Interviews.

‘Interior design is key to a great guest experience’

Click. catches up with leading interior designer, Nicola O’Mara, to find out how to get the most out of your design whatever your budget, as well as tips on what to avoid

by Ellie Ross, Click. Travel Writer

Topic: Guest experience

Click. Takeaway

  • Nicola O’Mara has scooped prestigious awards, such as Design et al’s Best International Ski Chalet award
  • A property’s interior should capture a potential client instantaneously on the website, and provide the best guest experience possible from the minute they arrive
  • According to O’Mara, ‘maximalism’ is in and the industry is set to see more and more textures, throws, colour, collections and ethnic patterns

Interior design remains an important part of the travel industry and a crucial way to entice and retain guests, as Nicola O’Mara knows. The award-winning interior designer works on high-end properties for ski chalets and holiday rental companies including Beach Retreats, a coastal letting specialist in Cornwall and Devon in the UK. Her latest project saw her spend four months revamping Windrush, a luxury four-bedroom house in Holywell Bay.

Nicola O'Mara, Interior Designer

Nicola O’Mara, Interior Designer

O’Mara has worked all over the world, from Russia to the French Alps, scooping prestigious awards, such as Design et al’s Best International Ski Chalet award.

“When I started this job 20 years ago, you weren’t able to look at people’s portfolios – you’d have to phone up for brochures to be sent to you. Now we have access to the whole world through the internet. It’s amazing. And much more accessible,” she says.

After studying art and design at university, O’Mara secured a job as an interior designer for a construction company. Three years later she bought the design and build side of the business – and she has been working on her own ever since.

We caught up with O’Mara to find out about some of the lessons she’s learned along the way, including what makes a property stand out from the crowd…

Click: Why is interior design important for properties in the travel industry?
O’Mara: Interior design is key for driving a successful business. A property’s interior should capture a potential client instantaneously on the website, and provide the best guest experience possible from the minute they arrive. It’s essential to stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression so clients will book again and spread the word to similar clientele.

Click: Who is doing interior design really well?
O’Mara: Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire. It has amazing interiors – rustic yet chic, with bags of personality. It’s like a new way of experiencing a getaway, and it stands out from everything else.

Click: What advice can you give to a company looking to enhance their interior design with only a small budget?
O’Mara:  Avoid bland and uninspiring. Try and create a subtle theme throughout. For instance, a countryside property could be themed around a woodman’s cottage. Think of your target market and work around that. So, use a zen interior for high-end hen parties, with sheepskin rugs, boutique cosmetics and, ideally, a hot tub. Subtlety is key – you don’t want it looking like Disneyland. Shop for bargains on eBay, your local Facebook market page and in the sales.

Windrush in Holywell Bay, UK. Photo: Beach Retreats 

Click: And one with a big budget?
O’Mara: Think scale, think big, think texture and think outside the box. You want guests to subconsciously feel the quality, from the heavy copper pots and larder full of spices in the kitchen, to the soft Egyptian cotton sheets in the bedroom and luxurious carpets underfoot.

Click: What are the key ingredients to ensure the perfect guest experience?
O’Mara: Functionality, practicality, design and creating an overall positive experience. Good bedding is the most important thing to get right. If guests have an awful night’s sleep that’s all they’ll remember. Go for sumptuous mattresses and sheets. The kitchen should be kitted out with top appliances and anything you wouldn’t want to bring on holiday, like spices. And in-house technology is key. Wi-Fi is a must, but underfloor heating, a smart TV, surround sound, and iPads add extra comfort. Leave a few surprises, such as dog blankets and bowls.

Click: How have guest expectations changed over the years?
O’Mara: Guests demand a higher level of comfort, beauty and convenience than ever before. Holiday homes used to be underwhelming, and people assumed the view alone would sell the property. But things have moved on. Now you need the view and the interior.

Click: What are the challenges of working in this industry?
O’Mara: Tight timescales, lack of great workmen and suppliers not delivering on time. You are governed by how quickly suppliers can get things to you, so you need to be good at chasing them. Keep people informed, and as long as you make their lives easier they will come back to you. My projects usually range from eight weeks to 12 months.

Click: What role does technology play in your job?
O’Mara: I use AutoCAD, a computer programme that helps do room plans and lighting design. I also use PowerPoint to present mood boards to clients and often speak to them on Skype.

People are investing in automotive systems, clever textures and technologies. The industry has opened up vastly since I started out two decades ago

Click: What are the common misconceptions of interior design?
O’Mara: That designers charge too much and inflict their designs on the client. The truth is that designers can save you time, money and costly mistakes.

Click: What makes a good interior designer?
O’Mara: Someone who communicates and listens to their client’s aspirations and requirements. The finished result is a design that exceeds the client’s expectations.

Click: Where do you get your inspiration?
O’Mara: Mainly from magazines, but also Pinterest and Instagram. Local fairs and exhibitions are also a good source of inspiration, as well as the Paris Maison & Objet Show and Design et al website.

Click: What’s the next big trend in interior design?
O’Mara: ‘Maximalism’. We’ll see more and more textures, throws, colour, collections and ethnic patterns.

Click: What does the future hold for interior design?
O’Mara: People are investing in automotive systems, clever textures and technologies. The industry has opened up vastly since I started out two decades ago – it’s sure to develop and open up even more pathways in the coming years.

If you like this you might want to read: ‘We don’t sell a brand, we sell an emotion’ – our interview with concept hotel Co-Founder, Hans Meyer.

Hero photo: credit to Beach Retreats

Ellie Ross is a freelance journalist and travel writer, specialising in active travel, health and fitness

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