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Designing a Career in Luxury Interiors: Ros Keet, David Collins Studio

What does a career in hospitality interior design look like? Originally from South Africa, Roslyn (Ros) Keet moved to London to study interiors at the KLC School of Design. After graduating she gained experience with a boutique interior design company for five years, three of which were spent in Los Angeles working on very high-end private residential projects, she then joined David Collins Studio and hasn’t looked back.


Now Ros, alongside Creative Director Simon Rawlings and fellow Design Director Lewis Taylor, leads the commercial team at David Collins Studio, overseeing hotel, restaurant, and bar projects, primarily, from the initial concept stage right through to delivery. In her 17 years with David Collins Studio, Ros has completed dozens of projects, and her work has taken her all over the globe, from Bangkok to New York as well as her native South Africa. Award-winning projects include the Nobu Hotel London Portman Square, Delaire Graff Estate, Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, and most recently Velvet bar at Corinthia London. Ros particularly relishes incorporating local points of reference into her schemes and working with local artisans and craftspeople, helping to make it a hallmark of David Collins Studio projects.

Ros Keet David Collins Studio

We chat with Ros to learn more about the design process, working with craftspeople and artisans, sustainability and other design trends, and what it’s like to design a career in…design!

Where did you grow up and what was your first job?


I grew up in the South African bush. My childhood was spent in wild freedom with few physical and imagined boundaries which fostered a creative streak and imagination from a young age. What many would deem an exclusive safari holiday was in fact my day-to-day living! The resulting close connection with nature and a respect for the environment was foundational to my understanding of natural materials, evocative landscapes, and how important the quality of light and colors interplay.


You came to London to study design, did you always yearn to leave South Africa?


I always yearned to travel beyond South Africa and experience city life in England, a country so incredibly rich in history – and totally different from what I had experienced growing up. After arriving in London, I was exposed to and inspired by successful and impressive women within design (past and present) such as Andrée Putman, Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, Elsie de Wolfe and Jenny Armit. These inspiring women drove me to pursue my studies in design.

The Delaire Graff Estate, a hotel in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Delaire Graff Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

From design school, you ended up working in residential interiors for Jenny Armit and that role took you to Los Angeles. How did you land the job with David Collins Studio?


My time in Los Angeles was coming to an end and I had already fallen in love with London and wanted to return. With Jenny Armit’s support, I was introduced to David Collins, who was expanding his residential design team at that time.


Ah, so you branched into commercial spaces while at David Collins Studio. What steps have you taken in your career to become Design Director?


The early years at David Collins Studio were an incredible learning experience. I was exposed to the best of everything: the best projects, the best designers, the best manufacturers, the best craftspeople. My most significant leap within The Studio was the opportunity to work with Simon Rawlings - now Creative Director - on my first commercial project, The London Hotel NYC. Focusing on the top penthouse suites, this project, shortly followed by the second London Hotel in West Hollywood, married my residential experience with the framework of delivering a commercial project. Those two hotel projects proved so successful and enjoyable, I knew that working on commercial projects, bringing with me my residential approach to layering and detailing, was really what I wanted to do. Since then, the commercial design team has grown from strength to strength, and it is great to lead such an incredible group of talented designers.


The Delaire Graff Estate Owner's Villa, a hotel in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Owner’s Villa, Delaire Graff Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

How do you approach a big design project with your team?


We brainstorm as a team, and each member is encouraged to build on the inspiration and start forming their thoughts on the components of the design; from the interior architecture and joinery to custom furniture and lighting. Whilst based in London, we are a multi-national Studio compromising 60 + designers from across the world, and encouraging personal contributions into our designs makes for a richer work experience and end product.


We also invest a lot of time into research, whether it be based on historical, geographical, or material influences. We always aim to create an intelligent design concept, with a strong narrative, and that really helps streamline the process and efficiency of delivery for our clients.


