Boutique Design Events and Trade Fairs

“There’s no law against that,” says Andrew Alford, founder and chief creative officer, Andrew Alford Creative and panelist on the Be Your Brand session as he summed up both his personal and professional mantra – and unknowingly the consensus for Boutique Design New York’s (BDNY) final day.

Restructuring approaches and considering elements we weren’t previously open to was still the name of the game throughout this thought-provoking Monday but panelists across all session topics applied it to not just design but also their business and even more importantly, how they live their lives.

At the Boutique Design Power Players: Women Leaders in Hospitality breakfast, panelists discussed how they continue to deal with gender discrimination, even with the societal changes the #metoo movement has managed to unearth. And despite the knowing nods attendees gave, they were still shocked to hear stories such as Marcia MacDonald, design director, Yabu Pushelberg being told by a client that “I don’t want to wash my hands next to a woman;” or Talene Staab, global brand head, Tru by Hilton who says whenever she travels with a man she’s always asked the same thing: “’Can I get you anything’ and ‘Are you going to take the notes?’”

Rule of thumb here? “I have to speak up in order to be heard,” says Laura Benner, senior vice president, hotel asset management, Colony Capital, Inc. The answer to addressing and eventually overturning this challenging behavior remains the same: be bold, be loud and don’t let anyone turn down your volume when it comes to defending your own capabilities, as well as your work. “Have confidence in your voice,” says Laurie Miller, principal, Anderson/Miller Ltd.

The industry can certainly take cues from the panelists on the Lifestyle: Beyond Beds and Breakfasts who dared to bring brands to the table that nobody else would. Josh Wyatt , ceo, NeueHouse spoke to the company’s next level co-working and event offerings that bring together F&B, warmth, comfort and a safe, intellectually stimulating space to share ideas. Just never use the term “co-working” if pitching them (big no no) and design presentations will need to focus on multiple revenue streams in order to impress.

“You have to know exactly who you are going after,” explains Charles Khabouth, ceo, INK Entertainment of his hospitality offerings known for the varied spaces and moods each brings to different guest needs, especially at his Bisha (his birth name) Hotel in Toronto, designed by Studio Munge and an entire floor by Kravitz Design for that “rockstar power.” His properties take out-of-the-box thinking to another level by impressing it upon guests. A truly remarkable, Instagrammable staircase to the second-floor restaurant at Bisha makes them want to, rather than have to climb that flight.

Aaron Richter, senior vp of design, Equinox Brands, Equinox says they also use the question of “Who is this crowd?” as their constant starting point. The design of their first hotel (many others are in the pipeline) which opened this year in Hudson Yards NYC focuses on “the idea of movement captured,” such as with the lobby and bar sculptures. While public spaces try to blur the lines between the neighborhood and transient guests and those actually staying at the hotel, guestrooms are a different story. According to Richter, they are probably the most sound-isolated rooms in the industry, equipped with a yoga space and mattresses made of horsehair and coconut fiber. “The whole room is designed around recovery,” he says, as the brand believes “sleep is just as important as your fitness.”

Panelist Sadie Kurzban, founder of 305 Fitness, comes at the market with a different perspective than most fitness companies. Tired of the constant curation of perfection she was always seeing on social media and yearning for genuine connection, she created studios that feel “bootstrapped and grassroots.” Design is inspired by inclusion and a bit of irreverence, nostalgic joy of the dance movies of the 80s, as well as her hometown of Miami. She looks for provocative patterns that are “tongue-in-cheek,” neon lights and a big focus on A/V.

Similarly, panelists at the Brand Central session also want designers that like to operate differently, bring fresh ideas to the table that utilize hyper-local inspirations and vendors, and (refreshingly) might not have a wealth of experience.

Founders of Homage Hospitality Marcus Carey and Damon Lawrence introduced a pipeline of properties deeply embedded in their locale and the need for designers that are ready to join them in finding the people who have nurtured those communities. “They will give us the ideas for what a hotel should reflect in order to really be a part of the neighborhood,” Lawrence says. They seek to give designers of color a chance to shine, as well as smaller independent firms that have a better eye for what they’d like to see in the world than some bigger firms that might have fallen into a more formulaic design approach. “We have a real diversity problem in design,” Lawrence says. “It’s hard to say you’re going to create a space for everyone when not everyone is involved in its creation. We’ve seen brands like H&M and Gucci make serious mistakes because they didn’t have anyone at the table to tell them ‘no.’ And we demand that.”

Craig Greenberg, ceo, 21c Museum Hotels, says designers don’t have to be experts in art. “What we are looking for is folks that embrace creating unique spaces where people can have great conversations,” he says. Their core tenants revolve around exhibition and lighting of art as well as ideal flow and function.

Mark Keiser, chief development officer, SH Hotels & Resorts, (which includes Baccarat, Treehouse and 1 Hotel brands) is seeking out younger firms who might not have done hospitality work before. “We are committed to holding their hands through that process,” he says. 1 Hotels is derived from a very holistic building perspective with strong connections to the natural world as well as place.

The Be Your Brand panelists later in the afternoon brought it all home to the person behind the work. Alford along with Lawrence, Khabouth, and Julia Monk, senior principal, director of hospitality design, HOK—led by moderator Andrew Fay, president, Gettys Group—showed how both your personal and professional brands work hand-in-hand to build each other up. Utilizing social media to your advantage gives people insight into who you are, as it’s your very own “reality show scrolling across your timeline,” as Lawrence put it. Do it right and you can create genuine connections that bring the right work in and weed out potential clientele that would only drag you down.

We hope this year’s show left you inspired, energized and ready to face any problem that comes your way with fresh eyes and a new outlook. A special thanks to all our panelists and moderators who gave their time and bore their souls all in the name of better design and ultimately a better world. Look for further coverage in the coming days from the Gold Key Gala, Product Design Competition and more!

Until next year, keep talking, keep engaging and most importantly: keep challenging yourself.


An incredible group of Women Leaders, discussing the challenges, opportunities and trends facing the industry. Allison Berry, principal, Kevin Berry Fine Art; Laura Benner, senior vice president, hotel asset management, Colony Capital, inc.; Marcia Macdonald, design director, Yabu Pushelburg; Laurie Miller, principal, Anderson/Miller, Ltd.; Elaine Molinar, partner, Snøhetta; Talene Staab, global brand head, Tru by Hilton; Mary Scoviak, conference director, executive editor, BDNY and Boutique Design.




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