Mirkku Kullberg, who has large expressive eyes and usually dresses in flowing black, is new to the hotel industry. Her past experience includes roles as the CEO of the iconic Finnish furniture company Artek and as head of the Home Department at Vitra. She began work on Hotel St. George in 2016. An ambitious new property, the hotel’s boundary-blurring sensibility is formed around the changing nature of luxury for today's traveler.
We caught up with Kullberg in Miami during the Miami Springs Art Festival. Ever the world traveler, Kullberg is bursting with ideas, and her infectious zeal had us talking about everything from architecture, art, and fashion, to manifestos, poetry, and sleep patterns.
I have a second home in Berlin and I’m traveling not only for the hotel but I’m also on a couple of boards (such as The Finnish National Theater and Kalevala Jewelry) for which I need to travel. As much as I like Helsinki, I’ve been traveling my whole life. It’s a lovely city in many ways but it’s nice also to be able to do art weeks, and I still do consumer studies and some other things, so it’s a hobby for me to combine it all.
Hospitality has moved away from being a transaction business. People aren’t going to hotels only for accommodations anymore. Our time is so precious, so we need to understand how we can add dimensions for the traveler. In terms of design, we understand that interiors have a big impact on how one feels, so we’re working with a spectrum of colors, surfaces, and all the haptics. We’re trying not to over-furnish a room because you need space (mentally) to relax. Also, art isn’t elitist anymore. Look at the droves of people going to museums and galleries. For guests coming to the hotel, it means the hotel art has to be elevated.
Tadao Ando’s hotel on Naoshima Island where Sugimoto showcases his extraordinary photos is the perfect example of how to bring art and architecture together.
I don’t collect art, but rather books. I collect poetry, pamphlets, and manifestos from the time of Gertrude Stein and the Bay Area Figurative Movement. I have a super nice collection of works by the Torchbearers—a group of poets in Finland in the 1910-20s who were publishing newspapers and writing poetry. They were semi-radical artists who said the windows have to be open to Europe. So, you could call me a cultural collector maybe.
We have gone beyond traditional luxury. Some say time is luxury. But it’s really about the quality of time. When you are traveling and spending time in hotels, every moment needs to be qualitatively good because there are so many things on your calendar. I believe that the things we take for granted are important, like really good tap water. People want to have these simple things. Solitude and privacy is luxury. Today’s luxury is also security. People want to feel secure in today’s world. If you go to your room and feel secure, surrounded by some calming beauty…that’s real luxury.
I’m pretty much home everywhere. But when I travel, I always try to visit libraries. For me, libraries share one kind of cultural dimension. I prefer going to see a library than a cathedral or church because the feeling is the same—the silence is there. I find my peace there.