20 Minutes with Vee Kessner – Space Studio

Since she was a child, Vee Kessner, director at Space Studio, has always been playing with designs, drawing and sketching things.

“It was natural for me to move into design as I grew older. Coming to interior design, as opposed to architecture or fine arts, took a little longer,” said Kessner.

“When I was young, interior design hadn’t really been recognised as a field of study, so I did a business degree over four very long years.”

After Kessner completed her degree she immediately went and studied a design diploma and has been in the design field ever since, working with architectural practices for many years before taking the big step of setting up her own studio.

“When I first started in design, I did a lot of retail design because my degree was in business marketing. In those years it was about developing a brand identity and then rolling out a standard look across the entire brand.”

Having established herself in the interior design field for a while now, Kessner has seen design trends come and go and knows what’s most important.

She believes that every space needs to stand out individually, as well as speaking for its place and leaving an impression on people.

Lobby at Cordis, Auckland.

Cordis, Auckland.

“As basic principles, hotels should be comfortable for people, easy-to-use, interesting and unique. What we probably will see, and are starting to see in tourism, is the ‘giving back’ piece, and that will change design a lot.”

Furthermore, Kessner has noticed a growing desire for properties to connect not just with visitors, but with locals.

“What we are seeing is a greater connection with the community, so the hotel is not just for the tourist but for the community and should engage fully with it. There is a deeper connection with people, and in our case, our iwi inform and weave more closely into our offering.”

In terms of technology, rapidly improving software has been a big change for most designers. It has dramatically changed how space is modelled and keeps evolving quickly. While it has helped designers communicate their ideas with architects and others more quickly, it also has its drawbacks.

“The challenge is that everyone expects everything fast, and as an old-school advocate I find people don’t always draw enough before they start. The design piece, the connection between hand and mind can sometimes be lost or stilted,” said Kessner.

Hotel Grand Windsor bedroom.

Hotel Grand Windsor.

One major obstruction she and many other New Zealanders connected to the hotel industry has experienced is with the construction sector.

“In New Zealand, cost is out of control. Our construction industry is so controlled that the costs are out of kilter with what actually is being delivered.”

Kessner and Space Studio has worked on many of Auckland’s newest and most trendy hotels. The SO/ Auckland and Hotel Grand Windsor have been notable recent examples, the latter of which she described as a “jewel box of design”. Space Studio also recently delivered a resort in Fiji for Six Senses and is now currently also working on a very large hotel at Auckland Airport which will commence construction later this year.

Going forward Kessner wants to keep mentoring and nurturing her young team members, which has always been a foundational part of Space Studio’s business.

“We have a lot of young people who have come through and stayed with us for long periods, or who have gone overseas and come back to work for us. For me, the joy is seeing them flourish and to drive this business, which allows me to focus more on design and less on managing the business.”