Marina Mrdjen-Petrovic talks to Kevin McLachlan, head of interior design at GAJ, about managing creativity, global projects and building a team.
Kevin McLachlan has a worldwide reputation for restaurant, hotel and leisure interiors, but his first passion was in another area of design – cars. The head of interior design and partner at Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) never got to design automobiles, but his childhood dream drove him from one design course to another, building up his knowledge in product and graphic design and eventually gaining his degree in interior design at the renowned Glasgow School of Art.
Today, with more than 25 years experience and more than 240 projects under his belt, McLachlan is responsible for iconic designs around the world from Glasgow’s Groucho Club Hotel to Ibiza’s Café Mambo and major food and beverage outlets in Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah.
He joined GAJ, one of the largest and longest-established architectural and design practices in the UAE, in 2012 as head of interior design with the intention of forming “a tribe of designers” that would accompany him on a journey to push back the boundaries. That tribe is now 42 strong comprising 20 different nationalities.
“We have designers from Spain, Portugal, Finland, Argentina, Philippines, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Brazil… Sometimes it is very challenging because they don’t speak the same language, which means they also speak different design languages,” says McLachlan. “If you are British, you have a certain way of reflection and humour, whereas Dutch designers have a lot of quirkiness, which can’t always be implemented in our designs. They also come from different educational backgrounds and schools that taught them design differently. They find it frustrating sometimes, but I find it interesting and this multiculturalism really adds value to the whole team.”
The GAJ portfolio of work is extensive with a wide range of built and ongoing projects across the region, including Fairmont Ajman, Al Bait in Sharjah, Chedi Khorfakkan in Sharjah, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, Jewel of the Creek in Dubai, Ritz-Carlton Marrakech, Millennium Hotel, Muscat and the Raffles hotel in Dubai.
“We’ve recently established a Furniture, fixtures and equipment department, led by Hilda Impey and bespoke lighting design headed by Regina Santos. We now have a great project management team.
Before, they were told what to do, but my idea of managing people is to guide them and give them the freedom to create,” says McLachlan, adding that he is still involved in every individual design.