Interior designers win dispute over hotel 'five-star finish'

A firm of interior designers have won a contract dispute over unpaid invoices for their work refurbishing a hotel requiring a “luxurious 5-star feel”.

The case involved Phoenix Interior Design Ltd v Henley Homes plc.

Henley engaged Phoenix to provide interior design services, furniture and fittings for a new apartment hotel in Scotland.

The brief stated that the hotel was intended to be "high end", with furnishings that were "hard-wearing and contract quality which is easy to clean, maintain and replace BUT with a luxurious 5-star feel".

Phoenix presented its design concept to Henley, and hard copies of its terms and conditions were made available at the presentation.

Phoenix provided samples before commencing work, and prepared a sample room in the hotel, which was inspected and approved by Henley.

A dispute arose concerning the quality and suitability of the products and design, snagging works, and whether the works had been "signed off" so that completion occurred. However, Henley continued to use the furniture and furnishings for over three years and did not replace them.

Phoenix asserted that a five-star specification was not part of the contract. Henley submitted that performance had been so defective that completion never occurred, and the balance was therefore not due.

The High Court found in favour of Phoenix. It held that, in a heavily documented case, the absence of a specific reference in the contract to a five-star product was significant.

Such a requirement was not supported by the documents, and the Phoenix's evidence was preferred. In any event, there was no star categorisation for furniture or furnishings. In addition, Henley had inspected samples and approved the sample room at the hotel.

The hotel had been awarded five stars and been acclaimed in reviews, including for the quality of Phoenix's work. It was also telling that Henley had used the furniture and fittings for several years and had still not replaced them.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of contract law.

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