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Design Powerhouse Kelly Wearstler on the Future of Hospitality, Being 'Under the Radar,' and Fierce New Competition

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Here now, Curbed catches up with the much beloved interior design empress Kelly Wearstler about her favorite hotels, her own breezy chassé into the hospitality arena—she's got the Viceroy Miami, the Avalon in Beverly Hills, and the Tides South Beach under her belt, and many more in progress—and the future of the industry. Spoiler alert: the die-hard glammy maximalist promotes an aesthetic that's "under-the-radar" and not "over-designed."

So what will hotels of the near future look like?
What we're doing with New Hotel in San Francisco—a new brand literally in the epicenter of where all technology is, Twitter headquarters is across the street, One King's Lane is across the street, all of the dot-commers are moving back into San Francisco so we're the first hotel in this area—is very kind of humble and stylish, but the design is a little haphazard and cool. There is technology, but it's kind of under-the-radar.

I would also say the televisions—they're super thin and, you know, the design can be really nice. I see a lot of new hotels, especially in Europe, are actually putting these super-thin televisions behind mirror, so when the television's on, you can see the crystal-clear picture, but when it's off it looks just like a mirror on the wall. I have seen quite a bit of that, which is super sleek.

How about hotels in the next few decades?
I really think it's really all about the story and things that have a voice, a hotel that has a clear message. People are so in-tune now with design and things that feel special. In terms of design plus technology, for sure, that will have a huge impact in terms of the lifestyle of the hotel and what amenities are provided. But at the end of the day, I still think it's about experience and services.

What about in terms of amenities?
I think that health is for sure moving into the forefront. I think just having organic amenities, lotions free of chemicals, green packaging, people are very sensitive to that—you know, protecting Mother Earth.

What sort of ideas or pieces in your hotel spaces do you think are particularly innovative or fresh?
I mean, if things get over-designed and too tacky or too forced, it does not come off well. I think that people want things that are just easy. You want to think you're at a comfortable place. I go back to hotels because I love the way the bedding is or I love how the shower head comes on really strong. And the services; I order my double macchiato in the mornings and it takes 15 minutes—they don't tell me it's going to take 30 to 45 minutes. Because everybody is just so busy, of course, and when you travel, most people want ease and great service, more than things that are too forced or tech-savvy and you can't figure it out.

What kind of design story do you gravitate toward in your own work? Are there any design consistencies?
It's different for every brand. For every hotel there's a voice, a voice in the design and it carries through seamlessly to the service and to the restaurants or the gym, into the retail space or the spa. Again, just kind of effortless; you want everything there. Because health is just so important and people really want a spa or an amazing exercise room, I do think that having all of that delivered in a story and, you know, a vision that is cohesive, is important for the success of a hotel.

I really look to the local, architecture, and historical context within my design process. For the Avalon, (below) I wanted to create a cool vintage living room vibe around the pool with a series of intimate cabana spaces. The cabanas have become a signature of the hotel.

If you had your dream space and unlimited budget, what would you do?
I mean, what I would do is just what I do: really looking at the architecture and my client and what they want to do, just being a good listener to the company who hired us to design something for them.

But I would use, of course, amazing material selections. That's probably the only thing I would do differently. Things like bronzes and really amazing woods. There are woods that are super expensive and incredible. And there's oak.

Do you see any shifts happening right now in the hospitality world?
I would say it's really getting competitive. There's a lot of hotel brands and a lot of new hotels opening. The fact is, there's just so many players, it's just turning into the same thing. Nobu [Matsuhisa] is opening up a chain of hotels—he's a restaurateur. He's opening a hotel and you may have a fashion designer opening a hotel and these are brands that are going to open up a portfolio, maybe three to 10. They have a pipeline so it's just getting much more difficult. So it's important that you have a clear message and a clear vision and that you are going to stick out.

But the best projects are the ones, honestly, where the clients are super involved and have a vision for what they want. To be a successful designer or have a successful design studio, you have to be an incredible listener. At the end of the day, you want them to be happy.

What are some of your favorite hotels?
I love the Hotel de Crillon in Paris. That's one of my favorites, it's just so gorgeous and old school. But when I go to New York, I stay at the Bowery, which is totally different than the Hotel de Crillon, but it just feels cool. They have a great restaurant and the service is fast. Oh and the Ritz in Paris is amazing. It's, like, when you go to Europe you want to stay in something very European, and when I go to New York I like staying downtown, it's where I like to hang out. The Bowery's great for me.

· All Hotels Week 2013 posts [Curbed National]
· All Kelly Wearstler coverage [Curbed National]
· Kelly Wearstler Hotel Design [official site]
· Tides South Beach [official site]
· Viceroy Miami [official site]
· Avalon in Beverly Hills [official site]