Neal Prince, AIA, ASID
In 2006, Mr. Neal Prince Interior Designs for Inter-Continental Hotels are still strong today as they were during his tender. As Staff Vice-President of the Interior and Graphic Design Division for the International Inter-Continental Hotel Group from 1961; his Department's touch is still visible in many of the murals and matchbooks, sofas and stir sticks, banquet rooms in as many as 154 luxury hotels until his retirement in 1986. "When you've seen one of our Hotels, you haven't seen them all, " which an advertising slogan as Mr. Prince noted in one of his interviews. Inter-Continental Hotels endeavors to reflect the individuality of each country while providing the highest and consistent standard of service and amenities. Maintaining that balance was a formidable job, but the Texas-born Neal Adair Prince has been equal to this task for well over 60 years, collecting numerous Interior Design Awards in the process. He designed the famous oval swimming pool in Beirut's Phoenicia Hotel, and the popular bar beneath it, where a glass wall provided a view of the pool with modern-day mermaids against a rippling back ground of mosaic title. The pool was a favorite gathering place for Pan-Am crew members, until civil strife shut down the hotel in 1976.
SUGAR AND SARIS:
When Neal Prince began his Inter-Continental Hotel career in 1961; the hotel group was expanding to cities where International Luxury Hotels were a distinct novelty. Mr. Prince further noted that, "There were places where we could have named the hotel dinning room 'The Only Restaurant in Town. But the world has changed a lot since then." During his career with ICH, 800 service items had to pass Mr. Prince's scrutiny, and no detail was too small for him to consider for each Hotel. An Inter-Continental Hotel table setting still to this day bears his stamp from the Menu to the wrapping on the sugar packets, Staff uniforms, Saris and cheongsams, sport shirts and sarongs, dashikis and dinner jackets must all pass his review. Mr. Prince maintains that travelers, especially professionals to travel, want to feel a certain familiarity in the guest rooms. Consequently, some items are standard equipment in all Inter-Continental Hotels. Plumbing and bedding are uniform for all properties, but lamps and furniture must meet exact specifications, and rooms were planned so that they can be easily cleaned and maintained. But guest are unlikely to awaken in a room that could be Berlin or Bombay. African masks spark the walls of guest rooms in Nairobi. Indonesian wood carvings by Ida Bagus Tilem grace the suites in Jakarta. Paintings by Jamaican school children add a special charm to the Inter-Continental in Kingston. And bamboo furniture against vivid African prints is a hallmark in Zaire, Liberia and Zambia. "In the lobbies and restaurants, there's more opportunity to dazzle," says Mr. Prince. The public rooms of the hotels can be sleek and modern or opulent and old world, but every effort is made to reflect the local culture, often with a new twist. For example, in Pakistan, he used the country's intricately carved wooden screens as a base for modern, glass-topped tables. Whenever possible, Inter-Continental Hotels from 1961 to 1986 used not only native crafts, but locally manufactured furniture, a policy that had spurred new industries in several countries. Mr. Prince hired various local craftsmen to provide furniture for the Beirut, Inter-Continental Phoenicia Hotel. The Lebanese manufacturer chosen by Mr. Prince went on to become the largest producer of furniture in the Middle East. In Yugoslavia, beds and box spring mattresses were unheard of until Mr. Prince ripped up the springs from an old car seat and created a box spring that was copied by a Belgrade factory, creating many new jobs. Not all of Mr. Prince's designs have worked out as planned. He once obtained a solid redwood tiki, weighing 40 tons, for an Inter-Continental Hotel in Tahiti. Mr. Prince thought it would make a striking addition to the hotel swimming pool, until he realized the weight of the tiki would crack the concrete. The tiki now stands outside the hotel as a local landmark.
CRAFTS AND CAUTIONS:
Mr. Prince shopped for many of the Hotels Decorative items himself during his tender at Inter-Continental. He would scour Shops, Bazaars and Art Galleries around the world. But despite his enthusiasm for native crafts, he has a word of "caution" for those travelers with a yen to enliven their living quarters with exotic objects d'art. "Guard against impulse," Mr. Prince warns. "In a strange country, everything looks glamorous. Remember that a giant wooden Garuda bird will never look the same in Brooklyn, as it does in Jakarta. Instead, shop for small items. You won't add a storage problem to a decorating one if you make a mistake. And, forget about conversation pieces. The conversation is apt to be bad."