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Gold Key Sneak Peek

(August 2015) posted on Tue Aug 18, 2015

Eavesdrop on what design work 2015’s judges loved and loathed.

By Mary Scoviak

Every year, the judging for the Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design is a complete adrenalin rush. Think four hours, no-holds barred conversation about what defines “best” in design terms among leaders in the field who come equipped with amazing vision and strong opinions. It doesn’t get much better than that.

This year’s Aug. 12 judging in New York was a love/hate fest for concepts that are shaping hospitality work around the globe. Offering their expert assessment were the prestigious 2015 judges:

*Stacey Greene, vice president, design and construction, Chesapeake Lodging Trust

*Kemper Hyers, senior vice president, design, Starwood Capital Group

*Ted Jacobs, vice president of global design, Starwood Hotels & Resorts

* Helen Jorgensen, vice president, design & procurement, Host Hotels & Resorts

*Raul Leal, ceo, Virgin Hotels

*John McMullen, senior vice president of construction, Highgate Hotels

*Christine Shanahan, managing director of design, HVS Design

*Erik Warner, co-founder, Eagle Point Hotel Partners

No, I’m not going to give away any hints about who won. That big reveal will come at the Nov. 9 gala capping off Boutique Design New York. But I do want to share their comments about what’s working and what’s not. What they loved:

• Seamlessness. Projects with uninterrupted communication between the architecture and interiors got high marks. But, excellence meant more than simple cohesiveness. It reflected a complete connection with the individual guest—where he/she would want to set down their stuff when they entered their guest room; what kinds of electronics, furniture and images the guest would show off in his/her own home; what FF&E would feel like part of the guest’s personal “brand.” From the look of the exterior to the inside of the shower, projects had to stay true to a strong concept to be contenders.

• Strong, clear storylines. While the judges differed in their preferences for experimental even provocative design versus elegant minimalism, they agreed that all interiors need to follow a narrative that is obvious to the guest. Every element needs to convey that in order to create a memorable identity. So, if green’s the theme, that means not only sustainable materials but local art, food offers, even music.

• Personal input. One of the highest compliments about projects that got good reception from the judges was that they looked as if there was “a personal thumbprint” on the hotel or restaurant. Guests want to feel that a human being designed the spaces they’re inhabiting, and good design makes that happen. If you saw a rag doll on a chair or a hand-stippled treatment on a headboard, wouldn’t you Instagram that?

• Impactful FF&E. While a powerful concept is the price of admission for this year’s top vote getters, the elements used to execute it were just as important. Some of the finalists got the nod because of their inventive lightings, unexpected graphics or the perfect combination of the bed throw and a carpet/rug solution no one had seen before.

What they loathed:

• Overdesigning. Some projects got bashed for what looked like adding in ideas from every single person in the design firm with no editing. That was true as much for concepts as for execution.

• Repetition. Entries got slammed for what looked like CAD-blocking—and not only in the guest rooms. The judges noted that tight time frames, tight budgets and small staffs don’t always allow for the ideal conditions to foster raw creativity. But there were enough projects in all categories that met those challenges with eye-catching design to show that some of the short-cuts are just excuses.

• Overblown theming. Consistency was always a winning point, but anything that looked over-the-top went straight to the bottom of the pile. Theatricality impressed when it was it done with an expert hand. The idea that judges was liked was going close to that edge, but then following Coco Chanel’s advice and taking (at least) one thing away.

• Staleness. Comments such as “too safe,” “seen that,” “nothing new here” knocked a fairly large subset out of the competition during the first pass. While the judges acknowledged that some of that comes down to the client and/or the market, they still saw unmissed opportunities to say something new.

Watch and for more. We’ll be announcing our finalists in a few weeks. Good luck to all who entered.


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