November 8, 2013 6:27 pm

A gnome on a garden bench

‘How can a designer, a furniture wholesaler and a hotel manager get this so wrong?’

Tell me if this sounds familiar. It’s mid-afternoon, midweek and you’ve lined up a client meeting. On this particular occasion you’ve ventured into newish territory and are giving a hotel a second chance to make up for a mediocre stay years earlier. Unbeknown to you, this particular property is going through a much-needed renovation and the lounge where you’d planned to meet is closed. Fortunately, an attentive staffer in the lobby has caught your brief look of bewilderment and directs you to the restaurant that has recently received a fresh coat of paint and some new furniture.

At this point (you’re in Singapore by the way), your guest arrives and you make your way to a table. You size up the furniture (which is all a bit heavy on the eye) and decide that it might be easier for your guest to pull up a chair while you go for the banquette. You’re a bit unsure about the bolster (it looks like a rolled-up yoga mat) and reckon it might be inviting you to a wrestling match but you lower your bum and reverse into the seat.

As your trousers contact with the banquette, you brace yourself to settle in but you keep sinking into the seat cushion and feel as if you’re in free fall. As you descend into the foam, feeling not unlike Alice in Wonderland, your chin almost hits the edge of the table but you’re saved at the very last moment with a thud when you finally settle.

Blinking up at your client, who’s towering over you from a chair that seems fit for a tennis umpire, you’re at a loss for words. The whole situation has become so ridiculous and uncomfortable that you’re unsure whether you should address the issue head-on or get on with business and ignore the absurdity of it all. You opt for the former.

“Are they serious?” you protest. “How on earth can a designer, a set of contractors, a furniture wholesaler, a food-and-beverage director and a hotel manager get this so wrong? It’s as if this were the first time anyone had ever assembled a table, an upholstered bench and group of chairs for human occupation, isn’t it? Hasn’t mankind been meeting around tables and perching on chairs for millennia? Isn’t there a basic, universal set of measurements that everyone generally follows?”

Regular readers of this column will be aware that there are recurring themes that pop up from time to time. There’s nothing the Fast Lane likes more than the following: doing things right the first time; discovering cosy, compact neighbourhoods dotted with well-run independent businesses; a good train journey accompanied by a few choice friends or colleagues, a fine bottle of wine and a satchel full of favourite magazines; fine residential architecture that favours function and useful materials; Tokyo, with its winning mix of food, service, retail and general wackiness; an immaculate Italian beach club not yet discovered by boisterous Russians; buttons, dials, knobs and switches; good lighting (dimmers on everything); airlines and hotels that get the basics right and don’t dazzle with unnecessary distractions and fussy details. And, finally, individuals who possess the commonsense gene should be encouraged.

At the same time, this column isn’t terribly fond of “foam”, “mist” and “fog” as descriptions for dishes on the menus of restaurants hoping for a Michelin star – these elements are best left along the coast, where they belong. Supersize prams, and the people who push them while talking on the phone and drinking a bucket of coffee, are generally a public menace. Cafés where people are plugged into headphones and staring at laptop screens rather than flirting with neighbours or watching the world go by are frightening and alienating.

Tech-industry hype is exhausting (was a news alert about the share price of a social media company really necessary at 8am Hong Kong time on Thursday?) and needs to cool down. This column also has little time for hosts who show up to meetings with drinks for themselves but fail to offer anything to their guests; a new generation of workers who aren’t aware that it’s much easier to pick up the phone to resolve a misunderstanding rather than sending 50 emails about it; the colour purple (closely followed by teal); goat’s cheese; watermelon; new socks that sag and shirts that have the second-to-top button in the wrong place so they gape and wilt. And, of course, people who don’t possess the commonsense gene – the Singapore hotel’s management and their design partners clearly being deficient in this department.

It is no surprise that my meeting was less than successful. No doubt I looked like a gnome seated on a garden bench while my client must have felt like the jolly giant about to devour me. Despite the fact that I’m 5ft 11in, I’ve decided to invest in an inflatable booster seat, as it’s clear that interior designers don’t consider the comfort of guests when planning the environments where they’re supposed to part with their cash.

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Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

tyler.brule@ft.com

More columns at ft.com/brule

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Letter in response to this column:

I may be old but I’m not a fogey / From Mr Alex P Galea

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