospitality industry will evolve in the coming years? I expect the industry to embed more mindfulness, wellness and mental health practices into the DNA of a hotel’s existing brand. I expect these practices to be woven into all spaces, from guest rooms to restaurants and bars, and to be inclusive and available to anyone staying at the hotel.

What have been some of the unique design challenges over the past year and the challenges you foresee for the future? A challenge that I have faced over the past year, due to limited travel, is the inability to be physically present for the necessary and very important process of making the products.

Before Covid, I had always explored the world to find amazing artisans and visited them in their workshops to better understand their approach. I met everyone from Japanese artisan foundries to Indonesian coppersmiths and woodcarvers to Indian weavers and textile producers. The incredible European furniture makers and craftsmen have also always been a huge source of inspiration.

How do you balance creating something that is both timeless and cutting-edge at the same time? I like to think deeply and responsibly about how we build. It’s important to consider a timeless design, because we don’t want to redesign our hotels every five to 10 years, but rather refresh them with upholstery and art. We like to consider the longevity of interior architectural design and use a more timeless and eco-friendly approach. I hope that the material I choose can also have a life beyond its immediate application. We try to avoid materials that could end up in a landfill in 10 years.

However, upholstery fabrics can wear out and need to be replaced more frequently, so we tend to take a more edgy and experimental approach with these items. The artwork can be another cutting edge item. I love the element of surprise when it comes to artwork and often encourage a rotating collection over the years.

What gives you hope right now? What inspires me the most is being connected to something bigger than ourselves and being able to change the way our industry works. I want to inspire all design studios to make eco-friendly decisions by creating beautiful spaces that incorporate this ethos. I believe that if I can create beautiful spaces with responsible materials, anyone can.

Joseph E. Golightly