Diego Burdi

One half of Burdifilek discusses his penchant for dramatic, differentiated spaces and his inspiration for the new W Hotel in Atlanta

Diego Burdi, with partner Paul Filek, has led Toronto-based interior-design firm Burdifilek for 18 years.

For the past 18 years, Diego Burdi has been designing sophisticated interiors for a wide range of global brands (alongside partner Paul Filek) as one half of Burdifilek, a 40-person, Toronto-based firm that has been characterized as enthusiastic and ambitious, providing intriguing answers to the most difficult design questions. Burdi’s and Filek’s trailblazing spirits have earned them accolades for such dynamic projects as the renovation of Holt Renfrew’s iconic 150-year-old flagship store, which was named Store of the Year in NASFM’s 2004 Retail Design Awards. Now, the firm is branching into the hospitality market. Burdifilek’s first assignment was designing the interior of the brand new W Hotel in downtown Atlanta. Here, Burdi talks about hospitality design and his inspiration for the W Atlanta.

Undulating, hand-carved solid-walnut walls provide a rich backdrop to the W Atlanta's entryway. Photo: Ben Rahn/A-Frame.
Custom curved sectionals fit organically in the Living Room space, which was inspired by how lush Atlanta seemed to Burdi when he first flew into the city. Photo: Ben Rahn/A-Frame.

How did you get into design?

I always liked being in a creative environment and originally wanted to go into architecture but ended up studying interior design because it was more tactile and interesting. As a designer, there are so many different facets you can play with—it’s endless. Paul and I met in school and have worked together ever since. Today, it’s a different economy than it was when we started 18 years ago, but we’ve pulled through due to our focus and commitment.

What is it like working with someone for 18 years?

The best way to describe it is that it’s like a marriage. We really do know each other so well that we can pretty much complete each other’s sentences. While we both overlap responsibilities on projects, Paul runs the company, deals with clients and new business; I oversee the studio and the creative.

Describe some of your initial projects.

Our early success with the Canadian retail brand Club Monaco helped lead the way for retail projects. From there, we were commissioned to design the interior of Toronto’s Holt Renfrew department store. [We then] captured the interest of the Nieman Marcus team and designed their department store in Boston—as well as several Brown Thomas stores in Europe. We were also involved in designing the first LEED-certified winery in Canada. Five years ago, we decided to diversify and get into the hospitality arena. We reached out to a couple different brands. W saw the potential of Burdifilek and gave us the opportunity to show them what we could do.

How is designing for hospitality different from or similar to designing for retail?

Our interaction and impact on the public is different when designing a retail space. But when you think about it, aspects of hospitality design can be approached in a similar way as retail. Both are branded environments, which can be both animated and culturally inspired. Our approach is always very detail-oriented, whether we’re working with custom finishes, styling, or creating the right impact with lighting. Hospitality just gives you different envelopes to design in.

A custom wire-sphere art installation under a sweeping staircase adds drama to the hotel's lobby area. Photo: Ben Rahn/A-Frame.
The W Atlanta’s Living Room space was inspired by “the notion of a green oasis.” Photo: Ben Rahn/A-Frame.

Where did you get your inspiration for the W Atlanta’s interiors?

I’d never been to Atlanta before, so this was a terrific opportunity to work with a blank slate on a brand-new building. Flying into Atlanta at about 2 p.m., I was awestruck at how green and lush the area was; it is a real urban oasis. The W brand is contemporary and a lot of fun. And it was clear from the city that the theme of the hotel should be escapism. To me, this meant creating a multilayered design that engaged guests at every possible touch point.

Can you describe some of the materials and ideas that went into the W’s signature Living Room?

In the lobby and Living Room, I was inspired by the notion of a green oasis and wanted to create an experience where natural elements could seamlessly merge with the contemporary offering of W. As a firm, we always like to collaborate with the wide range of global artisans that we’ve come across over the years. To help create this green oasis, we commissioned Canadian artisan Dennis Lin to craft the hundreds of metal leaves that make it feel like you’re living in a luxurious forest. Adding to the escapism, we installed a 22-foot water feature that flows from the ceiling to the reflecting pool below, injecting the environment with a soft, ambient trickling. Custom detailing in the furniture, carpets, and fixtures all serve to further heighten the overall experience. All in all, it was about creating a mood and awareness with the hotel’s guests. It’s an interesting process because you’re selling a space and not a product. There’s a real sense of discovery throughout the space—so many elements of surprise. We wanted the W Atlanta’s guests to be drawn into a space that had many different layers and allowed them to continuously discover something new.

What does the firm have planned for the future?

We’ll continue to explore the hospitality field—as well as work with our retail clients. There are many opportunities out there, and we’re excited to pursue them. I’m also looking forward to learning more from my travels.