photo credit: Dionne McDonald
The Boutique 18 Interviews: Katie Kelchner
Read our full conversation with Hilton's design manager for Embassy Suites and HGV.
Our March issue gives you a handshake with every member of the 2019 Boutique 18 class. Consider this your coffee and a slice of pie with each of them. We'll be posting our full interviews with these incredible designers throughout the month, so you can truly get to know the person behind the work and the mind pushing the limits of our industry. This week, we’re featuring Katie Kelchner, design manager for Embassy Suites and HGV for Hilton. Enjoy the conversation!
What are you working on?
The ever-growing pipeline of Embassy Suites new-build properties and renovations in North America.
What was the aha moment when you decided to be an interior designer?
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a designer. I was very lucky in that I knew early on that this was the right industry for me. I even went to a university where you couldn’t declare your major until sophomore year after completing a variety of foundational arts classes in the event that you changed your mind (which I’m sure is typical of most teenagers). But I stayed the course and never looked back.
What drew you to hospitality?
I started my career in residential design and transitioned into corporate office. While it was always a rush to complete those projects I rarely got to see them again after they were completed. I could drive by and say “oh I designed that home or office” but could only share that experience with my family and friends through pictures. I love hospitality because it’s public, which allows me to enjoy the spaces that I design personally and share them with the people that I love in a more meaningful way. That experience goes beyond what can be expressed in a picture long after the project is complete.
Embassy Suites Asheville Downtown, North Carolina; photo courtesy of interior design firm DLR Group
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned and why was that so impactful?
You never do anything alone. I always compare designing a project to making a movie, except that at the end of a movie there’s a list of every person that contributed to the making of it. When a project is completed there’s no list. There’s usually just the name of a design firm or brand. But the number of people that it took to make that project happen is immense. For every one of those people it’s usually very personal and they feel a piece of ownership in the project even without the recognition. Before hotels, I designed restaurants. And I would often hear my mom tell someone “Katie designed this or that restaurant.” And every time I correct her and say “I did not design it, it was a team effort.” That lesson is impactful because of how it translates to so many other things in life. Life is a team effort. There are people who have helped to get you where you are today and will help you get where you’re going in the future. The list of those people for me is endless and I hope that I’ve been lucky enough to pay it forward and positively impact other people’s lives in the same way.
What’s been your favorite project so far?
My favorite project was Tiger Fork, a restaurant in Washington D.C. The team of people I worked on that project with were all of my best friends, from the design team to the restaurant group. It’s a rare thing to be able to do what you love with the people that you love on all sides of the table. The end result was magic and the restaurant environment is truly transformative. I think that’s a reflection of the team that brought it to life. It also doesn’t hurt that I live in the neighborhood so I can go visit all the time!
Tiger Fork restaurant; photo credit: Rey Lopez; interior design: Edit Lab at Streetsense
What was the biggest myth that got deconstructed when you moved from graduation to actual design work?
Budget! We maybe touched lightly on material pricing in school but the impact of construction costs on a design cannot be overstated. I think there could have been a better balance in school between thinking outside of the box and thinking creatively within the box. I’ve always said that some of the best designs we’ll never see exist only on paper. So many times I’ve watched value engineering significantly change a project. Sometimes it results in very creative solutions but sometimes it can alter the entire design essence of a project. That’s a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult thing to accept even now.
What’s your favorite tech tool and what’s on your wish list and why?
I love the measure tool on my phone! It’s awesome to just have a ruler right in your pocket at all times. It’s so simple to just snap a quick dimension. That was never something I knew I was lacking but now that I have it I love it. To be honest it came in most handy when I was arguing with my brother-in-law over the dimensions of my mom’s television. I was able to get out my phone and prove him wrong right there on the spot, haha!
What would you be doing if you weren’t an interior designer?
I would be a singer. Music was a passion of mine as a kid. I never really considered that it could have been a career path and I miss it every day. Singing in the car remains my number one hobby though.