Artist Camille Walala on the Joys of Bright, Bold and Beautiful Design

Thu, 28 March 2019
camille-walala-featurePhotography by Charles Emerson

Sea blues, sunny yellows and bold monochromatic stripes. Camille Walala’s inaugural project for SALT of Palmar hotel in Mauritius doesn’t stray too far from her home-grown aesthetic. Creating environments that stimulate the senses and inspire joy, Walala’s work is readily identifiable thanks to its energetic graphics and eye-popping colours.

The first in a series of SALT hotels (a China outpost is also in the works), Walala’s design influences are far-reaching, fusing Mediterranean colours with patterns influenced by the Ndebele tribe of South Africa. From her breakthrough project – the interiors of XOYO, a nightclub in London’s Shoreditch – to her latest project, Walala’s trajectory is impressive.

A woman “psychologically incapable of travelling light”, Walala counts Miami, Mexico City and Morocco among the most vibrant places she’s ever visited. Here she riffs on the best design cities – from vibrant New York to innovative Tokyo – the makings of a good hotel and must-sees on a trip to Mauritius.

SALT resorts was your first interiors project; how was that experience?

It’s a very different process from creating a mural or installation, say. Colours and patterns need to complement and respond to one another harmoniously, and textures, light and mood all have to be taken into account.

It was important for me to align the design of the hotel with this ethos, so I made sure to get out and explore the villages, meeting with local designers and artisans. Drawing inspiration from the landscape, the people and the vibrant homes across island really helped me give the hotel an authentic feel, with beautiful, bold, bright details at every turn.

What do you think makes a good hotel?

For me, a good hotel should be true to its location. There are so many hotels where if you don’t look beyond the grounds, you could be anywhere in the world. SALT isn’t like that, and that’s why I was drawn to it from the beginning.

It celebrates local talent, culture, music, food, and Mauritius’ distinct sense of style. A good hotel should nurture new experiences and encourage new encounters. At SALT, we’ve set out to create an environment where guests can come together – from the group tables in the bakery and restaurant to the open-plan library and beach bar.

Most importantly, a good hotel today has to champion sustainability and really live that value, not just pay lip service to it. We achieved this at SALT by using local, sustainable materials to build the hotel, completely ditching single-use plastics and sourcing all food locally. That’s about to get even easier soon – SALT’s own farm opens in May.

How do you define your aesthetic?

It’s really very simple: joyful, bright and bold.

Which are your most frequented travel destinations?

I’m lucky to get to travel a lot and often to very different destinations. Obviously, because of SALT I spent a lot of time in Mauritius last year – what a place to work. Projects aside, I love visiting New York because it’s where I always seem to pick up inspiration there. My family is split between Paris and the South of France, so I try to go “home” as often as I can.

A trip to Mauritius must include…

A sunrise walk on the east coast, a dip in the Indian Ocean and, if you can face the climb, a hike up the Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire – no photo can do justice to that view. The most rewarding thing to do, however (and this is probably true anywhere) is to talk to the people. That’s the only way to get a sense of the real Mauritius. For example, through SALT, I got the opportunity to learn basket weaving from a wonderful lady who has been making baskets for 50 years and dined in the home of a fascinating local woman.

What destinations inspire your creativity?

I think the most inspiring trip I ever took was to Mexico City. The streets really are alive with colour and I love the architecture of Luis Barragán – he really succeeded in bringing something very positive and energetic into the urban environment.

Which are the best cities for design?

I love the vibrancy of New York – the scale of the city and the sheer abundance of museums and galleries – but it’s Tokyo that utterly blows my mind. I remember the first time I went there; I’d never seen anything like it. I’ve been yearning to go back ever since, almost to the point of obsession. Then, of course, there’s London. I wouldn’t have lived here for 20 years if I didn’t find inspiration in the city in one way or another, everyday.

Five of the most colourful places you’ve ever visited…

They’re split between the Americas and North Africa. On the Latin side there’s Miami, Mexico City and Buenos Aires. Then Morocco, Marrakech and Chefchaouen.

Tell us about some creative references you return to time and time again.

One of the biggest influences on my work has always been the Ndebele tribe in South Africa. I return to the forms and symbols of their unique style of house painting again and again – it’s so visually powerful.

What have been some of your favourite projects to date?

Splice in Old Street was my first big mural project and will always have a special place in my heart. Years later, it still brings me so much joy thinking about it. I really enjoyed working on the playground of Queensbridge School in Hackney too – it’s not exactly my highest-profile work but it was hugely gratifying to see the children’s response to it and to know that they would have a relationship to the space everyday of their school lives.

In a similar way, my work with the charity Standing Voice in Tanzania last summer was a wonderful experience. We painted the water tanks for the villagers on Ukerewe Island and I felt such a strong sense of community there. And, of course, working on the design of SALT. a few years ago, I’d never have imagined I’d one day design an entire hotel – I still can’t quite believe it, to be honest.

What are you reading at the moment?

Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry. I am a little bit obsessed by him.

Best coffee shops in London for freelancers…

Living in East London, we have so much choice for good coffee. I love Allpress in Dalston – I call in almost every morning on my way to the studio. I’m also a fan of L’Atelier Dalston, I go there to mix it up.

One piece of travel advice…

Check you have your passport before leaving the house. Then check again. I’ve learned that the hard way.

What are your travel essentials?

Sunscreen, comfy trainers, red lipstick and podcasts.

And finally, what’s in your SUITCASE?

Too many clothes, shoes and accessories. Without fail, I overpack and end up wearing a fraction of what I bring with me. I really should have learned by now. I suspect I may be psychologically incapable of travelling light.

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