Dayna Lee: how to design a hotel interior

The former film set designer explains how she approached the interior of the new Bankside Hotel


On the south bank of the River Thames, in the heart of one of London’s most creative neighbourhoods, a new hotel is preparing to open.

Surrounded by art galleries and theatres, the Bankside Hotel has been designed by Dayna Lee, a film set designer turned interior architect, who hopes that her new design will merge with its surroundings, offering flexible working spaces, a new art gallery, and meeting rooms for local artists, designers and professionals.

Ahead of the hotel’s opening, The Week Portfolio caught up with Lee to find out more about her creative process.

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What did you set out to achieve with the Bankside?

I wanted to create a sense of optimism within a place that nurtures creative endeavours.

What are some of your favourite details about the new hotel's interior?

Our design for Bankside Hotel has art-school style with added polish. It fuses mid-century design with stark black lines.

There is a tall white chimney housing a fireplace in the lobby that resembles a block of clay shaved by a sculptor’s knife. It faces a natural walnut table that is bench-made by UK wood workers with hand tools. The table is flanked by low sofas of our own design, made by an extremely respected UK sofa maker.

I feel strongly that people have a natural sixth sense for their environment and that they subconsciously appreciate the quality of furnishings, joinery and art around them. I believe people can feel when an object is solid, and whether or not it has been created with care by its craftsmen, artists or manufacturers.

What are the first things you consider when you set out on a new interior design?

I imagine a new project as a scene in a film script would begin: “INT. LIVING ROOM – MORNING. The sun is breaking onto the white walls through the full height windows highlighting work-in-progress sculptures curing on bookcases. The white contrasts with the dark, wet ground outside from an overnight storm in London. Last night’s bar cart, is rolled with clattering crystal on uneven timber floors from under the massive curving stair. Why are paintings off the wall? It is clear many people were here last night and now that it is morning, people are arriving again…”

Can't help it - I was an art director in the motion picture industry for many years.

How do you turn an adequate space into an excellent one?

As with any scene in a film, the visual details are important. I like to design with lighting to make people feel comfortable, by using subdued colours and patterns, or metals that gleam and offer levity. I like to connect to guests with colour palettes, art or music.

How important is it to consider the complexion and character of the neighbourhood you are working within?

The personality of a neighbourhood is extremely important to informing any design. It is also the thing I enjoy most when I start a new project. I dive in and understand the character of the intended location, and then design our own place to complement the existing culture.


We are lucky: our property is a three-minute stroll to the Tate Modern, so our design team and I conceptualised a haven for creatively curious people who could do with pied-a-terre­-style comfort.

And on that point, what do you think is unique about South Bank community?

I have tried to honour South Bank’s past, as well as its present, considering the proximity of a Shakespearean theatre, world-renowned modern art gallery, and popular Borough food market. Our team and I wanted to create spaces that support creative work and engage the local neighbours, and let the South Bank spirit live on in the hotel itself.

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