Artist Residence Founder, Justin Salisbury

"Beats" by Lisa Cervone

The Artist's Residence Hotel in Brighton oozes charm, creativity and coolness.  You are literally surrounded by style.  The fun design-led environment that focuses on hospitality is clearly a winning formula as the Artist Residence collection now includes hotels in Pimlico, Penzance and Oxfordshire.

However, the backstory of the Artist Residence is quite something. It was certainly not always destined to be the success it has now become. Justin Salisbury's mother acquired a tired guesthouse in Brighton's Regency Square but she was severely injured in a bus accident.  Aged 20, midway through his degree, and with no experience in hospitality, Justin stepped in to help.

It's been quite a journey.  From featuring in Channel 5's 'Hotel Inspector' (and clearly taking onboard some very good advice) to winning the Cesar award for Hotel Of The Year in 2016, the hotel's founder talks us through the highs, and the lows.  In the words of another famous Brighton resident, "You've come a long way baby."in

You’ve acquired the tag, “The accidental hotelier” which would seem like a fair description.  With hindsight were there some advantages to being inexperienced?

 

Being inexperienced has been both the biggest disadvantage and the biggest advantage all at once. I think that people who have been in the industry for a long time can become institutionalised into the hotel way, and to a certain extent a lack of experience allows you to have an open mind in the way you think things should be done. People who have been in the industry for too long tend to focus on technical decisions whereas I have focused on making people feeling good. We like to try and find people to work with us who don’t have much experience in hotels, just naturally friendly and personable. You can teach anybody how to clear a table but doing it with a smile is more natural and that’s what we look for.

What’s the story behind the interior design of the Brighton hotel?

When I first took over the Brighton hotel 9 years ago it was rated as one of the worst hotels on Trip Advisor. I knew I had to do something to turn the business around but with little budget to speak of I had to be a bit creative! I posted an ad on Gumtree - “Call to all artists: come and decorate your own room!” and once that went live we literally had hundreds of artists descend on the place painting on walls, floors and ceilings. Looking back, there wasn’t much control over the results and some rooms turned out much better than others, but this is what formed the basis of our design and brand and we still work with artists in a similar way, just with a little more thought behind it. Most recently we’ve worked with Maria Rivans, Charlie Anderson, Jess Albarn and Fox Fisher on a new set of artist rooms in Brighton.

As the budget has expanded, how have you approached the design of each new hotel?

We’ve updated the Brighton and Cornwall hotels over time, and have developed our own style through these projects which we have adapted for our London and Oxfordshire locations. The location is key to our design process – the vibe of the location and the building itself. Each site has its own style to fit within its surroundings – Brighton is very quirky, liberal and down-to-earth; Cornwall is laid back and light with subtle nods to the seaside; London has been described as “rough-luxe’, whilst Oxfordshire has an English bohemian vibe. We love using rustic and reclaimed materials throughout the hotels, which have the two-fold advantage of creating a homely ‘lived-in’ feel and also being very hardy to wear & tear -  exposed brickwork and old floorboards actually get better with age.

The design of the hotels sets them apart.  How involved are you, and your wife, in this process?

My wife, Charlotte, and I design all of the interiors in-house and see it from start to finish. It’s a labour of love - from the flooring to the paint, to the lighting, furniture and the little touches you see in the rooms, we design everything because we love creating places for people to enjoy.

Oh the art!  The clue is obviously in the name, but where do you source all the unique and quirky artwork from?

Art is the founding concept of Artist Residence, and over time we have been really fortunate to get to know lots of amazing British artists very well, including The Connor Brothers who we’ve collaborated with on a cocktail bar in Brighton and Mr Hanbury’s Mason Arms pub in Oxfordshire. We spend a lot of time going to art fairs where you can meet exciting new talent.

What advice would you give people who love art and design, but might not have the budget to accompany their passion?

I think with art, it’s becoming more and more accessible in terms of budget. There are now quite a number of limited editions that have low price points, as well as the Love Art Scheme where you can pay in instalments.

 

Blow the budget.  What artist’s work would you love to own?

We have a big soft spot for Harland Miller’s work, and it would be pretty cool to own a Damien Hirst piece one day!

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the hotel industry?

Building a hotel from scratch can be very challenging and potentially lead to a path of financial difficulty at times if you don’t know what you’re doing as there’s so much red tape you need to be able to navigate. There’s at least ten or so authorities you need to appease at any given time in order to get the project over the line - from planning to licensing to fire etc.

 

What’s the best thing about working in the business?

The best thing about working in the business is the challenge of growing and developing - it’s a bit like trying to navigate without a map. You’ve got a feeling of the general direction you need to go in but also need to be prepared to fall over a few times in the process.

Where (or what) next?

We’ve just started work on a new hotel in Bristol, which is in an old boot factory and will have 28 bedrooms – our biggest yet!

 

Are we going to see anymore Lumitrix prints in your future ventures?  If so, what do you have your eye on?

We love Tommy Clarke, so one of his prints could be next on the list!

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