Skift Take

As The Savoy's in-house carpenter, Sam Beer gets to "make things that people want to take pictures of." It's a big part of his job. Turns out, that's as fun for him as it is for the luxury hotel's guests.

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Sam Beer’s workday is often a study in extremes.

As The Savoy hotel’s in-house carpenter in London, there are, of course the tasks you’d expect: expanding a custom TV cabinet for a suite; performing general maintenance; and even somewhat obscure guest relations requests, like crafting a custom set of steps for guests who find the bed just slightly too high off the ground.

But alongside the quotidien, there is the fantastical. Like the time he built a 15 foot installation inspired by a British fairground ride to serve as the centerpiece for the hotel’s Christmas decor. Or creating the considerably smaller “Savoy Bee n’ Bee” to attract honeybees as part of the hotel’s sustainability efforts. Then there’s making candlesticks as a gift for couples who are staying in the hotel for their fifth anniversary (when the traditional gift is wood) as well as collaborating with the floral and pastry departments on a massive fondant-covered birthday cake to honor the iconic luxury hotel’s recent 130th birthday.

The Savoy’s 130th birthday cake.

“That’s what I love about it,” Beer, who is 30, said recently sitting in the hotel’s storied American Bar. “If it were just the day to day maintenance, after a while, there wouldn’t be enough creativity in it. I need to see a result at the end, I need to be creating something.”

Floating from department to department in a luxury hotel is quite a departure from Beer’s prior jobs, which included building tree houses for wealthy familes’ backyards when he first moved to London from Australia. And later on, working for a Kiwi-owned residential home-building company in London up until two and a half years ago, when he took over at The Savoy.

The timing was fortuitous. As London’s first purpose-built luxury hotel, now managed by Fairmont Hotels, The Savoy has earned a reputation for its formality and American-style customer service (40 percent of its guests visit from the U.S.). But in November 2016, it gained a new managing director, Phil Barnes, who was intent to modernize the property’s sensibility without losing its tradition. He, along with hotel manager Ian Kidd, has encouraged individual creativity among staff and wants the likes of Beer to feel like they have free reign to create moments and experiences that will delight guests and enhance the experience of staying at The Savoy.

Sam Beer in front of The Savoy hotel.

Beer says ever since he pulled off last Christmas season’s overnight installation the Helter Skelter — Beer had never even heard of the spiraling fairground attraction when given the assignment — he’s enjoyed a tremendous amount of creative autonomy. Closely collaborating with the floral department to come up with concepts, he plans for eight such in-house installations over the course of the next year. He began work on the upcoming Christmas installation (the concept is kept tightly under wraps for now) in August and must design something he can carry in parts from his workshop to install in the lobby overnight, while guests are sleeping.

A giant chocolate Easter egg and floral Wimbledon tennis racket rest in storage in the floral department.

These moments aren’t just about making memorable moments for guests, though — it’s a subtle marketing tool for the hotel, too. In the age of Instagram, Beer and his collaborators know that part of their job is “to make things that people want to take pictures of.” And take pictures they do, often while Beer and head of the floral department Belinda Bowles are still putting the finishing touches on them. He recalls an Easter installation, a giant chocolate egg, being seen on Instagram by the hotel’s ownership before manager Kidd had even come across it in the hotel. Fortunately, ownership was calling to express their delight.

Ultimately, Beer’s remit is to create the kind of moments, big and small, that you could only find at The Savoy, from an ice cream trolley that goes from room to room, to renovating an old cheese trolley for the iconic Simpson’s restaurant. There is an openness to up-cycling things lying around the hotel, and a belief that bespoke items made in-house — while certainly not cheaper or faster — give The Savoy its reputation. “People staying here they don’t want to see something they can see anywhere else,” Beer said. “They want a bit of history and story to it.”

Beer also seems aware that his day-to-day creations might have a legacy long after he leaves. Of the bedside stepping stairs he’d completed the day of Skift’s visit: “Who knows how long these are going to be here for? They could still be here in another 50 years.”

Custom bedside steps made for a guest.

Of course, with this history comes some challenges. Parts of the hotel are listed, which means that English Heritage requires various permissions and guidelines when it comes to making alterations or changes. Something as seemingly straightforward as building cabinets to house air conditioning units becomes more complicated if you can’t screw them directly into the wall. A big part of Beer’s job is finding workarounds to these seemingly straightforward tasks. But that’s also part of the fun.

“I love seeing what the hotel was and how we have adapted it,” Beer said. “Some of the back of house areas, when you get up into the ceilings and you see the old original corners work, it is just stunning. And it’s interesting to peel back the history and see what was once there and what’s been done to it.”

In years to come, it’s fair to assume that a lot of what’s been done to it will be Beer’s handiwork.

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Tags: at your service, hospitality, london, luxury

Photo credit: Sam Beer, The Savoy's in-house carpenter. Rosie Spinks / Skift

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