Blend In to Stand Out

Alessandro Munge uses his cultural expertise to create grand designs that are unique yet fit their surroundings

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Photo by Lane Dorsey

No one knows the fine elements of interior design quite like Alessandro Munge. The principal designer and founder of luxury design juggernaut Studio Munge first experienced the importance of client relations and his passion for design through his mother, who owned a drapery business. Munge took those lessons to heart when he founded Studio Munge in 1997.

“A big part of what we do is help our clients realize the business behind great design,” he says. “My desire has always been to marry creative and business sense by providing concrete solutions to help companies succeed from both perspectives.”

Today, Munge designs luxurious hospitality and residential projects around the world with the help of more than sixty employees based at his Toronto headquarters and a satellite project management office in Beijing.

Cultural Connection

Munge ensures that the design and development of each project is influenced by the client’s brand, as well as the location and the demographic of that location. Creating spaces that are relevant to their location, Munge says, is vital to creating a holistic project.

“I strive to create an environment that provokes a grand sense of arrival, immediately followed by a great sense of luxurious comfort.”

“The guest experience is fully tailored to the project’s targeted clientele with a full understanding of their needs,” he says. “This is really the core of our business, no matter the project type.”

An instance where residential and hospitality met was Munge’s recent work with The William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood.

Known for its vibrant art scene, the Williamsburg location proved a unique challenge for the studio.

“The owners did a piece of architecture that is pretty brave in the sense that it’s very modern and clean, juxtaposing what’s in Brooklyn right now,” Munge says. “But we all agreed very early on it had to be both groundbreaking within the neighbourhood yet respectful to the community’s identity.”

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Photo by Evan Dion | Polished-concrete floors and a ceiling adorned with a floral graphic echo the clean, fresh vibe the restaurant wants to evoke

So the concrete and exposed brick that defines the borough was not an option. The question then became how to incorporate the spirit of the borough without being cliché. That’s when Munge’s expertise in building key relationships came into play.

He commissioned local artists, including the notable Marela Zacarias, to help his team determine the angle for design. But Munge is quick to point out that the success of the project doesn’t come from his team’s innovations. “The client’s overwhelming support to his community has proven to be a big part of this project’s success—many local tradesmen and craftsmen came to support him and were involved throughout the project.”

It’s collaborative efforts such as these that have led to long-lasting relationships with his clients—including famed entrepreneur Charles Khabouth.

With a relationship that spans decades, it seems only natural that Khabouth reached out to Munge for his next project. Khabouth, who already has immense success in the restaurant world, asked Munge for help creating a rustic Italian restaurant in a city that already had plenty of them. Munge tapped into his company’s value of creating an emotive, luxurious space to create just what the entrepreneur needed.

Rather than rely on the usual visual cues of Italian cuisine for inspiration, Munge used his knowledge of fashion through a delicate print by the luxury design house Dolce & Gabbana.

“They were beautiful patterns,” he recalls. “Everything looked fresh and modern. We put the concept forward to [Khabough] and he loved it.”

That restaurant, FIGO, is now the highest-grossing eatery in Khabough’s portfolio of highly successful restaurants.

Success from trusted clients like these have led to further trust from other clients, which has opened up many new markets for Munge and his studio.

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Photo by Martin Tessler | Nightingale, an eatery located in downtown Vancouver, oozes elegance with a heritage façade, marble counters, and high ceilings

Designing for the Future

Meeting clients around the globe, the star designer isn’t sitting on the sidelines waiting for projects to come to him. The studio is currently working on over forty residential and hospitality projects worldwide that keeps him, and his four design teams, busy.

“We’ve got so many great projects on the go,” he says, “over forty projects, two North American Park Hyatt Hotels & Residences (including the new Los Angeles location facing the iconic Staple Centre), two Hilton properties in Toronto, a JW Marriott Hotel on Vancouver’s waterfront, and a series of exclusive residential projects in China.”

And while proud of each of these large scale projects, Munge is still proud of a private home that he’s been working on for the past four years. Set on a hill, and featuring strong lines and architectural features, Munge used pure materials like Canadian limestone to complement the home’s beautiful setting.

“It’s one of those beautiful design stories that I cannot wait to share with the world,” he says. “It’s a remarkable project where we played many roles from conceptual architect to interior designer and landscape consultant, resulting in a successfully holistic project.”

No matter what role he fills, Munge is the top dog when it comes to design.

“Designing residences, I strive to create an environment that provokes a grand sense of arrival, immediately followed by a great sense of luxurious comfort,” he says. “The urban lifestyle is so high in stimulus, we aim to design quietly sophisticated and smart environments to act as a retreat.”

The next retreat on Munge’s list? His own home. Like any true businessman, Munge has put the work at Studio Munge first, but says this is the year that he can finally give his own home that personal, Studio Munge touch.