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Legendary Local Design: 10 Questions with Top Design and Purchasing Pros

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

Hotel design has inexorably shifted to highlighting the look and feel of the community in which the property is located.  This has change the way in which projects are conceived and executed.

It’s no longer about fungible design that simply checks off a series of boxes. Rather, it’s about understanding the cultural, historical and visual cues of the individual community; then creating a visual and functional aesthetic highlighting those elements unique to that neighborhood’s character.

We spoke to Lois Goodell, principal, director of interior design, with CBT Architects and Ronnie Bray, founding partner of Bray Whaler, to see how their roles have transformed due to changing design demands.

Where do you look first to get a feel for the local environment around a new project?

According to Goodell, “It’s essential to have a sense of place as there are all sorts of associations we make, but we have to fully understand them by experiencing it ourselves. We research before we go anywhere to better understand the physical components of the neighborhood. Cities have a certain vibe and we must capture that. But we also must anticipate the future as a neighborhood could be transforming. So, we must understand what that means. We visit tons of properties and restaurants and talk to people. Designing The George, for example, we ended up with a reaction symbolizing the place and proximity to the White House by inhabiting the idea of history, but making it whimsical and surprising. The local feel is critical.”

How much does the local food and goods providers play in the overall localized design feel?

“In most projects, it’s critical the packaging from the purveyors, or materials from which products are made, feel both of that place and also make you feel as if you haven’t seen them somewhere else,” says Goodell. “This is especially true with in-room accessories such as soaps or slippers. But it’s also essential for elements such as wall coverings. For The George, we looked at The Constitution, which is written on parchment. We wanted that look and an abstract approach to the handwriting on the document. Plus, we added elements such as a replica of the button on Washington’s jacket to a pillow to highlight the historical connection.”

Kimpton- The George - Washington DC Designed by CBT Architects Purchased By Neil Locke & Associates

How long do you research a location before starting to design?

Goodell says her team are passionate observers. “We take in quite a lot, quickly. We spend several days onsite touring neighborhoods to understand that location as well as, see what competitor’s offer, so we can make our designs distinctive.”

When it comes to purchasing those products, Bray says she relies on a stable of established vendors. “We pick them on basis of quality, reliability, schedule and price. The most important thing is reliability, then a mix between quality, price and schedule. We believe in quality products, and you have to pay for those. It is simply not worth it to go below a certain line in terms of quality. Quality is never negotiable,” Bray says.  

Do you always visit a location to design for it? If you cannot visit how do you immerse yourself in the local culture?

“We often visit with the interior designer, spending considerable time to understand the project’s design goals. Our role is to do our best to get into the head of the designer, and respect what they are trying to do, then understand their design goals. I think this separates us from other purchasing firms, while still achieving owner budget,” says Bray.

“We always visit,” Goodell explains, “but we al