As quickly as possible, I want to bring physical materials samples we are considering using into the Studio. Color is incredibly important in all our schemes, but so is how light responds to the surface quality of the materials: how does a polished timber look compared to a waxed timber, how does polished marble look vs honed and flamed marble? How do the colors of custom-dyed leathers feel during the day vs in the evening? These are nuances that cannot be experienced via a computer screen, and the designs need to exist in the real world.


In the final stages, the design gets crafted into a concept with a full scope of materials, pricing, and CGI imagery and presented to the client.


CGI imagery is necessary for someone like me who struggles to visualize spaces! How do you use design to create a mood in a hotel, restaurant, or bar?


In any space, you want people to look and feel amazing. We as interior designers are responsible for creating that backdrop. In my view, hospitality spaces work most successfully when the interior architecture is successfully rationalized and ordered, based on symmetry and clean lines, and well resolved operationally. We can then layer in color and texture, to create the mood. Good lighting plays a central role in injecting feeling and atmosphere into any space, particularly a late-night venue like a restaurant or bar. We aim to ensure all components are well balanced and no one sticks out – unless that is the intention of course! – so we ensure lighting is never harsh and always diffused, mirrors are generally leafed to gently reflect, and colors are tested in the end space to ensure they work and look their best before execution.

Hospitality is different than other design disciplines as beyond setting a mood, the space also needs to be functional for service and practical for high traffic versus say a residential project. How do you think through the functionality of a space?


I think understanding the brief and aspirations of the client, and collaborating with the operator helps hone in on how the space needs to work. Space planning, service routes, ergonomics, and good quality materials that can withstand high traffic and frequent use are all key.

The Wolseley, London, which is turning 20 years old.
The Wolseley, London, will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year (2023)

Longevity is also important in hospitality design, how do you avoid spaces looking “dated’?


Really great design transcends a timeframe. We can look to The Wolseley, now considered an iconic restaurant in London, as a perfect example of this. David Collins designed that space twenty years ago (2023 marks the 20th anniversary!), but it still feels completely luxurious and special. I think this comes from being able to capture the emotion that people want to feel in a space––this is what makes the spaces timeless. Our designs are not trend-led. We then employ high-quality materials that evolve over time and take on a lived-in, aged patina that is charming and still looks and feels great as they age.

Our designs are not trend-led. We then employ high-quality materials that evolve over time and take on a lived-in, aged patina that is charming and still looks and feels great as they age.
Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel, France was finished in early 2023
Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel, launched January 2023

What skill do you think is most important to succeed in design?


This may surprise you, but it is communication. You really need to be able to explain your ideas and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders, from colleagues to craftspeople and clients. Being a good listener is a big part of that, and I think women are naturally good at hearing others' concerns and aspirations and then having the ability to work out the steps and details, to create consensus and bring the vision to life.


What other are other key skills to become a successful designer?

Strong detail orientation, creative flair, and excellent time management!


That makes sense as most design projects are very complex with many moving parts, how do you stay organized and keep everyone moving together?


Teamwork is key! We are a studio of creative and highly accomplished individuals who collaborate well and support each other. Professionalism is really the backbone of David Collins Studio, and we are committed to delivering a service and product of the highest quality to our clients. We stay connected to the project from inception to handover and beyond, with every detail checked during the process of construction and manufacture to ensure quality throughout.


For our latest hotel project at Anantara Plaza hotel in Nice, we had prototypes and components made for almost every piece of lighting and furniture that went into the space. This gave us the opportunity to test, challenge and finetune every aspect before committing to the full production.


Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel, France
SEEN by Olivier at Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel

Sustainability is the buzzword of the moment in travel, what does this mean to you and how has it become a priority in David Collins Studio projects?


David Collins Studio adopts a definition of luxury that promotes artisan craftsmanship, quality materials, and local sourcing to deliver interiors that are designed for longevity. We marry beauty with functionality and operational efficiency, aiming to deliver finished spaces that are environmentally conscious. We try to partner with clients, suppliers, and consultants who share our commitment to continually improving our sustainable credentials and reducing our environmental impact. Internally, we are constantly working to improve the working environment for staff and are committed to offering a safe and caring environment.


