Born in Serbia, Yelena Petrovic holds a Masters’s Degree in Architecture after graduating from the University of Belgrade, Serbia, in 2001. Petrovic relocated to Kuwait in 2007, where she started working on a hospitality project, and then to Dubai in 2011, which opened new professional horizons with large-scale properties. She is currently Head of Design, focused on Interior Design and Architecture, at Meraas Hospitality, from Dubai, and part of the LIV Hospitality Design Awards jury panel. Yelena’s passion is luxury hotel design; she describes “Luxury” as being focused on comfort, elegance, and a custom touch to embody the highest pedigree of interior design.
Do you mind sharing your story? How did you start working in Design for the Hospitality Industry?
As a trained Masters’s in Architecture and Interior Design, I have been involved in projects like Interior design for villas, office spaces, and schools, but moving to the Middle East opened a new horizon for me in the hospitality industry – design and construction at the same time. My first project introduced me to hotel room design, developing shop drawings, material and fabric selection, site follow-up, dealing with fit-out contractors to monitor execution… I needed to understand hotel space planning, function, and the philosophy of the hospitality industry, which is essentially connected to serving people. I needed to learn the importance of BOH (what they call it ‘heart of the hotel’), not only the visual aspect of the project.
On my next project, I had an opportunity to design a hotel room on my own: restaurants, a lobby redesign, an executive lounge, ADD… It pushed me further into hotel principles, relations, and doctrines. I was completely into it.
Hotel interior design is an important factor for guests and can increase customer satisfaction. It can also act as a benchmark for the levels of service, quality, and comfort that a guest expects – therefore, good quality hotel interior design is more important than ever before. But the paramount will be to find a balanced design for the hotel’s success, which includes interior design exposed to the guest in great coordination with the “invisible part” of the clientele.
You are based in the Middle East, can you tell us where you worked before moving to Kuwait in 2007?
In 2001, after graduation, I worked as a freelancer. In the beginning, I did some residential projects and a few shops’ interior designs. Afterwards, I was employed in MasinoProject, an architectural consultancy, with an emphasis on the architectural design of schools, factories, villas, and commercial buildings.
What is your main source of inspiration and constraints for Middle East properties?
Arab culture is very rich and can be inspirational. Its language, literature, gastronomy, art, architecture, music, spirituality, philosophy… There’s so much to work with. About constraints, I’d say these are the weather conditions and fewer local material choices.
What does your current position at Meraas Hospitality involve? Can you tell us more about your responsibilities?
I am Head of Design in Hospitality, so my role is to manage any aspect in terms of interior design and architecture for the new coming projects or refurbishments. Appointing consultants, elaborating design briefs and directing them, selecting material, reviewing drawings, and overseeing the sites where design intent is followed.
What are you working on at the moment, and do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re able to tell us about?
A few refurbs and certain design analyses for future potential projects.
Yelena, your passion is luxury hotel design, how do you think the expectations of luxury hotels are changing? How does property design reflect them?
Sustainability and the protection of natural resources have been major issues raised in recent years in hospitality: nature has become the new luxury. People started to appreciate it more than before.
In luxury, things can be more powerful than words, for instance, service or a view. It could be something you don’t expect or something more than you’d expected. It’s the ‘wow’ effect that can go beyond expectations or can be translated into a number of things, in many different ways. These elements you can find in interior design details or in the unique OS&E products, and the customers know to recognize them.
Do you have any tips for aspiring Interior Design and Architects starting their career?
Love what you do, be innovative, stay updated, develop a keen eye for detail, and consider all senses.