Henry Chebaane is the 2017 winner for best Hotel Lobby/Public Areas in the Global category of the International Hotel & Property Awards. Winning the acclaimed awards for 2 projects “Artscape Lobby” and “The Tea Lounge”, both of which can be found in the JW Marriott Absheron Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan. Acclaimed international hospitality designer and conceptual artist, Henry Chebaane is also the founder and creative director of Blue Sky Hospitality.
The Artscape lobby provides what might be the world’s first public space formed by a reception area and lobby cafe, that looks and feels like a giant immersive art gallery but performs and functions like a hotel lobby. Chebaane wanted to create a space that defined an experience for the guest which is deeply rooted in a sense of place, and represented the region, its culture and nature.
Chebaane used the old Persian name of the city Baku (the “wind-pounded city”) and the surrounding Absheron peninsula (“place of salty waters”) as the main source of inspiration for the Artscape Lobby. Combining these historical influences with the rich nature of the nearby Caucasus mountains, where the Walnut tree is one of the dominant species, he created this award winning space.
Utilising these elements to create innovative ‘E-Booths’, built from walnut blocks and polished stainless steel – their shape inspired by inverted geodes from the nearby mountains – are fitted with power connection and wireless printing, serving as a virtual business centre. Overhead light fittings and the reception desks are also made of solid walnut blocks and polished stainless steel elements that symbolise solid-state wind and water in the digital age. The resulting installation sees four sculptural and functional pieces, made of deconstructed and rearranged surfaces of fractal geometry crystals, take centre stage.
Designed to express the duality between heritage and innovation, the adjacent Tea Lounge is also influenced by the themes of permanence and transition. Chebaane has conceived this space like a luxurious “chaikhana” (the traditional Central Asian tea house) for modern nomads, the space is anchored by a central tea studio, where the various rituals of tea-making are enacted live.
The tea alter is an elevated theatre stage with a monolithic slab from where boiling water on tap is poured freely to rinse pots and infuse leaves. The contact of hot water and stone slab, creates plumes of steam reminiscent of early mountain fog on the slopes of tea plantations.
The tea alter is framed by four vertical glass cellars, rising from floor to ceiling, containing over one hundred jars of hand-picked tea leaves: white, green, oolong, pouerh, black, as well as local specialities such as mountain flowers and wild herbs. The colors for the fabrics and finishes is a direct composition of these various shades of plants and tea leaves, providing a simple, elegant and rich palette of sage, jade, teal, turquoise, chocolate and greens.
The public space of the JW Marriott Absheron have been enhanced with the aim to redefine the experience of a classic hotel lobby and lounge by immersing guests into an ancient narrative with a strong regional identity within a contemporary lifestyle.