The Studio has partnered with Positive Luxury, an organization that works to accelerate the sustainability efforts of the luxury industry through a recognized Butterfly Mark certification process. An internal ESG+ steering committee, of which I am a member, has been working with Positive Luxury since last year to create a strategy and framework to guide our sustainability journey and hold us accountable.

Bespoke materials used in the Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel
Handwoven triptych wall hanging by Irish textile designer Jude Cassidy was commissioned for the Lobby at Anantara Plaza Nice

Using artisans and handcrafts in a commercial setting is surprising, yet it seems to be a hallmark of David Collins Studio projects and speaks to today’s luxury customers. How did that evolve?


We are storytellers and using local artisans brings together two design cultures, whilst supporting our sustainable sourcing strategy. At The Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch for example, we used South African artists and had feature pieces made locally. That involved doing a lot of research into traditional crafts and then translating that into a David Collins Studio design – essentially working with rustic local materials and creating a more refined, contemporary result. Seeing an end product that is loyal to its location and contributes to the local economy is extremely satisfying.

With such complex projects and sourcing goods from many suppliers, things are bound to go wrong. How do you handle mistakes and move on?


We have so many checks and balances in place to ensure that things don’t go wrong, but if they do, there is always a work around! It is less about the mistake and more about how we’re going to approach the solution that defines the issue.


When a project is close to completion, what are the final steps before opening day?


We care passionately about our projects and that means we are on-site when things are delivered, quality checking, and overseeing the installation process! The days before opening we work with the lighting consultant to ensure that the lighting levels are correctly balanced and assist the client team to place artwork and accessories, creating beautiful vignettes.


We are very hands-on, and I always travel with an installation kit that includes all the tools and equipment that I know will inevitably be needed including sets of white gloves for placing final accessories, secateurs to adjust the final flower arrangements, and a USB-charged lighter for the candles.

The lobby of the Anantara Plaza Nice Hotel, France
Les Colonnades (all-day-dining) at Anantara Plaza Nice

While David Collins Studio is known for luxury, everyone has a budget, do you have any secrets for creating value?


Yes, a strong vision. Once you have that, everything can be balanced and molded to suit the budget, without compromising the overall effect and guest experience.


What top 3 (or 5) design trends do you see coming down the pike?


I try not to be led by trends or give that much attention to what other people are following, but I do think that sustainability is underpinning a lot of trends, as it should; whether it’s innovation, technology, materials, or production. I find that crucial – and exciting.


What advice would you give women looking to craft a career in design?


The design industry in general is very welcoming and supportive of strong female designers, and we have some incredible role models for inspiration. My advice is to think and apply yourself beyond the creative. Work on the skills that make it a reality and are required in the day-to-day realities of work; whether that is understanding the business side of design, developing presentation skills, or learning about the construction, production, and manufacturing processes that make your designs a reality. Any time spent on site is also invaluable!

Quickfire with Ros!


What is your morning routine?

I start every morning with a cup of coffee made by my husband. Having that moment of quiet with my partner is the biggest luxury.

What is your top design hack for home?

Candlelight and fresh flowers.


What is your best travel trick?

Always have the next trip booked to look forward to.


What is the best advice you ever got?

Be kind to yourself.


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

My TV changes according to the seasons; Scandi noir in the dark winter months, comedy-drama in the summer. As an escape, I love books in the genre of magic realism. Anything by Gabriel García Márquez, Elif Shafak or Isabel Allende.




1 Comment


Howdy! It's fascinating to read. I always knew that being a specialist in luxury interiors was not easy. You need to have a lot of experience and knowledge. These are the skills of the swimming pool contractor who recently renovated my yard. They create comprehensive project timelines, outline necessary tasks involved in the project. This level of organization minimizes delays and ensures a structured approach, which really surprised me.

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