Alessandro Munge draws inspiration from travel - and his childhood - to develop solutions that deliver
Early in his childhood, Alessandro Munge began his career in design while helping his mother with her residential drapery business in Toronto. At the age of 14, Munge developed his first sketch while waiting for her to coordinate fabric swatches. While tagging along with her to client meetings, he learned an important lesson on developing a successful business, which still rings true.
“Quite frankly, it’s all about relationships and how key they are to any business,” said Munge, now principal of Toronto-based Studio Munge. “I’ve had many clients over the years, but it’s so important to like the people we’re working with. We look at what it’s like to work with a person on a day-to-day basis. My mom built amazing relationships. She never put an ad in the paper or made cold calls. People genuinely liked her. That was a big lesson for me, which carried over to my business today.”
For more than 20 years, Munge has made good on his mother’s demonstration of connecting with clients. He has developed long-standing relationships with an international roster of hospitality brands, condominium and residential developers, and architects. is interior design firm, established in 1997, is represented in major cities around the world. A keen collaborator, Munge delivers a global perspective, inquisitive nature and pursuit for solutions that balance both creative and financial perspectives for his client base.
Not only did Munge discover a talent for drawing while watching his mother grow her business, he also developed a penchant for problem-solving through design. “I got to understand how to sketch out ideas and resolve problems through sketching,” he said. “Clients see me do this. We work it out together. I don’t own or operate hotels; I don’t pretend to. But being a good listener is a good attribute that I learned from my mother.”
"We want to deliver the best solution possible and help our clients understand the business behind great design."
In collaboration with a number of top global hospitality chains, Munge has built a portfolio of luxury hospitality projects throughout the world. Upcoming projects include The Park Hyatt Hotel & Residences Los Angeles, Bisha Hotel & Residences in Toronto, The William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn, NY, and a JW Marriott Hotel on Vancouver’s waterfront. He has also designed projects for leading hospitality groups such as Hakkasan, NoHo Hospitality Group and INK Entertainment.
To better serve a growing client base, Munge led the firm toward a significant turning point in 2015. The previous partnership was dissolved and the firm was rebranded as Studio Munge. Munge, who serves as the sole principal, now oversees a team of more than 60, including designers, purchasers, resource specialists and project managers. The firm has established an international presence with an office in Beijing, China.
“Growing the business into an even more successful venture has been phenomenal,” he said. “The firm has become more focused and stronger. Under a sole visionary, I see a different studio today than I have ever before. I had 30 ‘kids’ and now I have 60. Aligning a clear vision for our goals and collaborating with many global leaders in the industry has paid off.”
The main reason behind Studio Munge’s success in hospitality design is the firm’s ability to help clients realize the business behind great design, said Munge. Munge prides himself on delivering a design process with a balanced approach that captures the essence of each client’s vision from both a creative and financial perspective. The guiding principle of the firm has been to provide solutions and help companies succeed from both perspectives.
“I want to make sure my clients succeed in their businesses,” said Munge. “We want to deliver the best solution possible and help our clients understand the business behind great design. We create design solutions that make good business sense. We don’t design for the sake of making big egotistical statements or qualifying for awards. Our strategy has been very successful for our exclusive clients.”
An avid international traveler, Munge draws design inspiration from exploring foreign cultures and, in turn, creates distinctive spaces. He strives to sculpt signature experiences that reflect the characteristics of the inhabitants, while adding elements from each project’s architecture, location, history and heritage. Sharing his passion for traveling, Munge regularly assigns his design team to cover international trade shows and their destinations.
“Together, we’ll hit two to three different hotels, bars and restaurants,” he said. “I want them to understand the markets so we can always up the bar. Any designer, architect or artist can benefit from jumping on a plane and landing in other cities or countries, where culture becomes an inspiration, people become an inspiration, local businesses become an inspiration or neighborhoods become an inspiration.”
"We aimed to design clean, modern interiors that show a new way of thinking for nomadic travelers and locals alike."
When striving to raise the standard for hospitality interiors, Munge and his design team begin the creative process with one critical step—immersion. For the design of the William Vale Hotel in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, Studio Munge researched the location and determined that the interiors should not be contrived or thematic by only reflecting Williamsburg’s iconic brick are houses. Instead, the firm drew inspiration from a new generation of thinking, embodied in the community’s skilled workers, artisans and artists.
“We were inspired by Williamsburg’s individuality and its artistic community,” said Munge. “We aimed to design clean, modern interiors that show a new way of thinking for nomadic travelers and locals alike. The hotel was conceived as a platform for the local community to express itself. The client’s support of this community has proven to be instrumental to the project’s success. Many local trades and expert craftsmen were involved throughout the entire process.”
Presently, Studio Munge is designing interiors for two Park Hyatt hotels—one in Los Angeles and another at an undisclosed international destination. The firm’s approach to designing branded luxury properties begins with a visit to the brand’s most significant hotels around the world to better gain an understanding of their iconic essence and guest experience. The character of the hotel is then translated through a series of emotional touch points and memorable moments to help encourage the guests to interpret the brand’s message through the overall experience.
“That emotive journey should be consistent from the moment they exit their taxi and enter the lobby, to the check-in experience, right down to when they touch the handle of their hotel room door,”
“That emotive journey should be consistent from the moment they exit their taxi and enter the lobby, to the check-in experience, right down to when they touch the handle of their hotel room door,” said Munge. “The two Park Hyatt properties, although similar in their essence, will offer two very distinct guest experiences through a combination of dissimilar touchpoints and skillfully curated art programs.”
Munge describes his designs as emotion based. From creating a welcoming presence in the lobby to adding a distinctive component to the guestrooms, Munge takes into consideration the emotional response associated with the guest’s initial reaction to an interior space. Through design elements and spatial experience, interior design has the capacity to transform moods and feelings, shared Munge. “I will use every design element accessible, from custom-made furniture to unique and relevant finishes, to transport people into our poetic design narrative,” Munge said.
Since graduating from Ryerson University and eventually opening his design practice, Munge has seen a shift in terms of client demands and welcomes the opportunity to adapt to these changes. Global hospitality chains previously strived for “cookie-cutter-style designs,” he added. “We always start with a beautiful narrative to make sure we understand the location and demographic of the hotel. It puts more pressure on the design community to be more creative. You have to do your research and think about it relative to the brand and location. I love that pressure to know I have a new challenge at hand.”
Another advantage for Studio Munge in the luxury hospitality design segment is the firm’s extensive background creating luxury condominium residences, primarily in Toronto. In addition to designing hotel-branded residences, the firm has designed exclusive residential projects, which has led it to better understand the demands and expectations of luxury hotel consumers.
“We understand how people live and sleep, and their expectations of a hotel experience,” he said. “There are some common denominators between the condominium homeowner and the luxury hotel guest. We can design spaces that cater to a particular client while already bringing the knowledge of their customers’ expectations. We enjoy residential design. That’s been a sweet spot for us.”
Munge first realized imagining people in three-dimensional spaces during his tenure at his mother’s drapery business. Mixing sketches and creating narratives developed into a passion for architecture and design, especially after his mother’s clients took notice of his talent. Experiencing a client’s emotional response to a completed project further fueled Munge’s desire. He summarized his humble beginnings by saying, “I was fascinated by the concept of materializing a vision for design: starting from design on paper to being able to sew it together beautifully.”