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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

JON: One would be the proliferation of chef-driven restaurants. There’s a place for them, but not if you’re focusing on the financials. Second, you have to find a way to make unworkable spaces work. When you and I did the first Dirty Habit at the Hotel Zelos in San Francisco, we were reconcepting existing space. People thought it would be impossible to make a restaurant on the fifth floor work and be successful. It had no windows, no street access. Customers had to go through the lobby and up the elevator; they couldn’t see even a piece of it from the lobby. So we needed to come up with a concept that would turn the negative of being on the fifth floor into the positive of being of being on the fifth floor. The design and the concept needed to do that. Your team brought us the idea of an illicitly glamourous outpost—and yes, we both know that we’ll go with dark humor and raw sensuality when needed, though it has to be subtle.

More and more, investors have to find ways to make negatives into positives. We couldn’t lease out the fifth floor. We couldn’t put more guest rooms there. So we had to find a way to make a marketable destination by designing something secretive with an attitude that fit the tight space. Some investors walk into a crappy building and see a crappy investment. I see a box you can do really cool things with. Finance and design work together for me as an investor.

ANDREA: We keeping hearing from the brands that they want young, hot fresh designers. Age discrimination is a real problem in the design industry. You’ve pushed back on that. Why?

JON: I don’t see a need to go in that direction [commissioning only young designers]. What we’ve found is that all those young and fresh designers may have great ideas, but they can’t execute. They don’t know how to do that at the right scale. They don’t choose the right colors. They don’t know all the techniques to create the right drama. It takes someone with your experience and talent to do that. You and your team have delivered a lot of great properties for us. I don’t have to explain why something needs to be transitional in one locale; experimental in another. You know how to do the homework.


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