Alia Akkam • Photography courtesy of Ian Schrager Company •
November 28, 2018
For Gilles-Fleur Boutry, vice president of architecture and design at New York-based Ian Schrager Company (ISC), imbuing a space with a distinctive personality is essential. The creative process “is always different, interesting, and a chance to free itself of industry rules,” explains the conceptual artist and former high-end residential architect and interior designer. “Beauty is the consequence of it, not an end in itself.” Boutry’s cerebral, comprehensive approach captures the mindset of the entire ISC design team. They are stirred by ideals and consumed by details. As Schrager sums it up: “The team knows they’re a part of something special. It’s a mission, not a business. We’re trying to change the world. We’re trying to do something great.”
ISC’s newest design recruit is David Kilpatrick, senior vice president of architecture, design, and construction. Having worked at Handel Architects for nearly 25 years, “I had always been on one side of the client table, and now I’m on the other,” he says. “My last firm had over 100 people and now it’s much smaller; it’s a family. Things are a lot more organic here.” Kilpatrick works on the development and design strategy of PUBLIC hotels, Schrager’s solution for “affordable luxury for all,” and the brand’s animated public spaces exemplify his love of hospitality, he says. “Hotels are a great melting pot. There’s nothing I love more than sitting in a lobby and watching people come and go. Everyone has a story, and I like to write theirs in my mind.”
Paul Haslhofer, senior vice president of architecture and design, spent 15 years working primarily on mixed-use developments before joining the company 10 years ago. As a problem solver, “hotels present design challenges and opportunities” that don’t necessarily arise in the residential and commercial spheres. Haslhofer finds the ISC collaborative process especially gratifying. “The design team works together to maintain a creative and supportive studio,” he says.
This synergy also drives Kirstin Bailey. “Whether it’s within the office or with other designers, each person pulls out the best and strongest ideas from each other,” the executive vice president of interior design says. Stella Bok, vice president of interior design, might spend her days at ISC developing design charrettes and concept boards, or hunting for antiques and visiting plant nurseries. But a lot of time is also spent crowded around a table “to mull over floorplans or even a shade of white fabric,” she reveals. “Ian is a perfectionist and is constantly pushing the boundaries of innovative, thoughtful design. The entire design team is involved in everything from the macro to the micro.”
That devotion to detail is a crucial hallmark of the ISC ethos. Bailey, who has worked with Schrager for 20 years, launched her career in Paris with Andrée Putman (she took a job as in-house press officer to get in the door). She then worked with another great, Christian Liaigre, tackling projects such as New York’s Mercer Hotel. “What excites me is how hotels have evolved from being overbearingly stuffy to places of artistic expression. Every object should have meaning, not just something to fill an empty space,” she explains. “Our hotels are places of life and culture. They are sensual, minimal, and eclectic, inviting you to feel and explore. One can design a bedroom, a bar, a restaurant, and gardens within one project, allowing a constant shift from one thought to the next. I love that hospitality encompasses that.”
Having worked at Champalimaud Design and WATG, Bok has always been impressed by the contemporary transformation of hotels. “The lobby and communal areas of PUBLIC hotel, for example, are a seamless blend of social, cultural, people-watching, and coworking-like spaces. The guestrooms have also changed; we are making them feel more residential and sophisticated,” she says, noting that at the upcoming Times Square EDITION they provide a hushed refuge from the “energetically charged” public arenas and chaotic surrounding streets.
As PUBLIC continues to quietly grow with still-to-be-revealed properties, EDITION, the luxury lifestyle brand in partnership with Marriott, is surging ahead with eight hotels, including recent openings in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi. With 17 properties under construction, there are plans for destinations in West Hollywood, Tampa, Reykjavik, Madrid, Milan, Singapore, Tokyo, and more. “West Hollywood will certainly be impressive, but I find it particularly interesting to go into markets where great lifestyle hotels have not succeeded yet,” says Dan Flannery, senior vice president and managing director of EDITION Hotels. “I love that kind of challenge.”
