Boutique Design Events and Trade Fairs

BDwest 2018 may be in the books, but the conversations about everything the hospitality design community experienced at Boutique Design’s West Coast trade fair held April 4-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center are just beginning.

Like great interior design, BDwest was “all about you.”  Whether you were celebrating being named to this year’s prestigious Boutique 18 class of rising industry design stars or honored as one of Boutique Design’s Up-and-Coming Hoteliers, shopping for the latest wow products or improving your pro skills at one of the five Smart-Specs Interiors™ education sessions on writing the perfect specification, BDwest had exactly what you were looking for. 

More than 2,500 hospitality design professionals, 250-plus  exhibitors and over 100 speakers experienced a two-day intensive that offered takeaways ranging from the 3D inspiration of the four Designed Spaces to words of wisdom from hospitality legends including Michael Bedner, cofounder, Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA); Wing Chao, global advisor, Wing T. Chao Global Advisors (and, for most of his career, the design mastermind behind Disney Imagineering’s hospitality projects worldwide); Barbara Lazaroff, president, Imaginings Design, Inc./cofounder, Wolfgang Puck Brand, IP, and Horst Schulze, chairman emeritus, Capella Hotel Group and currently head of Horst Schulze Consulting.

Anyone looking for new images to add to their vision boards got plenty of food for thought from the designers who shaped the visionary projects highlighted on panels such as New in LA; Do Disrupt, a session highlighting alternative concepts from treehouses to pods; New Rules for Creating Immersive Spaces (theming with a modern relevance); Luxury Lifestyle; Food & Design; or Renovation CSI.

But this year’s conference program also focused on the business of design—and how to do it better. Boutique Design put designers in touch with clients such as decision-makers from leading hard brands; soft brands, small chains and independent hotels; niche players from pure lifestyle to ultra-luxury and the developers who are making DTLA one of the country’s hottest hotel markets. Attendees also heard from Boutique Design’s 2018 Women Leaders about their best-practice advice for success.

Here are some of the takeaways that should help your firm PR in 2018:

  1. Own your intellectual capital (IP). Todd-Avery Lenahan, founder and principal of TAL Studio, moderated a panel that underscored the importance of saying no to providing unfunded proprietary design services that can be used elsewhere at any time. Their advice: When submitting projects for competitions, add language that states upfront that you, not the client, own the concept and that your work is not a leave-behind that will serve as inspiration for another firm. Don’t give your work away. Panelists advised designers to limit their free services to submitting mood boards. If clients want more a full-blown presentation, they should be willing to remunerate the design firm for its expertise. Also, be vigilant. Not only your work but even your tag line could be plagiarized. Have a good IP attorney in your contact list.
  2. Be a collaborator with your clients, not a yes man or woman. Speaking on a session on 5-star opportunities, Jennifer Johanson, ceo, EDG ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN, shared her thoughts on the importance of going outside the design box. The firm was invited to submit a proposal for a 40-room addition for a cool inn near Portland, Oregon. She and her team researched not only the competition (that attracted guests who didn’t want to get their shoes wet) but also who would fill those new rooms and what would make this property a standout. “The property has an incredible location, so we suggested creating events such as a beach triathlon to make this a unique experience,” she said. “We also saw that there was an underserved market of luxury travelers in Portland who enjoy sports, a healthy lifestyle and being outdoors. We wanted design that spokes to them. So we put bike racks inside the hotel, as well as other storage areas for their gear. No one wants to leave a $5,000 bike on their car.” But, as she said, even the most consultative designer needs to be real with clients. “You have to tell them the hard truths. They may be cool and they may want a cool hotel. But, sometimes, the project just doesn’t justify ‘cool’,” she added. “It’s the designer’s job to show the clients that cool isn’t the only approach to being creative.”
  3. Speak your client’s language. The International Society of Hospitality Consultants’ panel on Everything Designers Need to Know About Cap Ex, Boutique Design’s Women Leaders and Renovation CSI: What to Do When Things Go Wrong all emphasized the need to educate everyone on the team about understanding clients’ financial goals and being familiar with the jargon of finance. Clients speaking on the more than 30 conference sessions all drove home the message that a fast way to their short lists included familiarity with ROI and how that impacts budgeting, scheduling and where they’ll invest or value engineer. Pamela Babey, principal, BAMO suggests that every member of the team be involved in discussions that include the numbers and that principals take the time to mentor young designers on the money side of their clients’ businesses.
  4. Get techie. If you don’t have some tech-loving designers on staff, start your search now. David Labuskes, ceo of AVIXA (the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Assn.), moderated a roundtable on how the digital revolution is impacting the modern hotel, and how design is going to change to leverage that. The possibilities go far beyond computerized wall art.  Carpets with sensors that turn on lights when guests get out of bed and smart-room features that give travelers options to play designer in their guest rooms based on their moods are all going to be part of the tool kit for hospitality interiors.
  5. Be well. Another marketable addition to your scope of services is wellness expertise.  That’s obvious, given the number of hotel companies partnering with fitness brands to provide boutique workout spaces and services (goodbye hotel gym). But, as NEWH’s Green Voice session made clear, there are also more clients and guests who see healthy buildings as worth-the-extra investment solutions to outcompeting properties that don’t address demand for proactively health-conscious interiors.
  6. Think ahead before you set your fees. It’s the designer or architecture firm’s job to anticipate and prevent pain points on the business side (for their own company and their client) just as much as it is in a guest room. “Don’t just design to a PIP—8 out of 10 times you’ll wind up with add services or chang orders on a renovation,” says Kelly Gaddes, director, interior design, CR Architecture + Design. “It might just say ‘refinish doors’ but if they’re 34-in. wide instead of a standard 36-in. width, you’ll need to replace them—look to similar projects you’ve done in the past to help you work out budgets and timelines.” Understand that you’ll have to build some “fluff” into your fees to avoid add-ons later in the process, says Tarrah Beebe, architect, KFA Architecture. “We also always write in a timeline, so if we contract that something will take 12 months, at 12 months and one day, we change the fee structure,” she adds. And, yes, sorry, but sometimes you will just have to cope. On Freehand Los Angeles, a recent project from KFA and Sydell Group, the team had to scrap designs for the rooftop that got vetoed by officials—but elected not to bill for the time spent crafting that design.

We’ll be featuring more insider info from BDwest in coming weeks. Check back for insights and inspiration.