The inimitable Gary Inman moderated a panel during High Point Market that illustrates why intelligent programming is so important. The discussion he led, about personalizing hospitality, included panelists Don Griner, the chief innovation officer of DgDplus Hospitality Creative Consultants; Marilyn Lasecki, the senior interior design manager for Ritz-Carlton Hotels; Stacey Tiveron, the founder of Steelyard; Joni Vanderslice, the president of J. Banks Design; and Mark McMenamin, a senior editor for Interior Design magazine.
Hospitality Leans Local
Titled “Vision and Resources: Achieving the Local and Authentic in a Global Market,” the event was held in the Surya showroom. To kick off the evening, Tom Etheridge, the vice president of Surya Contract, introduced Gary, who is the vice president of hospitality for Baskervill by quoting one of Gary’s favorite adages: “Your projects should tell a story.” Once at the helm, Gary added that each story should lean local and read authentic, citing a paradigm shift in the hospitality industry in recent years: “Stories about rock stars waking up in hotel rooms feeling so confused as to where they are that they have to call the front desk to ask what city they are in have convinced hoteliers that there needs to be more local flavor in their properties.”
Joni seconded his premise by relating a story about traveling with her family: “I carried my daughter into the hotel because she was falling asleep. When I walked into the lobby with her, she said, ‘Mom, this is the hotel in Charleston where we’ve stayed before, isn’t it?’” To achieve this level of specificity in her own projects, Joni pulls in local artists and artisans. “I’ve done this in so many places—from Charleston and Cabo San Lucas to Tuscany. Providing visitors a sense of place is the most enjoyable aspect of each project.”
Mark noted that it is a refreshing change from the cookie-cutter property to land in a spot where there is local personality. “It really does depend on the artisan pool you have in any given region. So many times so many of the artisans have not been celebrated or supported and this is a wonderful way to do so.”
Stacey added, “In working with artisans and architects, I’ve seen the paradigm shifts that have hoteliers focusing on the experience rather than the cost, which includes helping to sustain local cultures—and it’s not just about putting their art on the wall but using the local talent to create many aspects of the project through the trades.” Don noted that this is an important consideration with a demographic shift that is happening, namely the Millennials: “I’ve worked on 16 different brands and I’ve seen quite a few of them shift toward creating a promise—such as Target and Walmart. Lowering costs brings design to the masses but Millennials are demanding a more personalized experience and they must be engaged with the story.”
Explaining that she has been in the hospitality industry for nearly 40 years, Marilyn said she was quite the trailblazer when she came on the scene and she had long known that telling a story was key. She cited a project that was put in motion on November 19, 1987, after a stock market downturn. “The mission was to build a hotel on the beach in Barcelona and we knew we were going to put the local artists on the world stage for the 1992 Olympics.”
About the early style of the Ritz-Carlton, she told the audience the success of the brand came down to visitors having the feeling they had “arrived”—a consistent story the brand has told ever since that has built tremendous loyalty. She has seen boutique hotels gain ground by telling their stories better and it has been an interesting aspect of the industry for her. Joni noted that with independent hotels, there is often a strong opinion and designers must be sure to explain to the owners why they are doing what they are doing during the brand reviews. “Developers take us to the flag, so to speak, so we must go and state our case succinctly.”
Don interjects a rhetorical question that draws a stir from the audience: “What’s the best way to make a brand review process go easier? If you have consultants that you don’t beat over the head and give them respect, you can develop a network that can make better designs—you can do paradigm shifting but you also have to deliver the guests the promise you make.”
Hospitality Delivering on Promises Made
Speaking of the stringent review process that the Ritz-Carlton hotels has in place, Marilyn added, “When you’re working with Marriott, there’s a tremendous fear. After a designer passes the first design review, there is a technical review. Then, once the specifications are written, the learning curve is satisfied. This is quite a process but if you start out right, it’s pretty straightforward.”