Each EDITION is rooted in cultural context, but the same DNA runs through the collection, emphasizing service and community, as well as modernity, refinement, and elegance. Before joining ISC, Robert Ashton, senior vice president and managing director of EDITION Hotels, worked at Rockwell Group for 15 years. The EDITION brand, he observes, is influencing the industry to skew toward what he calls a “classic, timeless style and aesthetic.”
Flannery, who was Ritz-Carlton’s Northeast area vice president before coming to ISC, says, “We are paid to make people feel good. The hard part is to inspire [employees] to focus on creating experiences and memories, to move beyond a transactional mentality of selling rooms, food, and drink. It’s show business, and it is a daily challenge to make it appear smooth and effortless.”
Ingenuity has helped EDITION Hotels pull this off. Punch Room, the intimate cocktail bar at the London EDITION, has proven to be a successful concept, and can now be found at other properties. Another promising foray into nightlife is the Cabaret Club, an immersive evening of drinks and entertainment that originated at the Barcelona location. In addition to these social initiatives, there are ecological ones, such as organized beach cleanups, a plan for cardless entry, and the priority to eliminate single-use plastics, spearheaded by vice president of brand experience Ben Pundole. “If a hotel can make you feel like a better version of yourself, then it has done its job,” he points out. EDITION is also a champion of personal growth, partnering with health-forward companies such as the retreat-focused Yoga for Bad People as well as Inscape Meditation Center, which will launch at the Times Square property, while West Hollywood may even feature a wellness concierge.
Flannery says bringing in the right partners is a key component of ISC’s strategy and is the reason why Schrager works with top experts in their field, from music programming to photography and uniform styling: “It is letting those experts do what they do best. I try to make sure my team hires great talent and that our training and culture inspires service—knowledgeable, relaxed, unpretentious—that lives up to the level of the product.”
Robert Walshaw says the entire foundation of hospitality design is anticipating people’s needs “and shaping someone’s experience while ultimately being gracious and welcoming.” He describes his role as vice president of architecture and design as being a conduit, translating Schrager’s EDITION aesthetic to the designers tasked with bringing it to life. Currently, he’s working on the West Hollywood EDITION with revered British designer John Pawson, and on the Tampa location with New York-based Roman and Williams. “That’s the fun part for me, absorbing the best qualities of the chosen designer and steering them toward the right decision for EDITION while letting them maintain their own identity,” he explains.
Ashton feels similarly. “It is a pleasure to collaborate with some of the most talented designers around the world, experiencing how, under Ian’s direction, we get their best efforts.” Asiya Chowdhury, vice president of architecture and design, focuses on EDITION hotels in global gateway cities, and she also relishes these connections with designers. “My day can start with a 7 a.m. design call with one overseas team and end with a 10 p.m. call with another. I use the analogy of filmmaking, where Ian and ISC play the role of the director, the designers are the actors—who have the artistic freedom under our direction—and together we tell the story of EDITION.” Chowdhury, who previously held posts at Rockwell Group and Arquitectonica, is looking forward to EDITION’s arrival in Japan, with hotels slated for Tokyo, in Ginza and Toranomon, both designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma.
Initially working in the film industry as a wardrobe stylist for videos and commercials, and later as a set decorator for films, Walshaw went back to school and switched gears to interior design. That his second career began with designing hotels, a realm he says offers the most opportunity for variance and engagement, is serendipitous. “Before Ian and EDITION, I’m not sure there were luxury products with the same sense of ease,” he points out.
Orchestrating this balance, says Chowdhury, is a worthwhile effort: “Hospitality is people-oriented, highly experiential, and you get instant feedback.” Consider the opening of Sanya EDITION, a collaboration between ISC, Hong Kong’s CAP Atelier, and Singapore-based architectural firm SCDA. “After walking through the public areas and the lush serene landscape of this 50-acre property, a guest approached me and wanted to give me a hug,” recalls the designer. “Seeing people get so emotionally moved by architecture and design is quite rewarding.”
Click here to read our feature on the London EDITION
Click here to read our feature on the Miami Beach EDITION
Click here to read our feature on the Barcelona EDITION