With two decades of hospitality design experience (including a 13-year tenure at HBA) under his belt, David T’Kint took a leap and established his namesake design studio in Dubai two years ago. Since then, the designer is focused on honing in on his creativity and establishing the reputation of his firm. Find out more about what makes T’Kint tick in this installment of Meet the Minds.
Where did you grow up? Did it influence your career path?
I was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium to a Flemish family where hard work was a core value. Hospitality design wasn’t really a strong business there, so I went overseas. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the industry during an internship in Los Angeles, which triggered my choice of career path from the onset.
What is your first design memory?
With my first wages earned when I was 19, I bought a black Tizio 35 from Artemide. I couldn’t afford furniture, so I rented a furnished studio; however, I was so happy and proud to afford such an iconic piece. Today, many years later, I still have it at home.
Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned.
Throughout my interior design studies, which I did at “C.A.D.” (a school that only offered interior and web design courses), I worked every single weekend at the Brussels Airport. It was often tough to combine both, and I remember a teacher one day stating, “you must choose: study or work.” That was not considering my persistence. I have since worked for Denniston in Kuala Lumpur, Didier Lefort in Paris, DMD in Shanghai, and HBA in Singapore, followed by Dubai.
Why did you decide to start your own firm? When did it launch?
My career path led me to HBA, where I spent 13 years growing up to become—at the time—the youngest staff member invited to be a partner of the firm at 35. That leadership position ended up in a management-only role. This coincided with the first 20 years of my career and I asked myself what I wanted to do with the upcoming 20 years. It naturally felt creativity was the answer. I left in February 2021 and after six months of preparation, we officially opened the studio premises.
Describe your recent hospitality projects.
My last project as creative director at HBA was the guestrooms of Four Seasons in Riyadh, which recently opened and is my first project executed in Saudi Arabia. DTK Studio, albeit not yet two years old, is now opening the JW Marriott Riyadh (a phased rebranding project), SoFleur (a new local brand, concept F&B outlet), Via Mercato (a luxury food hall located in a new commercial development), and Fia (another new local brand, Nail Salon)—all in the same city, which is a coincidence; however, not that surprising, given the speed at which projects happen there.
What is your favorite part of hospitality design?
Every project is different. Getting to research new cultures and, therefore, new ways to interpret, getting to discover new places sometimes one would have never thought of (whilst I’ve had the chance to work on projects in Japan and the UK, I have also done so in Congo and Pakistan). This is truly an enriching life adventure.
What trends are you seeing in hospitality right now?
Being sustainable, creating unique experiences, and incorporating local flair have been trends for a while now and continue to rule most projects. What our studio experiences, in addition to these, is the speed at which everything has to happen. Almost as if many want to catch up on time after the Covid era.
What architect or designer do you admire most?
I had several design sessions with Jean-Michel Gathy when I worked for him. He works on every aspect of his projects, constantly aiming towards perfection, which is a value I truly cherish. In what we do we should always ask ourselves “is this good enough?” or “is this good?” and only settle for the latter.
What’s your dream project?
I have many. A camp in the middle of nowhere, refurbishing an abandoned castle, repurposing buildings previously used for other functions, a project in a place that just got out of years of war, amongst others. Anything that relates to creating new guest experiences. Dreaming is part of what I do. If I were to stop dreaming, I would stop designing.
What’s next? What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
Although stressful, opening a new studio is an exciting adventure and a challenge. While I might have a credible portfolio, it takes considerable efforts to prove DTK Studio is capable of delivering projects. We’ve now signed several full-scale hotel projects and I’m looking forward to pursuing others with developers I have never worked with and operators whom have previously not thought of working with us. This is part of a long-term vision: doing high quality work, being personally involved, looking into all details.
If you weren’t in your current career, what would you be doing?
The human side of me would have been a doctor to help people get better. The poetic side of me would have been a photographer to share with people the beauty of things. In all reality though, my true passions are travel and design. I, therefore, often think I am a very lucky man, making a career out of what I love.