Lh Interview with Hospitality Design Master Stina Funch of Atwater Inc.
When it comes to interior design Stina Funch, co-founder and creative director of the international boutique design studio Atwater Inc., is a master! The design powerhouse’s experience covers a broad range of hospitality projects (her forte!) along with numerous unique residential projects around the world. And whether she is working directly with clients, contractors, or other members of the team, Stina brings an energy that elevates and facilitates. With offices in Los Angeles, China and Oman, and co-founder Sherif Rayes and her dynamic team by her side Atwater Inc. is a luxury design force.
I had the great pleasure connecting with Stina Funch recently to learn more about her, Atwater Inc. and, of course, in Lh style, to tap into her expertise. So, aspiring professionals, hospitality clients, and design lovers alike take note!
Lh Exclusive Interview with Stina Funch, Co-Founder, President & Creative Director of Atwater Inc. Studio
Love Happens: What first sparked your love for design?
Stina Funch: I’ve always loved design and creating spaces and environments that make people feel good and in tune with their surroundings. I was born and raised on Bornholm, a small quaint island in the Baltic Sea in Denmark. I think the incredibly raw and beautiful nature had a lot do with my love for design.
The road to a design career was a bit circuitous. In the early stages, I worked for Starwood in Copenhagen, London, and Dubai as Front Office and Sales. All three properties went through massive renovations, which exposed me to the hospitality design world. I moved to Los Angeles when I met Sherif and serendipitously met the Design Director for UCLA’s interior design program. Sherif had nudged me in the direction of Interior Design and said: “Why don’t you take a look – go see what it’s all about…?” When I was introduced to Suzanne Shepherd at the ID program she lit the fire. She told me — “Why don’t you give it a try? We will teach you design, and with your background in hotels, you can then design them”. That was a leap of faith … and here we are today.
Lh: What led to your decision to leave HBA and start your own design business?
SF: While I loved working at HBA, I became burnt out. I reached a point in my life where I needed a better work-life balance. We had a young son that needed attention. Initially, I was going to take a sabbatical of sorts. Stop. Breathe. Think. Take care of the family. But a few weeks later, the phone rang. A past client asked if they could hire us. It felt right. So, we took the commission, and slowly, other clients followed, and soon after, we committed to our own design Studio.
Lh: How did you and your husband and Atwater co-founder Sherif Rayes meet?
Sherif and I first met in Dubai at a cocktail reception for the Arabian Travel Market when I used to live and work in Dubai. I’m originally from Denmark and Sherif is from Egypt, so you could say it was a chance encounter. At the time, we both worked for Starwood and were traveling to the same industry events.
Lh: Do you have a preference between designing hospitality or residential spaces? Please explain.
SF: Both are super exciting! The design approach is very similar, especially in today’s world where residential design informs hospitality, and vice versa. While there’s a lot of creativity in both, I’d say hospitality is my first passion. With hospitality design, I’m able to inspire a lot more people and influence their holiday or business stay. Plus, hospitality design has allowed me to travel the world. It has opened my eyes to different cultures and histories. It’s pretty neat that part of my job is to immerse myself into far-flung corners of the earth. The enormity of the spaces, the complexity of the projects, all the moving parts – it’s exhilarating.
But that’s not to say I don’t love residential projects! A residential project is very personable. You are invited into someone’s home to make it a reflection of them. I always thought that was quite a gesture when people trust you to make something beautiful and personal.
Lh: What led up to the establishment of Atwater’s offices in China and Oman? How did this change your business?
SF: China happened organically. When we first opened our Studio, a lot of our business was overseas. We were sourcing most of our product from there and still do to this day. Business has since shifted. As the U.S. economy emerged from the recession, work came to life in the U.S.
With regard to Oman, our past careers introduced us to this quiet sliver. It’s a beautiful place, ripe with opportunity — smaller than and not as developed as Dubai. We share a studio with a partner in that region and opened our first large-scale Millennium Hotels and Resorts in Salalah last year.
Lh: What three pieces of advice would you give to a young designer/entrepreneur looking to make it?
SF: Stay focused and small, stay grounded, and be true to yourself. Focus on making your best creations, and believe in yourself. Cherish the people that will help you get to your destination — they will keep you grounded and true. You might be the driving machine, but that machine needs love and support — “the oil” to make it function.
Lh: What do you believe is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since the creation of your business?
SF: I thought it would be a lot of work. Oh boy was I wrong. It is A LOT of work. Starting and running a business can consume you if you’re not careful. The lesson: balance work and personal life. Work hard, but make sure you carve out needed personal time.
Lh: What’s next? Exciting projects? Other ventures?
SF: In addition to international hospitality work, we’re working on a few projects in the U.S. including The Inn at Saratoga, Tapestry Collections by Hilton and new developments in Sonoma and Menlo Park. We also have a few exciting residential commissions.
A Peek Inside the Fabulous and Inspiring Mind of Stina Funch with the Lh Design Questionnaire
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The perfect combination of work and family life. A happy family and close relationships. An almost completed “to-do list” (‘cause they are never really completed). A finished project that brings tears to your eyes … and your clients… A beautiful new destination and a grand soy milk latte.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I love to travel and always have the urge to explore new countries and cultures. Last year’s work schedule led us to explore amazing Istanbul and all of its delights.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Building Atwater with Sherif and our son.
What profession does your alter ego have?
A philanthropist helping people and environments all over the world; specifically, working with children and families in need.
The project you will never forget.
Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton. Moab is a gem of incredible nature and soul searching.
Your favorite business tool or resource.
My magic wand…
The most timeless design.
Modern Danish, of course! Born and bred with it and love it!
The biggest business faux pas
Not getting back to people.
Be positive, be kind and persevere!
Love happens when….
You’re being true to yourself.
Words & Interview by Anna Beck Bimba
All Images Courtesy of Atwater Inc.