The big interview: Boris Duhamel, founder and CEO of Baseline

by | 28 Jun 2022 | Interview

Imagery courtesy of Baseline.

In a TOPHOTELNEWS exclusive, Boris Duhamel, the founder and CEO of Baseline Lighting Design Studio, reveals how he and his team are building a profile in hospitality off the back of the business’ leading reputation in retail.

Hong Kong’s Eastern District boasts a dynamic gem in the lighting design sphere: Baseline. With the company reaching a milestone decade of trading, TOPHOTELNEWS caught up with Duhamel to see how the firm’s international high end hotel portfolio is progressing.

What does your role involve?

I understand market trends and define strategies to provide clients with innovative solutions. As our creative director I create unique luxury atmospheres with a twist to make clients’ hotel spaces addictive for guests. I am building up a culture of listening and focus on providing solutions.

Could you tell us about your career to date?

Since I created Baseline Lighting Design Studio 10 years ago, I have continuously learned about the lighting industry. I have built up a versatile organisation with empathic people that understand clients’ needs and constraints and focus on providing adequate solutions.

We are already the leading lighting designer for luxury retail in Asia, so since 2018 we have been growing our hospitality sector business. We offer pragmatic best practices enabling clients to achieve their desired design quickly and within budget. I am proud of our design team and creative company culture.

What key hotel projects have you undertaken?

Among others, we worked on MGM’s The Mansion, a five star exclusive hotel and resort in Macau, with French architect Jacques Garcia. This masterpiece with 27 private villas, VIP gambling rooms and restaurants has a particularly baroque stylish design requiring much creativity to create a luxury lighting atmosphere with concealed fixtures.

We did Pullman Hotel in Hong Kong alongside designer DWP, which called for a complete redesign of the famous Park Lane property. The style is modern, and the atmosphere can be tailored in various areas such as the bedrooms, lounge, ballroom and the iconic Sky bar using a smart control system.

We proudly worked on some eco-resorts, such as Cross Hoi An Resort & Residence in Vietnam or Villa Estrelas Atins in Brazil, utilising a minimalist approach to lighting, playing with the natural environment and local resources.

Construction is about to complete for the complex Wyndham Soleil project in Danang, Vietnam. Comprising four towers of 50 stages each, the project saw us working with Aedas architects to create a styled lighting design. The hotel features a modern classic design with an iconic piece in the lobby. The façade reflects a coral reef image at night through the tropical landscape, where lighting gives life to the trees and plants. A luxury shopping mall on the ground floor is a symbol of modernity, hosting top tier luxury brands, while the three apart-hotel towers are a functional and modern decorative inspiration.

What achievement are you most proud of in your career?

Over the past 10 years I have built a team of passionate expert designers and engineers delivering excellence to our clients and partners. With sustainable application at heart, they are LEED Green Associates, and are trained to comply with environmental lighting requirements.

We won an Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) award last year for our lighting design at Shanghai restaurant bar and lounge, Ce La Vie. Crystallising the energy of various talents from different origins and cultures requires much patience but the result achieved is stunning. Nelson Mandela was right: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

What’s been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge has been to gain a level of patience that enabled me to cross raging seas. Become stronger from failures and be able to reinvent oneself and the company strategy. Starting from a vision to dramatise lighting atmospheres to create emotions, I’ve fine tuned myself to lead my team to success.

How would you sum up your design philosophy?

Design starts by understanding people and culture. To successfully perform and deliver the client’s expectations, you need a large dose of humility, strong communication and listening skills, creative thinking, common sense, and project management skills. My philosophy is to use lighting as a vehicle to dramatise a client’s experiences. It is essential to touch people’s senses – I like to claim that lighting is a perfume from your eyes and if it ‘smells’ good it is addictive. Only a few talented experts can create and deliver an impactful lighting design.

What hotel lighting design trends are you noticing now?

At the high-end, lighting design is a smart integrated mix of custom-made and architectural lighting, where decorative pairs with architectural packages. decorative lighting is controllable, can vary in colour temperature (the colour of light) and intensity. These are advanced strategies that are now adopted by Peninsula Hotels & Resorts and other luxury hospitality groups.

Mid-tier hotel brands and franchises are heavily investing in interior, material, and lighting systems that are concealed and functional, with fewer decorative elements. All developers now want environmental certifications and compliance, driving lighting designers to decrease the lighting power consumption per square metre and meshing sensors wherever possible to cut energy wastage. In Asian hotels façade lighting is an important criteria to stand out from competitors. It requires close communication between the lighting designer, façade architect, contractor and suppliers.

What aspects of your supplier relationships do you value the most?

We do value the flexibility of a supplier in terms of reactivity and customisation when at the design stage. What matters during construction is their ability to provide local site support and demonstrate a strong problem-solving attitude. We appreciate suppliers visiting our studio with innovative solutions on a regular basis. Technology is improving fast: we always want higher efficiency and low power consumption. We look for miniaturised lighting fixtures with intensive optics – only few suppliers can perform in this segment.

Do you have specific supplier brands in mind when creating lighting design?

Though there are universal fixtures that could be used across projects, specification depends on the individual project. At Baseline Lighting Design Studio, we make it a point of honour to design to budget. It is only once we understand the intent and budget of our client for a given project that we start designing. When developing a plan, we can pick suppliers that we know would meet both technical and budget criteria. We always have several suppliers in mind when creating lighting design, as some European and international suppliers are setting trends with unique solutions. According to the client’s exigence and budget we can decide at an early design stage to use international or local (China, Vietnam, Thailand) suppliers.

What would your dream hotel look like?

My dream hotel would look like an eco-resort which engenders a unique feeling of well-being and love.

It would have a combination of tranquillity and simplicity that is both addictive and inspiring, reminding us of the magic of experiencing more with less, in an immaculate natural environment. The hotel would be surrounded by trees and plants close to a beach. The location matters to access a sense of paradise.

The owner and designers would have put much attention into igniting our senses through design, perfume, light, acoustic, and music to create a place where the service is both exclusive and discrete. The design spirit would be based on combining modern simple elements with natural local materials, and integration with nature would be at the design’s forefront. At night the light would add a magical feel to the space. As an example of style, I like the work of architect Migual Câncio Martins on Sublime Comporta.

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Baseline is a multicultural international lighting design studio, founded in Hong Kong, providing lighting design services for architects, interior designers, property developers, general contractors, retailers and hotel brands.

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