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Client Confidential: Action Heroes

(March 2017) posted on Fri Mar 24, 2017

She’s the director, he’s the producer—together, Jon Bortz and Andrea Dawson Sheehan pull back the curtain on the perfect client/designer relationship.


By Mary Scoviak

click an image below to view slideshow

When Jon Bortz, ceo and president, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust (then president, ceo and a trustee of LaSalle Hotel Properties) and Andrea Dawson Sheehan, art director and principal, Dawson Design Associates, met in 2001, the chemistry was immediate.

Bortz and Dawson Sheehan
Jon Bortz, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust and Andrea Dawson Sheehan, Dawson Design Associates. Photo: Wayne Takenaka

Bortz’ then-20-year-career in commercial real estate development, starting at Jones Lang LaSalle before founding the aforementioned LaSalle Hotel Properties in 1998, had given him a thorough grounding in how to make radical thinking work for both design and the bottom line—think adding retail, restaurants, a cinema and other venues to the massive Union Station revamp in Washington, D.C., to turn it into a destination, as well as work on a portfolio of hotels across the U.S. Sheehan, who got her start designing nightclubs, had helmed her eponymous firm since 1987, growing her practice from restaurant design to hotel work. Hundreds of record- and rule-breaking projects later, Bortz and Sheehan let Boutique Design be a fly on the wall while they drilled down into how they make it work.



Dirty Habit
Dirty Habit, Washington, D.C. Photo: David Phelps

ANDREA DAWSON SHEEHAN: You and I often talk about the need to use design to jolt, to startle and to elicit an emotion. From your standpoint as a client and an investor, why rock the boat so hard?

JON BORTZ: Hospitality is a fast-moving industry. Travelers used to collect things; now they collect experiences. A hotel’s visuals have to speak to that. The biggest mistake in design is to end up with a hotel that’s just too “nice,” too ordinary, too boring. That won’t get noticed. It won’t make Instagram. And it won’t start conversations. Investors need to take design risks—and sometimes to be wrong. A hotel has to have a strong personality, even if that means some people love it and some people hate it. Without that identity, the property faces the risk of ending up somewhere in the middle. We’re not in the business of being in the middle. Great design doesn’t always cost more; but in many cases it does because strong concepts are multilayered. I've found that overall, in terms of occupancy and profit growth, design is a good investment. It's especially important for a portfolio like ours that doesn't have mega-brands and needs to create visibility and buzz.


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