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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

Hotel Zeppelin
Hotel Zeppelin, San Francisco. Photo: Douglas Friedman

ANDREA: Do lenders buy into that upfront?

JON: Not always, but the portfolio performance and the fact that boutique/lifestyle brands and independents did better [versus large brands] during both recent recessions make a pretty convincing argument. The first hotel project we did together is a good example. Early in 2001, when I was still with LaSalle Hotel Properties, we acquired four crummy, bankrupt hotels in the Washington, D.C., area with the intention of repositioning them as boutique properties. The proposed operator said the renovations should reference colonial elements and focus on traditional design. My team, as you know, wanted something colorful and radical. I felt that the design is not just about the expectations of the people who live in that city; it’s also about the preferences of guests from other places who make up the target market. In the case of our first collaboration (the property that would become the Kimpton Topaz Hotel), the primary market was New York, and those travelers wanted lifestyle hotels. Within two months of opening, that hotel was on the cover of two major magazines and was doing very well.

W Los Angeles
W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills. Photo: David Phelps

ANDREA: How do you see the notion of provocative, immersive design evolving?

JON: Our designs need to provide a sense of luxury and comfort while taking people out of their comfort zones. Public space will become more and more of a dynamic social venue that challenges people’s perspective while at the same time reflecting and capturing the energy and attitude of the city. They have to be original and powerful.

ANDREA: As in the Hotel Zeppelin (part of the Viceroy Group) in San Francisco? People expected references to 1960s music, but I think we really challenged them to think more deeply with visual references to the psychedelic, drug-infused culture, the struggle for women’s rights, the black power movement, and the social commentary of writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. Through the design and art, Hotel Zeppelin celebrates what all of that did to change society.


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