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Gold Rush

(December 2016) posted on Tue Dec 20, 2016

The winners and finalists in this year’s Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design vividly demonstrate the depth of creativity within our industry.


By Mary Scoviak

This year’s nine judges for The Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design had a daunting brief: Evaluate a record number of more than 500 submissions from hospitality designers around the world to determine what defined best-in-class for this dynamic industry. Showing off work completed from June 1, 2015 to July 1, 2016, each of those entries included eight—and usually far more—images, a project description, a floor plan and a source list.

That’s way too much eye candy for one sitting. So we developed a first-round online review to give the judging panel an opportunity to create a short list of projects that would be discussed during the day-long, in-person judging held Aug. 17 in New York. That “short” list was a lot longer than we’d anticipated by the time the preliminary ballots were tabulated. In fact, the raw number of projects considered real contenders was still significant enough to generate a healthy debate that went from day to evening to dinner (sponsored by Neil Locke & Associates, RH Contract and Valley Forge Fabrics).

The good news from that marathon session was that there are a lot of design firms doing good work—really good work. In each of the 21 categories, the judges asked to take a second look at a submission or put an entry under their collective microscopes to consider a certain detail or assess how well the hotel’s design would resonate with its target market.

What they liked: Work that demonstrated the designer understood how to invest budget, not spend it; anything that elevated function to art; “honest” materials; open space plans and an eye for clever—or strategic—details. What they loathed: Bad photography (yes, we say this every year!); failure to do even basic homework about the client, locale and competitive set; a disconnect in knowing what’s too much—or too little, and anything fashionista.

Though the owners and operators who made up the judging panel—Edwin Hendriksen, senior vice president development & investments–North America, citizenM hotels; Lori Horvath, senior vice president, project and development services, hotels & hospitality, Jones Lang LaSalle; John McMullen, senior vice president of construction, Highgate Hotels; Michael Medzigian, chairman and managing partner, Watermark Capital Partners LLC; Jagruti Panwala, president/ceo, Wealth Protection Strategies, Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) secretary 2016-2017, AAHOA female director at large Eastern Region; Dane Patunoff, director, development & construction, KHP Capital Partners; Jay Pecotte, senior director, project development, hotels & casinos–Americas, Hard Rock Intl.; Thomas Prins, partner, Benchmark Resorts & Hotels; and Larry Traxler, senior vice president–global design, Hilton—had differing perspectives (those with any connection to an entry had to recuse themselves) and diverse personal styles, they worked to reach a consensus on the winners and finalists. That debate delved deeply into how much the definition of excellence has shifted from the “wow” to the what and why of design.

The results of that day-long exploration led to the announcement of the 2016 Gold Key winners at a gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, which capped off this year’s Boutique Design New York trade fair and conference. For the in-depth coverage of the Gold Key winners and finalists that appears in our December issue, click here.


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