Boutique Design Events and Trade Fairs

The more than 430 submissions for the 39th annual Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design gave this year’s 16 judges a platform for exploring what’s really changing in this industry and what’s needed to keep pace with what consumers want and what clients will commission.  

Based on the evaluations during the in-person judging at the AC by Marriott New York Times Square, most designers are getting the message that “good” won’t make the grade. It’s only about better and best. That was born out in some of the tightest voting in Gold Key history—with the cut-off for inclusion in the finals often just a point or two in more than a few of the 23 categories. Eligible projects must have been completed from July 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. 

The competitiveness of the innovation, execution, concept and overall wow factor demonstrated by the submitters pays credit to the caliber of work being done on hospitality projects throughout the world. Check out the list of finalists and you’ll see household names alongside up-and-comers; major brands and independents; trophy projects and corner cafes. (Entries are anonymous in the judging and judges recuse themselves from any project in which they have an interest to make sure it’s the work, not the reputation of the firm, that’s really being assessed.)  

Providing expert assessments on which projects are the best of the best for 2019 during the judging at the AC Hotel by Marriott New York Times Square were: 

  • Andrew Alford, chief creative officer, Graduate Hotels 

  • Mary Beth Cutshall, senior vice president and chief business development officer, Hospitality Ventures Management Group; managing partner, Amara Capital 

  • Gary Dollens, global head design/product & brand development, Hyatt Hotels Corp. 

  • Michael Doneff, chief marketing officer, ThinkFoodGroup  

  • Verena Haller, chief design officer, The Standard Hotels 

  • Carl Hren, senior vice president of development, Concord Hospitality Enterprises  

  • Aliya Khan, vice president, global design strategies, Marriott International 

  • Damon Lawrence, cofounder, Homage Hospitality 

  • Michael Medzigian, chairman and managing partner, Watermark Capital Partners, LLC 

  • Mitch Patel, president and chief executive officer, Vision Hospitality Group 

  • Thomas Prins, principal, TQP Capital Partners, LLC 

  • Scott Rosenberg, president, Jonathan Nehmer + Associates 

  • Jay Stein, chief executive officer, Dream Hotel Group  

  • Larry Traxler, senior vice president global design, Hilton 

  • Simon Turner, managing member, Alpha Lodging Partners, LLC 

  • Gary Womack, managing principal, Acumen Development Partners    


Here are some of the trendlines they see: 


  • Warming trends. Anything that looked “cold” failed to pass muster. Although the judges took points off for design that didn’t live up to the genius of architecture, they did subtract for interiors that let the shell do all the conceptual heavy lifting. They rewarded concepts with human touchpoints, texture and personalized space.  

  • Social consciousness. It’s a testament to the industry’s green thinking that it’s hard for projects to leapfrog ahead with eco-innovation. As the judges pointed out, there’s more room for evolving design as a human connector—bringing together people from the locale and the rest of the world, but also as a jump-starter for anchoring economic development. 

  • Pattern making. Stripes, florals, geometrics—handled with the right eye for when to stop, pattern is making a comeback as a design driver on walls, especially, but also everywhere from carpets to floor-to-ceiling murals, bathrooms and corridors.  

  • Colorful canvases. Beige can still be pretty exciting if it’s played with in various textures, materials and profiles.  But this was a year when the judges were drawn to projects with more visual oomph.  It could be rich Venetian shades; spice tones or acid brights. And, it could be handled in any way that enhanced the concept, from heroically scaled flowers a neon scribble on a sign. The difference in the standouts was how much not only the FF&E but the lighting and volumes worked with color to create a true environment. 

  • Relevant luxury. This year, the luxury categories were among the most stylistic diverse and the most tightly contested.  The range of what reads as luxe—and worth the price tag—has never been broader. Whether executed for a grande dame or a new age retreat, what all the finalists shared was a razor-sharp eye for focusing on the FF&E choices, layouts and experiences that would speak directly to the narrowly targeted guest. 

Winners in 23 categories, as well as the Judges’ So Cool award winner and the Designer of the Year, will be honored at the Gold Key Awards Gala to be held Nov. 11 at Cipriani Midtown in Manhattan. The gala is presented in conjunction with co-located trade fairs Boutique Design New York (BDNY) and HX: The Hotel Experience, Nov. 10-11, at New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Both winners and finalists will be profiled in the December issue of Boutique Design. 

Advance registration is required for the Nov. 11 cocktail reception, dinner and awards ceremony at Cipriani Midtown. Tickets are $500 per person through Nov. 1, or $525 after Nov. 1; availability is limited. 


Complete details about the Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design are available at