People In Design: Q&AJill I. Cole

Q You've been in the business a long time and must have seen every kind of hospitality design trend come and go. What's big now?

A It's an interesting time. Business is bouncing back but it's different; just about every new hotel project I'm hearing about has an ownership aspect to it. The whole condo/hotel trend is just huge.

Q How does that affect design?

A I'm not absolutely sure yet, but here's an example of what I think we'll face: I had a meeting recently with a well-known company in Hawaii that owns a 35-year-old condo/hotel project. It's very dated and they're having issues with the individual owners because no one wants to spend the money to fix things. So that's an issue that's going to surface down the road. These aren't simple soft goods replacements but major renovations of kitchens and bathrooms, for example. There are coordination issues in addition to the cost considerations; and I think we'll be seeing more of these issues 10-15 years down the road.

Q What do you love about hospitality design?

A The challenge of it; unlike office and retail, which I used to do, it's so much more interesting because of the market we're trying to reach. I love the challenge of determining the customer and designing for them and trying to make them happy. I don't go for this idea of trying to make a hotel look like your home; I think it's much more interesting to try and titillate people in some way and make them feel that ‘wow, this is a special place and I'm a special person because I'm here.’ At the end of the day, design shouldn't be about your own personal taste. It should be about creating excitement for the market you're catering to.

Q What place does “cookie cutter” design have in hospitality design?

A When I travel, which is often, I talk to people, and the irony of it is the road warrior class of traveler could care less about hotel design! Typically, he or she arrives at their hotel in the evening, dog tired, throws their bags on the bed (they almost never use closets), orders roomservice or runs out for a meal and does some work back in the room. They get up in the morning, shower, dress and leave. All they care about is having a clean bed, good lighting, working phone and Internet and some decent food.

As a designer who wants to do creative, exciting things, that's not the client base that's most exciting to me. That's not to say they're not demanding, because they are, but their needs are different. I think the most interesting group of travelers to design for are the leisure travelers because they have more time to think about their environment; they're there for a longer time; they're demanding and more critical, especially when they're spending their own money. They want their vacation to be wonderful and special, so I have to really deliver something wonderful and special for them.

My favorite people to work with in the business are those with independents like the Lodge at Sea Island or the Wigwam — non-branded hotels, because they're willing to start from scratch every time. We're working on the Valley Ho right now; it's much more interesting from a design standpoint because there aren't the constraints brand standards impose; they want to do something they feel is really special and significant and I think the independents feel they have to do that because that's why people visit them.

Q And the boutiques?

A These guests are people who really identify who they are with where they stay. It's a status symbol like the car I drive or the purse I carry.

Q What's your design philosophy?

A I feel very strongly that, regardless of the vocabulary you're working in, it's important to do something that's not going to look like last year's chartreuse. You have to be careful, treading a fine line when it comes to looking trendy. You can be more trendy with certain easily-replaceable things, like color and fabrics, but when you're talking about capital-intensive elements like furniture styles that are going to be there longer, you have to ask: how's this going to look in four years when Chinese Modern is no longer the latest rage?

When designing a hotel, the thing one must remember is the hotel has to make money, period. I don't care if you think the design is groovy and going to make you (the designer) rich and famous. If it doesn't make the hotel rich and famous, you've failed.

Q Who are you influenced by?

A Artists and fashion designers, not so much by interior designers, although I like and respect the work of many of them. But the things that turn me on have more to do with art and music, painting and sculpture. I'm very dazzled by what Frank Gehry (architect) has been doing. The sculptural quality of his buildings is amazing.

Q Other trends in hospitality design?

A A big thing right now relates to how all the technology is converging and ultimately how it will affect the hotel market. The whole change in TVs for example. No one wants to go into a good hotel and see a huge armoire with a clunky old TV in it anymore. But it's a big expense to change that and nobody's sure exactly what needs to change yet. It's a transitional time and we're all caught in this wave of change.

As a female designer, one of the things my experience tells me is TV is a really big deal to the male population — the bigger the better! It's a guy thing, and you have to think about that. On the other hand, when designing a hotel, most of the people I'm working with, those who have the approval rights, are men; I have to say, ‘remember the women, they care about the bathroom with adequate lighting and storage and shelf space.’

Q What's your favorite place to travel?

A Lately it's India. I just love it. My husband and I went, prepared to witness all the poverty, but in fact it's not much worse than many other places in the world, and the people are simply wonderful. The culture, the architecture and the scenery is just spectacular. And, some of the most beautiful hotels I've seen in the world are in India.

Q Like?

A The Raj Vilas, in Jaipur and the Amar Vilas in Agra. At the Raj Vilas, we stayed in a tent, unlike any tent you can imagine, with hard walls and tented ceilings. The interior of the ceilings is hand-woven silk. Just spectacular.

Q What's your favorite hotel to visit for business travel?

A My client's!

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Firm: Cole Martinez Curtis and Associates (CMCA), Los Angeles, CA

Background: CMCA has more than 30 years of experience planning and designing some of the premiere hotels, resorts and spas in the world. Its work has earned the firm a place on Interior Design's list of Giants of Hospitality Design for the past 25 years. Clients include InterContinental, Fairmont, Troon Golf, Renaissance, Sea Island Company, Starwood, Marriott, Four Seasons and more. It recently launched an office in London.

Notable projects: the Hotel Adolphus, Dallas, TX; Lodge at Sea Island, Sea Island, GA; the Lodge at Pebble Beach; and the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel. The firm is currently working on the $70 million redesign and renovation of the landmark mid-century modern Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, AZ.

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