Design for life: Ruby Hotels

Matthew Balon, head of design at Ruby Hotels, discusses what inspires him and the importance of inclusive design

Art and Design 27 Mar 2022

Ruby Ella Hotel & Bar in Cologne

Ruby Ella Hotel & Bar in Cologne

It’s not easy to stand out as a hotel chain, but just shy of 10 years old, Munich-based Ruby Group has been quietly shaking things up in the industry and is growing rapidly – with 12 hotels under its belt and a further 22 under construction.

Refreshingly modern, Ruby Hotels employ a “lean luxury” philosophy. At the helm of implementing this ethos is American-born interior designer Matthew Balon, who joined the business five years ago.

‘When I started [at Ruby] it had just finished two hotels and was in the process of building hotel three and four. It was transitioning out of that start-up phase into something different, which I think is a very interesting time to join a company.’

As head of design at Ruby Hotels, Matthew Balon hopes to show hotel guests something new with the interiors
As head of design at Ruby Hotels, Matthew Balon hopes to show hotel guests something new with the interiors

Lean luxury, Balon explains, ‘is thinking about what the guest really needs and what can be streamlined. From an interior design standpoint, that means thinking about what you need for a great hotel stay: a great bed, a great shower, and a great bar. Beyond that, everything else is nice but not exactly necessary.’

Balon initially had aspirations of becoming a professional musician (‘I was enamoured with classical music when I was five years old’) but, in his teens, decided it wasn’t the right path. After working for an interiors company in his native Chicago, he moved to Munich to study design. Fourteen years later, he’s still there, and has found his niche in the complex world of hotel design.

‘I think what makes hotel design so special and why I love it is that it encompasses so much,’ he explains. ‘You have the rooms themselves, which is in a lot of ways similar to designing for a private house, and then you have a bar, you have a buffet, you have breakfast areas. It involves so many different aspects of interior design.’

Spinning so many plates and balancing form and function is no mean feat. But when it comes to inspiration, Balon insists that it’s not something that you should wait to strike, but rather something that can be prioritised and worked on.

‘People have this picture in their head that being inspired means waiting for an idea to come out of the ether,’ he says, ‘but, for me, inspiration is about taking the time to be curious and to fill your head with beautiful, wonderful things so that, at the right moment, you can access those things and apply them to a project. Part of that is just having a life outside of work and being interested in the world. It’s something that I’m always working on with my team; you need to feed your creative self, otherwise, you’re not going to be able to produce ideas.’

Great design ultimately boils down to how it makes a person feel. Balon’s sense of inspiration, unsurprisingly, translates into the spaces he designs and the experiences of each guest.

‘I want people to be inspired when they walk into one of our hotels,’ he says. ‘It’s also important to use interior design to create an atmosphere where guests feel relaxed. You can use design in a very negative way to make people feel small and left out and I hate that. I think design should be used to create an inclusive environment.’