Chapter Roma

Rooms 42   Interior Design Tristan Du Plessis - Studioa Johannesburg
The Original Marco Cilia

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Design Tristan Du Plessis - Studioa Johannesburg
The Original Marco Cilia

Marco Cilia

The Patient Master

Unlike other newcomers to hospitality, this wise Italian focused not on what he knew but on what he didn’t know. And that has made all the difference.

When Marco Cilia decided to give up a career in the rewarding world of business and finance for one in the far riskier arena of hospitality, some might have seen his move as a defeat. But as a brilliant general once said, “We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction.” Cilia has indeed advanced, and with such cleareyed determination that the young Italian, like that brave general himself, has pulled off a stunning victory—both in hospitality and in life.
The secret to success for Cilia—a world traveler who now lives in both Rome and London but who is often found jetting off to meetings in India or Africa—can be attributed to one part good fortune and two parts paying close attention to those around him who have forged creative and wholly original paths of their own.

Whatever it is—it needs to be real, authentic, and original.

Marco Cilia

Whatever it is—it needs to be real, authentic, and original.

Marco Cilia

What initially brought about your move into hospitality?
My father had acquired a hotel in Tuscany and the property was going through a rough time. So he asked me if I wanted to take a break from finance. After two years at that hotel, I had figured out that I wanted to stay in hospitality.
But unlike other newcomers to the industry, you also figured out that you had some learning to do.
Exactly. But more important for me wasn’t just that I learn, but who I learned from. I wanted to acquire knowledge from those who were groundbreakers in the industry. So I went to work for Anouska Hempel, the Design Hotels™ Original at Blakes hotel in London, where I became the GM. She was my mentor, my first introduction to interior design. She was a pioneer in boutique hotels, practically defining the idea of luxury and service on an intimate scale. I learned so much from her. After my four years there, I had an entirely new perspective on luxury.
Your education didn’t end there though, did it?
No. While I was at Blakes, Carlos Couturier and Moisés Micha of Grupo Habita approached me about helping them to open Hôtel Americano in New York’s Chelsea district. Carlos and Moises are also pioneers and, unlike Blakes, they target a younger audience, building and nurturing a hotel’s community. Everything they do is unique to the property’s setting, so I knew there’d be a great learning curve working with them. Not only do they discover brilliant new talent in design and architecture, but they do the same with artists—the art that they bring to their hotels is incomparable. I learned a great deal about the lifestyle element of a hotel, about how clients interact with design and with the local community.
And you brought these learnings with you to the hotel that would eventually be yours alone—Chapter Roma?
Absolutely. I wanted to start my own brand and in Italy where one finds beautiful hotels, yes, but often they lack soul. I wanted something that was young, inclusive, glamorous and gritty! I understood that whatever it is—it needs to be real, authentic, and original.

After you found an old hotel in the center of Rome that you would completely transform, how did you go about choosing the designer?
I wanted a designer with an international outlook, someone up-and-coming, which is what Carlos and Moises often look for. The idea I relayed to the designers I met was that I wanted to deliver something unique that would appeal to a creative, younger generation. Then I ran into this designer from South Africa, Tristan Du Plessis. He and his company, Studio A, have a great international mindset. Though he was a bit far, I went to visit him, and I just loved his view of things and thought he was the perfect fit.
What was behind the look you both came up with?
The hotel is set in the Regola district, an historical part of Rome. And in the old days, this area was filled with artisans. My idea was to find a look that incorporates the materials that, say, a blacksmith or metalworker used here—copper, brass, and so on—and mix that industrial look with something luxurious. Which brings me back to that contrasting glamorous/gritty idea—industrial metals and exposed brick play off of luxurious fabrics and different types of fine marble. Naturally, I also bring my passion for art, and again it’s a mix—installations from local and international artists sit beside street art and graffiti. The first article I bought was for the lobby was a life sculpture by an Italian artist. Only after it was in place did I learn the name of the piece, which is “Where has the Stockbroker Gone?” That made me think of myself. It was quite a coincidence!
What is your hospitality philosophy?
I think hotels are about the experience. You can have amazing design, great service, and all of that, but if the property itself doesn’t have life or a soul, then you have failed. So many hotels are true to their brand and not to their location. They become like these aliens without any link to the city where they’re set.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
Well, my wife and I have a second son on the way, so that is certainly a huge inspiration. Beyond that, travel is my first inspiration because you get to see how people live. I am going through a stage now where I’m drawn to people who give back. The more you give back, the more I find that things come back to you. Helping others is a way to help yourself. It’s a beautiful thing!

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