I’m very excited to present a preview of an amazing upcoming development in Abdali: Campbell Gray Living, which will include offices, a hotel and luxury apartments. I attended a lovely dinner at the new show apartment there – the food was delicious and I loved the cosy, modern look of the interiors. I was honoured to meet Gordon Campbell Gray himself, and I was so impressed by his unswerving attention to detail. As an art lover, it means a great deal to me that he chooses all the art himself! I asked him more about the upcoming project, his design principles, and what Amman means to him.
What made you choose Amman for this development?
I was sitting in Le Gray in Beirut, and a guest asked to see me. He said to me “We love Le Gray Beirut – would you consider opening something similar in Amman?” I replied that I’d never thought about it, but I’ve been to Amman and I really like it. So he invited me to come and look at the site, and discuss a development there. He’d been talking to a lot of big brands, and with them come lots of people who tend to move around a great deal. So I told him that with this, you can be part of your own project, and this is how we got started – and we also became friends!
What were your previous experiences of Jordan?
I knew Jordan pretty well already because my brother’s done a lot of landscape gardening here, so I’ve been here many times before. I’m a big believer that if you build it they will come, and I think there are enough people in Jordan to enjoy what I have in mind. I think that Jordan sells itself short sometimes as a country, and there’s a little bit of a “we couldn’t do that here” attitude, and my attitude is “yes we can!” I’m certain that what we’re talking about will work. I saw an opportunity and I just thought “let’s do it.”
One of your previous developments, Le Gray Beirut, has become one of the Lebanese capital’s defining hotels, and one of my favourites! How would you describe the city?
I always said if I were to describe Beirut in a word, it would be sexy.
In that case, how would you describe Amman?
I couldn’t say exciting, or sexy, but I think there’s an allure here that needs to be brought out. I think it’s certainly got potential. So I thought let’s just do it and let’s make the hotel fun. I think hotels should be about fun, eating should be about fun, going out should be about fun. I think there’s a tendency for many hotels to not really be about fun – they’re quite serious. Most 5-star hotels are quite similar in general and very rigid. I wanted to get rid of all that and really emphasis the sense of inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
Which aspect of Campbell Gray Living are you most proud of?
I’ve created a snob-free zone, where everyone is treated the same. If I say one person is a VIP, what I’m really saying is that another is not – what a terrible message! My whole thing is that we should all be treated equally. I spend a lot of time training the staff in all my hotels, and I tell them that we are all equal human beings, we merely have different responsibilities. That really sums it up, and I think that there are enough people in Amman who can enjoy what I’m hoping to create.
Campbell Gray Living also incorporates office spaces – could you tell us a little more about these?
We will have offices that have fully-serviced boardrooms, which can be rented for a day, half a day or whatever you need. Instead of having to go to a hotel or pay for a room you hardly ever use, you can just rent it when you need it. There’s also a communal lounge within our offices for more informal meetings – something like a hotel lobby lounge. The unbranded, private offices at Campbell Gray Living will come in different sizes, all with a full concierge service. So even if you have an office with only 2 people, you’ll still have a receptionist to answer the telephone and so on.
I’ve heard many wonderful things about the 8th Floor – I’m just dying to know more!
I want the 8th floor to be like an art floor. There’s an outdoor terrace, as well as an indoor area. There will be a beautiful garden, private little spaces to tuck yourself away, and masses of books and art. And it’ll be filled up with comfy furniture and tasty food. We want to put on art shows, or maybe do a small product launches there, exhibitions and so on, all highly curated. I love the idea of a little magic kingdom, where you take the lift up and go “wow – who would have known this was here?” It’s somewhere that you would be proud to take someone as a surprise. So if you live in the apartments, or if you have an office, you can go to the lounge, but it’s not a private club, anyone could go.
Do you think that you’ll get your own place here?
Yes I will, I’m going to take an apartment myself. I like the way this area feels, and I like the fact that I can walk out the door and there will be The Boulevard and I can get a coffee or whatever. As a visitor in Amman, you don’t know where to walk to, or even where to take a taxi. It’s not a city with an obvious centre. The Boulevard will at least be a focal point. It’s going to take time, but it will get there. A lot of smart British people have been to Jordan, but they’ve only been to Petra. We’ve got to make it so that they will consider stopping off in Amman for a couple of days, so that they don’t think it’s just a place for faceless businessmen. We want a mixture of locals and people who think that Amman is worth spending time in. What we do is, first we sell the destination, and then we say “while you’re there, you must stay with us.”
I love the look of the show apartment – tell me about the process behind designing the interiors at Campbell Gray Living.
The interiors are by Martin Brudnizki, who’s a very famous designer based in London. The feel is modern classic; I don’t want it to be relentlessly modern, nor too fussy and old-fashioned. The first rule is that is has to be comfortable, then beautiful, in that order. Comfort is such a big part of it. I also like colour: I’m tired of everything being bleached out and neutral. I don’t want dreary colours – I want it clean and fresh. The way I see it, we’re creating a design that should be a backdrop for the art and the flowers. The flowers are so important; I always personally interview the florists for my hotels. I don’t like tortured flowers – I like a natural look. It’s like a chef; a really great chef will just present their food simply, whereas a chef who is average will think it’s not good enough and add all sorts of flourishes. You need to know where to stop. They think that in order to make it fabulous, they have to make it complicated, but many things are already beautiful. We want everything to be kept simple. That’s the constant goal.
Do you aim to incorporate any local design features into the interiors at Campbell Gray Living?
I think the easiest way to add local flavour is with the art. I certainly think as you’re in a sophisticated environment, you want to walk in and get a sense of where you are. That’s the key aspect of what I’ve tried to get into the hotels. Two thirds of the art is local; in all my hotels I aim to have local art. In Le Gray Beirut, for example, there are 368 artworks, of which 100 are local, 200 regional and 70 from Cuba.
What’s your favourite part of finishing a hotel?
When you’re opening a new hotel, the best part is when you hang the art. I get eight people to walk around and carry artworks around with me. I usually don’t buy things with a specific place in mind. though the one thing I do know is that I like decently sized paintings, not a lot of little pieces. The process takes several days, but it’s so much fun – I’m like a kid in a candy store. You take a room and suddenly a piece goes in and it’s like the bingo moment. I do it all myself for every hotel, and I’ve come to realise that people in general seem to like what I like.
As a book-lover myself, I loved the amazing books on display in the show apartment. Where did these come from, and how did you select them?
All the books are by the luxury book brand Assouline, who are offering to curate libraries for people who take apartments at Campbell Gray Living. A lot of people say they would love a library, but it can be daunting to choose your own, especially somewhere like Jordan where books like this are hard to come by. We also ordered 500 books by Assouline, about art, design, fashion – coffee table books – which will go in other places, like the lounge, and will all be for sale. It’s to give it a glamorous feel. As Cicero said, “If you have a library and a garden, you have all you need.” Personally, I would add paintings to that, but it’s true isn’t it? If you knew there was a beautiful store up in our art lounge where you can buy a beautiful and unusual book, that would be lovely.
Finally, how would you sum up the process of creating Campbell Gray Living in one sentence?
To sum it up, we thought of everything that would make staying in an apartment more comfortable, giving it all the luxury of a hotel with the privacy of your own front door.