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What Happens When You Leave Your Comfort Zone: Deborah Wigardt, Villa Inkognito

After working at the same hotel for seven years, Deborah Wigardt was getting restless. She knew she needed a change but wasn't sure what could be her next step. Considering leaving the industry, a chance encounter with an inspiring leader led her to take a leap of faith. Here's what happened when Deborah stepped out of her comfort zone to become the supervisor and “Lady of the House” at the newly opened Villa Inkognito, an 11-room luxury boutique hotel within the Sommerro in Oslo.

Deborah Wigardt Villa Inkognito

Deborah's Back Story

Deborah started working in hospitality seven years ago after studying service industries in high school in Norway. Her journey began with a two-year training program, first as a receptionist and then working her way up to front desk manager and overseeing reservations at a mid-size hotel and spa in the countryside outside of Oslo.

After a few years, Deborah was getting restless. While she liked the work, she was unsure of her next steps and wanted to be challenged. Seven years of solid reception work, honing her communication skills with guests and management prepared her for the next step. She was wanting to grow and expand her horizon. “I needed to make a big decision and move on and get new experiences.”

Having suffered from acne most of her life, she was always interested in skincare and was considering going to beauty school. But fate intervened, and Deborah was invited to a company-wide party for Strawberry Hotels management that draws over 3,000 people every year to celebrate and build upon the company culture.

Villa Inkognito in Oslo © Francisco Nogueira
Villa Inkognito in Oslo © Francisco Nogueira

Make Your Own Opportunities

Weaving through the thick crowds at this event, she sought out Dominic Gorham, Guest Relations Manager, Sommerro. “Dominic is a bit of a legend within the company and had successfully opened THE THEIF in Oslo a few years back, I was curious about his new role at Sommerro and his plans for the property.” Deborah spotted him across the room, sidled over, and introduced herself. They chatted about the hotel and he gave her his contact information. “Meeting Dominic was amazing. I followed up the next day. A week later, Dominic and the hotel manager interviewed me. They asked me where I wanted to be in two years, and I said I wanted to be Dominic.”

Having made a strong impression, Deborah was offered the opportunity to apply to be a host at Sommerro. “It was quite scary for me in the beginning with not knowing anyone and starting all over after seven years in a new area of Norway. The warmth and support from new colleagues and managers helped a lot. It gave me new confidence and a new drive for hospitality. I wouldn’t have had the courage to do this without getting advice from other more senior leaders, including some amazing male allies.”

Being the Lady of the House

Today, Deborah is enjoying the challenge of her relatively new role, as “Lady of the House,” and hotel manager of the stunning 11-room Villa Inkognito, which is an annex to the Sommerro, the iconic 231-room Art Deco hotel. The property features seven restaurants and bars, meeting and event spaces with capacity for up to 150 people, a 100-seat gilded theatre, a landmark wellness space featuring historic public baths, and the city’s first year-round rooftop pool, sauna, and terrace, guests of Villa Inkognito have access to all the facilities of Sommerro.

Villa Inkognito, is truly an intimate retreat, that feels like a grand home with several opulent living rooms, including a library, snug room, meeting-and dining room space, an open kitchen, an intimate bar, a fitness room in the basement, and an outdoor area. And Deborah is in charge of it all, including making all arrangements for guests during their stays, everything from in-suite dining and wellness treatments from the experts at Vestkantbadet, to creating full itineraries for seeing sites around Oslo.

Taking on a new role in a new property was a big switch after seven years. How did you adjust?

It was daunting at the beginning, but I give a big credit to my new colleagues. They instantly made me feel welcomed with small things like asking me to join them for lunch breaks, just coming by asking how I was doing, and always making sure that I knew I could ask for help if needed. This part particularly is important since I really want to work things out on my own first, but I know when I fall short there are people surrounding me that want to help.

Deborah Wigardt and her mentor Dominic Gorham Villa Inkognito Oslo
Deborah Wigardt and her mentor Dominic Gorham at the Strawberry staff event in Stockholm where Sommerro won the prize for "New Hotel of the Year"

You credit Dominic for being a mentor and ally to you, what does that look like?

I talk to Dominic every day, we quite often share a teapot of green tea and talk about life. He helps me out with everything from if I need a table reservation for my guest when the city is fully booked or if I need advice on handling a situation that is new to me. For me having Dominic as a mentor means a lot, he is always positive, calm, and ready to help out. Not only is he quite experienced in hospitality and life in general. But for me as a person of color (with my dad being Norwegian Caucasian and my mother British Jamaican) having another person of color mentoring me means a lot. And I hope to be that person for some in the future.

Deluxe Guestroom at Villa Inkognito © Francisco Nogueira
Deluxe Guestroom at Villa Inkognito © Francisco Nogueira

What is your typical day like?

I start at 7 am to prepare for guests. We put out fresh flowers. Arrange any special requests for breakfast. Check to see if anyone is checking out. I then serve breakfast with the chef. Here’s a fun fact, I don’t drink coffee so I had to learn to make it for this role! We break down breakfast. Then I get ready for guest arrivals. In between I do all my planning, arranging staff shifts for housekeeping and the kitchen, and I work on arranging guest requests. Depending on what the evening plans are, I tend to leave around 6 pm

The kitchen set for breakfast at Villa Inkognito  © Francisco Nogueira
The kitchen set for breakfast at Villa Inkognito © Francisco Nogueira

You had to learn to make coffee for your role at Villa Inkognito, what is the most popular coffee order?

Well, oat milk is definitely trending right now so I would have to say the most popular coffee order is an oat milk latte.

What is your favorite part about running an 11-room property?

Being able to form connections with the guest staying and providing the best possible service. I also love working with the team and the way we help each other.

What has been the most interesting request?

Well, I have had people ask me to their rooms, which is not happening of course!! I love welcoming people to Oslo and helping them have an amazing time in our intimate hotel, where my goal is to make them feel at home. People ask me if I am worried about guests being demanding, and I don’t. What I have found is that people just want to be seen and heard. We’re all humans.

What if someone asks for something illegal or for something you can’t arrange?

I like to figure out solutions to any situation. We offer alternatives. Definitely nothing illegal!

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Being an open and willing person put me in the position to land this unique opportunity at Villa Inkognito. I will continue to go after and embrace new opportunities! In the future, I can see myself with more responsibilities and in a guest relations position, maybe even as a hotel manager.

Quickfire with Deborah

What is your morning routine?

Wake up at 05:00-05:30 (depending on what's happening that day), light some fresh scented candles, do some morning meditation, and have some positive affirmations playing while I get ready for the day. I try to avoid using my phone to check any apps for as long as possible. I also need tea, preferably green tea or peppermint. Always skincare and some makeup, before getting dressed and getting some breakfast before heading out. I like my morning time before work and not rushing in the morning.

What do you do for self-care/ exercise?

I work out and recently started with track and field. I wanted to do something new and challenge myself. I also enjoy going for walks and having some dark chocolate in the evening before going to bed.

What is your best skincare or makeup hack for women who suffer from acne?

MOISTURIZE, it is so important to take care of your skin barrier. That has helped me a lot, sunscreen is also a must. I apply SPF 50 all year round.

What books / TV / podcasts are you into right now?

Right now I am watching "The Good Doctor" on Netflix, quite enjoyable. For podcasts I have been into true crime recently, been listening to "True Crime with Kendall Rae."

What is the one thing anyone visiting Oslo MUST do?

Other than hanging out at Villa Inkognito and Sommerro? Going on a sauna raft. It is really refreshing and has a lot of health benefits. Would also recommend taking a walk over to Frognerparken for all the sculptures and beautiful landscape.


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