This year’s 13-member judging panel for the 37th annual Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design didn’t really care if designers were channeling real-world street smarts or ivory tower book learning. What they wanted to see was proof that the teams behind the nearly 400 submissions from around the world had done their homework and used that information to create interiors that stood out as best in class.
Obviously, they were looking for original thinking. But the fact that the six-plus-hour, in-person voting in New York ended with a record seven category-winning ties among the 21 Gold Key categories tells an interesting story about the range of entries that made the A-list.
Here are some key factors the judges used to determine who made the grade:
- There are no limits on creativity. Looking over the number of hard brands represented on the following pages, it’s clear that even the strictest big-chain platforms and standards are not constraints to blue-sky design. However, the judges did acknowledge that studios may need to apply added creativity when elevating branded building blocks into headline-grabbing hot spots. Commissions for independents and soft brands aren’t exactly no brainers. As the judges pointed out, designers working for visionary clients are going to have to stretch into the stratosphere to deliver projects that beat expectations. And don’t even start whining about time frames or budgets. As the judges said, they’ve seen it all—and they know talented teams can make it work.
- Design isn’t excellent if it doesn’t meet both the guest’s and client’s needs. While certain judges gave a thumbs-down to dramatic, minimalist and/or monochromatic approaches for being too high maintenance to hold up as “excellent” without breaking the operational budget, others contended it’s time for hotel managers to find ways to care for design bold enough to surprise travelers and/or local patrons and drive demand among influencers and on travel-related sites. For the end user, design is focusing more on how guests want to “live” in a lifestyle property, whether that means a place to store their skis without worrying about melt-off or specifying only sustainable elements that are as easy on the conscience as they are on the eyes.
- FF&E is one of today’s most under-utilized design tools. This sounds like a “duh” statement, but as project after project proved as the “no” pile grew, it’s anything but. It’s not all about the architecture anymore. In their comments, the judges loved “the rug that instantly told the guest, ‘This is Istanbul,’” restaurant booths with a full wrap to increase a sense of intimacy and an angled mirror that literally changes the onlooker’s point of view. Yes, art is still critical to the “wow” factor, but overlooking ways to transform seating, wallcoverings and floorcoverings into focal points often separates B-plus work from the genius moments.
- Show off your grasp of the fundamentals. Whatever their style or category, the winners on the following pages got special recognition for demonstrating how they inventively applied the basic tenets of interior design. The judges gave ample time in their critiques to champion the importance of scale (they urged principals to mentor young designers to fill this knowledge gap), the need for a better understanding of how to specify and customize FF&E (one reason Boutique Design is offering a special track on this at BDwest 2018 in Los Angeles, April 4-5) and the requirement for a guest- and staff-centric sensitivity to layout (as in how to make it multifunctional but navigable and why an open guest bath door shouldn’t be knee-banging distance from the bed).
As the conversation continued during a post-competition dinner at the The Whitby Hotel, the judges (shown below) talked about how inspiring this year’s submissions were. “I wish I could take these submissions to our owners and board to show them what the competition’s doing,” said one.
For a detailed look at the 2017 Gold Key category winners and finalists, check out the December 2017 issue of Boutique Design.