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Thoroughly Modern Marriott

(June 2014) posted on Fri Jun 20, 2014

Meet the new face of Marriott brand hotels—no signature colors, overblown patterns or helmet-hair formality—just polished, dynamic interiors for millennials.

By Mary Scoviak

click an image below to view slideshow

Suppose your firm’s 28-year-old project designer gets to pick the hotel for the next trip to a project site or conference. Would a Marriott be at the top of his/her list? In the past, the answer likely would have been, “Um, no.” For the last 18 months or so, job one for Glenn Wilson, vice president, Global Design Strategies for Marriott Hotels and JW Marriott, and her team has been to invent a design strategy that could change that millennial’s mind.

If brand redesign were an Olympic sport, that task would have had a difficulty factor in double digits. On one hand, Wilson and her hand-picked collaborator Sarah Smallwood, a Rockwell Group alum who’s now Marriott International’s senior interior design manager/Global Strategies, Product Development had to develop fresh visual cues that would infuse the essence of what they came to call Marriott Modern into more than 500 hotels flying the Marriott Hotels flag worldwide regardless of age, footprint or room count. On the other, they had to write a flexible playbook that could achieve that without limiting outside design firms’ creative freedom to customize each property. And, as with any radical renovation, the time frame required a shift into miracle mode.

The design staff started this massive undertaking with one big advantage: Paul Cahill, senior vice president of brand management, Marriott Hotels. Tasked with recasting this 80-year-old flag’s operations, aesthetics and marketing to speak to the estimated 80-million-strong market of 20-somethings in the U.S. alone (an urgent goal given 10,000 of the chain’s bread-and-butter baby boomers reach age 65 every day), Cahill advised Wilson and her cohorts, “If what you’re doing is not making us uncomfortable, then we haven’t gone far enough.”

Wilson and Smallwood did worry about the discomfort level (and, yes, they got some initial pushback), and then they pushed anyway. Working to express Marriott Hotels’ new keywords—dynamic, polished, thoughtful—in 3D, they began the brand’s overhaul by knocking down the old pillars of design: pattern-on-pattern fabrics; spaces that were decorated rather than designed; rigid, formulaic concepts and layouts; a buttoned-up attitude to FF&E and an over-dependence on bright colors—including Marriott’s signature red.


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