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
Kimpton Hotel Palomar Los Angeles Beverly Hills. Photo: David Phelps
ANDREA: We’ve never found the “lid” on design concepts when working with you. How do you see the client’s role as a collaborator?
JON: As a client, I’m the one who pushes. I’ll call up the designer and say we need to be more extreme. No, I’m not a designer, but I’ve been involved with hundreds of hotel projects. I’ve had excellent mentors, whether on the investment, operations or design sides. I’m unafraid to challenge a designer, and I like designers such as you who are unafraid to disagree. But I also appreciate your willingness to take a second look at your ideas if I say elements of them aren’t working for me or that they don’t feel right.
For example, I don’t want to see a model room in progress. I want to come into the finished product as a guest would and see how I react emotionally. Do I think “wow”? Or, am I so unimpressed that I start to look around at the details? Guests aren’t going to wait around and judge a guest room by the small touches here and there. They know if they feel great or not so great the instant they open the door and step inside. Good design—and good business—are all about that feeling.
ANDREA: I know what you mean. A hotel has to have its own energy. The first time I walked into (Ian Schrager’s) Royalton in Manhattan in the early ’90s, it was clear it had its own vibe. It wasn’t just a pretty space; it changed how I felt when walked into it. I felt sexier, cooler.
JON: That’s what we’re still doing. I think it’s why we both get the correlation between design and film. One of the aims of design, like film, is, how fast can we take the guest [or viewer] into the experience? When we deliver the right level of stimulation, we increase the guest’s acceptance of the environment. I don’t want the customer to think, “Ooh, pretty;” I want that concept to be interactive and encourage the guest to become part of it. Like you, I don’t care if people consider the interiors to be tasteful or classically beautiful. I want them be stylish, sure. But it’s more important that they activate the guest’s experience.
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