Yuna Megre: design with purpose

The Russian hospitality designer on her unusual background, the psychology of design and building an ice bar in Europe's highest restaurant

Yuna Megre

Born in Russia, Yuna Megre attended school in the UK and later gained a degree in business studies at Cardiff University. After a brief stint in advertising, she studied interior design at Chelsea College of Arts, and launched her own hospitality design firm, MEGRE INTERIORS, in 2008.

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She sat down with EKBB at Sleep + Eat, the UK’s largest hospitality design event, in the VIP lounge she designed, to answer questions about her style, her inspirations, and the unique challenges of hospitality design.

How would you describe your style?

I don’t have one. What we practice is human-centred, concept-driven design. So we always design with people in mind. And then the concept driven part is that we remove the designer ego from that and we really concentrate on what each project means. If I’m doing a bakery, I can’t be using the same tools and the same design language as if I’m doing a nightclub.

It’s a very unpopular position, in all honesty, and it’s not easy to promote because if you are very distinct in your look, it’s a lot easier to promote yourself as a designer, but for me, that’s not authentic to me. I want to create projects that have their own DNA, that are almost like living and breathing organisms. They’re babies that we kind of grow and then we let them go out into the world to have their own life, and to develop and evolve.

When we design, we look and say, “Ok, we’re doing this interior” – but how will it change in a year’s time, in five years’ time, in 10 years time? Because we don’t want to create throwaway designs.

What look do you strive for in your own home?

I mix and match a lot. My two favourite designers are Kelly Wearstler and Kit Kemp… both of their ways of working with colour and shape and texture. Kit Kemp especially is insanely great at really answering the challenges that hospitality poses. It’s simple and yet it’s not over-thought.

Something can be very bright and very eclectic but not seem forced and to me, that’s what great design is, and that’s what I strive towards.

How did you develop your approach to design?

I went to Cardiff University and did a business degree, then I worked in advertising for a year, and I think a lot of my approach comes from working at Saatchi and Saatchi – really understanding marketing and the way that you create brands and reinforce brands. And that’s why we work according to brief – not according to our egos, that’s something that I say.

And how does that play out in your work?

Chelsea College of Art gave me a really great framework for conceptual thinking, the way they push you, all the time, like really breaking things down and understanding the reasoning behind everything that you do.

They complain in the office all the time when they’re developing, when I’m like: “Why are you using that colour?” And they say: “It goes well”, and I’m like” “That’s not an answer!”. Every single thing you do in an interior has to have a reason that takes you back to your concept.

What inspires you?

People are the biggest inspiration for everything that I do. Yeah, I can say like really typical things like travel and art and boats. But in essence, those are all things that either people do or people create so, in the end, I am influenced by people. So when I’m looking at nature, even the non-human side of it, we still are influencing that world. We have the weather that we have because we have the influence on our planet. So we have a motto for the company that we are designed by what we have designed.

How does psychology affect hospitality design?

[When people] are sitting facing inwards, of course when they look up to see the person who is across from them [they] make eye contact. And when you make eye contact, it’s polite to smile and when you smile that can lead to a conversation. So we’re programming a certain behaviour.

To me design is really like in a theatre, you know, when you’re sitting and you’re looking at the stage, they switch on the light in one area and switch it off in another area and you instantly know where to look. Same way with an interior. Our job as designers is to really compliment and really pull out all the positives in the space and, like, make people look at certain things and not see other things.

Our job as hospitality designers is to make this world a little bit more comfortable. We’re not saving it, by all means, but if a guest likes the hotel and doesn’t have a fight with his wife, you know, that’s one little point for my karma – that’s good. We’re all part of a big organism.

sleep and eat lounge
Megre transformed London Olympia’s Club Room into a VIP lounge with an exotic floral decor and a seating area inspired by prehistoric campfires

What’s the most challenging project that you’ve worked on?

When we were building the highest restaurant in Europe. It’s on the 84th floor, 354 metres above ground – best views ever, it’s in Moscow – and there’s two elevators. One is being used by the building because they’re finishing construction, so we’re only allowed to use one. My general contractor had a schedule of when materials [can] go up and down, when people can go up and down. So if I’m late to a meeting – it’s a terrible habit of mine – that would mean I’d have to wait 45 minutes for the next elevator.

But the most challenging thing was building an ice room up on that level. We had to do the ventilation, and everything was very complicated. My clients tried to give up six times, and then I had a meeting with them and sat them down and said: “Listen, it’s going to be fine. We’re going to do it.”

They sold it to a vodka brand for eight times the amount that they spent on it. So, a lot of the time we’ve got a crossover into the discipline of acting as semi-restaurateurs, together with our clients.

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Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

We’re working on a lot of stuff at the moment – actually, we just finished the restaurant at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow. And right now we’re actually doing a whole building in the centre of Moscow. 22 apartments with a cafe on the ground floor and like a really interesting courtyard, like a glass covered courtyard that’s going to be like an art space and garden. And we’re working on four or five hotels.