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Benjamin El Doghaili on Creating Europe's Most Exciting Hotel Concept

ByManou Steiger
Benjamin El Doghaili on Creating Europe's Most Exciting Hotel Concept

Benjamin El Doghaili photographed by Natalie Weiss

Mama Shelter is probably one of the most exciting new hospitality concepts in Europe. Launched in 2008 by the Triagno family, the brand shook up the hospitality scene with their daring "urban refuge" concept. Their very first property opened in Paris's 20th district and quickly became famous for their one-of-a-kind concept which combines hospitality, cheekiness, food and good people. Since 2008 the brand has grown and is now embracing properties in three different continents, nine countries and fourteen cities with more opening in the pipeline.

We sat down with Benjamin El Doghaili, the Head of Design for Mama Shelter and a creative mastermind in his own right.

You are the Head of Design for Mama Shelter, a hospitality brand ​which is inspired by the idea of creating a different kind of hotel experience combining urban design, affordability and a touch of new-wave glamour. Can you tell us a little more about the Mama Shelter vision?

Mama Shelter is a brand created 14 years ago by Trigano gang, Serge, the father, Benjamin and Jérémie, the two sons. The initial idea was to create something never seen before in the hospitality business. Some glamourous places in an area where there used to be no hotels, with a certain kind of social approach. The staff is careful but never stays standing by a front desk. They’re young and fancy looking. These are the people you see down the street. Design was unique due to the amount available for that, a very low one. From this difficulty, you make choices, you simplify and finally you have a kind of subtract that makes it so unique in its radicality. Everybody is welcome at Mama Shelter, youngsters, families, elders, you can be on your own or with your team! You feel this everywhere in every corner, from the restaurant to the bar, from the lobby to the rooms, everywhere.

How would you say Mama Shelter distinguishes itself from other hotels?

First, when you come from a big city, you don’t really think about Mama Shelter as a hotel but more as a restaurant, bar with hotel rooms. This seems accepted in our habits nowadays but imagine this thought 14 years ago. The design is very specific because it’s a complete piece of design. Everything you see is developed by me and my team so you will never see the same thing somewhere else. I insist on the fact that these are hotels made of design with some decoration and not decoration with some design. There is a guarantee to be out of the ordinary as I don’t want to follow design trends.


I insist on the fact that these are hotels made of design with some decoration and not decoration with some design

Impressions of Mama Shelter in Paris La Défense - Photo Credit: Francis Amiand

How do you achieve a sense of home for your guests in your hotels?

It’s very simple, when I draw, I keep asking myself “would you be a client of this place? Does this place make you happy? Would you come a second time and why? Does this thing speak to everybody?”
The magic of what’s going on inside a Mama Shelter is mostly done by the power of a design that talks to everyone. Meaning from no experience to the most  picky person. It’s a matter of framework interpretation.

You are Head of Design - Can you tell our readers a bit more about what your job title entails?

I run a team of 11 designers / decorators / FF&E purchasers and my role is to imagine the future projects from top to bottom.
I’m on board from the very first signature of the new property. I assist the developers to make a coherent zoning that will influence the F&B (food and beverage) team choices. Then I dive into the layout and finally the design aspect.

Design concerns all the “front of house” areas (all areas visible for the guests). I imagine the design of the room, the circulations and the public areas that are huge areas. I also drive all the artists that can be involved for the graphic contents that are part of my design.

How does a typical day at work look like for you?

If only one day could be typical! I normally make a tour of all the ongoing projects with my team. I usually have ten projects running at the same time. Some are about to open when others are at the very beginning. I hand draw some ideas, furniture, concepts that will be developed. I have also many conversations with the local architecture team that are our eyes on sites. Same with fit-out /custom furniture subcontractors. I also spend a lot of time abroad to visit new projects sites, meeting with investors, factory trips to validate samples and finally the big openings!

Details of Mama Shelter in Marseille - Photo Credit: Francis Amiand

How did you start your career in this industry?

This was more like by chance. I graduated from an architecture school in Paris. Then I used to be Vincent Darré’s assistant.
Then I did some private home projects - I thought I wasn’t ready at this time, so I started to apply to big agencies. I met Philippe Stark who introduced me to Jalil Amor, first Mama Shelter in-house Head of Design. I’ve worked for two years with him and he was a real mentor to me. Four years ago I took over the role of Head of Design.

What is the most important aspect for you when you work on a new project?

Trying to have an approach that talks to everybody. Don’t be too snobby, too fashionable but not too simple either. Thinking about  the power of decontextualization, the surprising effect of an immersive experience. I also give a lot of energy to talk about the context and my experience of it. Each project is different because each project has its proper location. This is the limit between cool and kitsch - limits I don’t want to overstep.


Details of Mama Shelter in Lisbon - Photo Credit: Francis Amiand

What is the last design acquisition you made for yourself?

A pair of rusty white oversized metallic chandeliers, but it’s a gift ;)

What would you say is your biggest inspiration?

I could tell you many names and styles. Inspiration is mostly an unconscious phenomenon that you assume by giving the result back to the world.

What is your biggest challenge?

Keep being fresh in this busy world ;)

Shop Benjamin's Design selection below:


The Fan Chair - Blue & Pink - Tobia Zambotti


Swimming Pool Table - Estudio Rain


OVNI Bench Yellow - Cultivado Em Casa

Book your next holiday at Mama Shelter here.

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