Stacey pointed to the fact that there is much more tendency toward customization now than there was 25 years ago: “Now it’s a designer’s market and manufacturers most often answer ‘yes’ when asked to customize. This allows designers to put their stamp on their designs.” Her next statement thrilled us here at Bruce Andrews Design given our point of view. “Brands are beginning to realize that if they have enough quantity and want to bring manufacturing back to the states, they can do more customization than the mass goods being shipped from overseas.”
Mentioning that his career began in retail, Mark added, “I remember the day when I would say, ‘Yes, you can change the cover but it’s going to take you 18 months to get it! Back then, they didn’t mind if it took long because they knew when they got it they would sell it. Now it’s much less forgiving because the marketplace is so much more demanding. Now it’s always the caveat, ‘You know our deadline, right?’ This has changed the entire dynamic.”
Back to the local point of view, Don remarked, “Experience should be at the neighborhood level—the micro level. All these brands are going to have a tough time personalizing if they don’t understand this.”
Gary asked if any of the panelists could see a shift in the paradigm when it comes to material preference. Stacey answered, “Performance with the brands is one of the top/top considerations. Sustainability of the planet is now being impactful on products—carpet can be sent back to the manufacturer to be recycled, for instance.”
Favorite Hospitality Venues with Local Flair
Moving the conversation back to the experiential, Gary shared his impression of stay at a coastal property, noting how cultural aspects of the place were evident—that they contributed to the soul of the place and this made him realize how designers are stewards of history if they bring that emphasis to bear on their projects. Making a strong point for the time-honored, he spoke about staying at Cliveden, Nancy Astor’s country house in England: “I slept in her bed and there was a valet. Dinner started in one room, moved to another room and there was a third room for dessert. Each of these aspects of the experience made me feel steeped in the history of the era when she would have been entertaining!”
Marilyn cited a trip to Egypt as an example of a strong experience in her life as a world traveler: “When you open the window at Mena House, you can practically touch the pyramids.” That’s a serious dose of location, location, location, isn’t it? Speaking of her own experience as a designer in Egypt, she added, “Renovating the Nile Hilton, it took seven years in Cairo the first time because we went to great lengths to include local artisans. We went to Wisa Wasa where the weavers lived and we didn’t draw a thing—we just allowed them to design from their soul. Things were delayed because of the Arab Spring but finally five tapestries were brought in and the textiles were at the core of the success of that project.”
Gary encouraged everyone else to share destinations that had made an impact on them, and though Don confessed to not having a favorite resort, he declared a trip to Africa as one of his most memorable: “In the farthest part of the Serengeti, in the middle of the dark night, you realize how important site planning is. Serena is so successful at this when you think about the fact that the site has to be surrounded by armed guards to keep the dangerous animals at bay. The experience there was phenomenal.”
For Stacey, her bliss is rekindled each time she returns to Cheeca Lodge and Spa in Islamorada, a five-hour drive from her home. “From the billowing white drapes the minute you walk in, everything afterwards unfolds into an experience that makes me feel like I really can escape.”
Mark told attendees he tends to be drawn to urban areas and properties that are an extension of a city’s history, explaining, “This is where the people wanted to vacation when there was real style.” Like Don, Joni’s memorable trip took her to Tanzania. “Singita brought me such a varied experience that the memories running through my mind when I think back are as disparate as a church choir, coffee roasters, and Massai girls doing beading,” she explained. “That’s what makes Africa so special.”
To end the evening, Gary thanked everyone for sharing their quest to create layered experiences. “We all live in a deadline-driven world and it’s great to see others who feel soulful specificity is as important as I do.” We celebrate the fact that the professionals who specialize in hospitality take the experience to heart when designing those destinations that we all hope to visit or long to return to once we’ve encountered them.
This post, Hospitality Designers Keep It Local, © Bruce Andrews Design, all rights reserved. Our furniture is now available through Nandina Home in Aiken, SC; Jalan Jalan in Miami, FL; Travis & Company in ADAC in Atlanta; and the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Dallas, TX. We will soon be showing in the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Houston and in the Michael-Cleary showroom in Chicago, IL.