The Boutique 18 Interviews: Emily Marshall

Read our full conversation with HBG's interior design discipline leader and senior associate.

Boutique Design
Emily Marshall | Discipline Leader | HBG Design

Our March issue gives you a handshake with every member of the 2019 Boutique 18 class. Consider this your coffee and a slice of pie with each of them. We'll be posting our full interviews with these incredible designers throughout the month, so you can truly get to know the person behind the work and the mind pushing the limits of our industry. First up, Emily Marshall, interior design discipline leader and senior associate with HBG Design. Enjoy the conversation!

And we hope if you are out in LA this week for BDwest that you get the chance to see them honored live at the Globe Theater along with this year's up-and-coming hoteliers.

What are you working on?
Cache Creek Resort Expansion, Brooks, California: a new hotel, spa and F&B expansion
Desert Diamond West Valley Casino, Glendale, Arizona: casino with seven new restaurants outside Phoenix
Hyatt Centric Hotel at One Beale, Memphis, Tennessee: 200+ room hotel

What was your defining career moment?
Seeing my first project installed was career defining for me. To experience a space that came from sketches on paper and conceptual color and material palettes is something that’s so gratifying and builds so much confidence as a designer. 

What was the “aha!” moment when you decided to be an interior designer—and what drew you to hospitality?
I grew up with design in my life; my father was an architect and my mother collected art and antiques. I was in a science-based field in college and not enjoying it as much as I had hoped, so I decided to lean into the design world that I had grown up with. From there I knew it was the right path for me. Hospitality always intrigued me—the drama and excitement that comes from spaces; the thoughtfulness that’s put into how the guest uses and experiences the space. There’s a psychological element to it paired with the fantasy of escapism that has kept me challenged and passionate about my career.  

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned and why was that so impactful?
That I’m going to make mistakes and that’s ok. I see a lot of designers come out of school or their first internships and put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect and totally fall apart when they realize they’ve made a mistake. A hospitality interior designer makes thousands of decisions, just in one space, so to think you’re going to hit a perfect game is just not realistic and can sometimes be a creative block. Sometimes mistakes in the field can spur a super creative detail that you might not have thought of in the first place. 

For example, on a restaurant installation several years back when I was starting out, our food & beverage equipment was not coordinated with our bar millwork and we discovered this while on site. I did some preliminary sketches with the new dimensions that were required, and the result was a millwork element at the bar that become a detail the owner ended up really liking!

What was your first pinch-me project? 
My first pinch me project was the very first project I worked on as a junior designer at Wilson & Associates: the Atlantis Dubai on Palm Island. I was working with the most talented designers at Wilson and could not believe the exposure I was getting, not only with them but to high-level hospitality design. I was selected I think thanks to good luck, scheduling and the tenacity to be a part of that team! It was an amazing experience that shaped who I am, not only as a designer but as a manager to younger junior designers.   

What’s been your favorite project so far?
My favorite project is the presidential suite at the Cache Creek Resort I’m currently working on. We are set to open by summer so we are finalizing all the accessories and art at this point. It’s rooted in a very strong concept and inspired by the surrounding region, flora and fauna, paired with very luxurious finishes. I’m excited to see how it all comes together! 

It’s in northern California, near the Bay area. We used a deGournay hand-painted silk wallcovering with painted almond blossoms on it, as the suites double height windows look across an almond field and the town closest to it has an almond festival every year. We used some walnut wood (another important wood to the region) and a local artist, Jen Garrido, was featured in some of the suites’ artwork. The suite has two bedrooms, a theater room, personal elevator, fitness room, massage room, bar and personal back of house kitchen.  

What are the most important non-design-specific skills in your tool kit and how do you use them? 
Intuition plays a huge factor in my day to day job role. From being able to read a room when presenting, to working with internal designers, paying attention to others’ energy can help me navigate situations better. Multi-tasking is also a skill that benefits my day-to-day a ton. Designing is a process, so setting things in motion allows me to marinate an idea or continue to develop a design while working on other things.

What’s next on your list of skills to acquire?
My next skill would be continuing to grow my communication skills. Communication can be so tricky as we have so many types of communicators, from verbal to visual. The way others interpret information—whether it be creative work or direction on a project—is so different from person to person!

WinStar World Resort | Thackerville, Oklahoma | HBG Design

WinStar World Resort, Thackerville, Oklahoma; photo credit: Peter Malinowski/Insite Photograph
 

What is one of the best lessons you’ve learned from your clients?  
Durability and maintainability in concert with aesthetics is something that our team should always focus on. 

How important was it for you to learn about the finance and operations side and how have you put that to work?
Very important. To understand how deliverables and resources are managed allows me to better estimate how long it will take to get projects complete, and factor in the ever-important time for creative development without putting too much pressure on the design team.  

What frustrates you most about the gap between what you’d like to design and what the industry will accept?
Design detailing that is perceived as complex or ornate can cause frustrations when the contractor or millwork push back in lieu of understanding the impact or intent it’s supposed to have.  

What are you doing to make your designs more proactive in supporting economic, cultural and social growth in the communities around them?
We like to use local artists whenever possible. 

What was the biggest myth that got deconstructed when you moved from graduation to actual design work?
That one designer is responsible for everything on a project. The best designs I’ve seen have been touched by many hands and all follow a strong design concept; every role on a project is as important as the next. 

What’s your favorite tech tool and why?
Not really a tech tool, but I’ve come to love slack and Microsoft teams. You can stay in touch and up to date with progress on multiple projects and project teams, no matter where you’re at and it cuts down on the emails at the end of the day, when traveling.  A tech tool I see so much benefit from is Revit. After years of utilizing 2D software, this tool works to cut down on the massive coordination errors that occur on projects.

Hard Rock Café Rock Shop | New Orleans | HBG Design

Hard Rock Café Rock Shop in New Orleans; photo courtesy of Hard Rock International

What was your most challenging day on the job?
Working through the recession of 2008 was a challenging time for me and countless others. The hospitality industry suffered greatly during that time, and we lost a lot of designers that could not find work. I moved from Dallas to Memphis, Tennessee and started working at HBG Design, which at the time had a burgeoning interior design group.       

Describe your design for your dream hotel if money were no object.
Many different room types with different concepts and FF&E/material palettes; something that feels very inspired and residential and takes the guest away from their everyday lives!

I’d love to fill a hotel with one of a kind pieces that were found on sourcing trips all over the world, Donghia and Knoll fabrics, Holly Hunt leathers, Baker furniture, AKDO tile everywhere and Jaime Beckwith Flooring. I am able to use these vendors on my projects, but never all together!

What would you be doing if you weren’t an interior designer?
My dream job would be a buyer that sources materials and furniture all over the world.  

What’s the next hot trend you’re working on or hope to work on, and what will the challenges/opportunities be?
We are touching a lot of projects that are focusing on wellness elements, and I think that creates a more intuitive experience for the guest, when following some of the biophilia principles. I hope to be more involved in extreme hotels that stray away from the traditional model and bring a new sense or experience to the hospitality industry.