Coordination Between Hotel Renovation Team Members Is Key to Achieving ‘Wow’ Factor

by Haisten Willis

ATLANTA — There are many moving parts when refreshing or renovating a hotel property, and the key is engaging everyone involved early and often.

This was the message delivered on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, by a panel of hospitality experts during the 28th annual Hunter Hotel Conference held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.


Libby Patrick, Sims Patrick Studio

Titled “Design to Inspire: Creating the Unexpected,” the breakout session featured a four-member panel that included Libby Patrick, president of Atlanta-based interior design firm Sims Patrick Studio; Bethany Warner, director of design management for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide; Sam Cicero Jr., president of Plainfield, Ill.-based Cicero’s Development Corp., a general contractor specializing in commercial renovation; and Alan Benjamin, president of Boulder, Colo.-based Benjamin West, a furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) purchasing firm.

Johnathan Nehmer, chairman and founder of Rockville, Md.-based architecture firm Jonathan Nehmer + Associates, served as moderator. The session was the first design-focused panel in the conference’s history.

“How do we create the unexpected in design?” asked Nehmer. “How do we put that ‘wow’ factor


Bethany Warner, Starwood Hotels & Resorts

out there and what role does design play in the hospitality experience? What we’re going to talk about today is how designers and contractors and purchasing agents do that.”

Each panelist began the session by providing a brief presentation about his or her company’s role in the hotel renovation process.

Design to Inspire
Patrick, who founded her company in 1999, began by highlighting several interior design projects managed by her firm.

She described the historic Partridge Inn in Augusta, Ga. as “old world glamour meets Southern charm,” and said the job of Sims Patrick Studio is to provide an unforgettable experience for hotel customers.

The Partridge Inn is known as the “Grand Hotel of The Classic South,” according to its website,


Alan Benjamin, Benjamin West

and was built in 1836. The hotel features high ceilings, more than 10,000 square feet of function space, balconies that wrap around the hotel and a penthouse suite with four bedrooms and a private kitchen.

Sims Patrick Studio also served as the interior designer in the renovation of Sonesta Hilton Head located in Hilton Head, S.C. The $30 million project was completed in summer 2013 and included a full renovation of the public space areas, 340 guestrooms, the hotel’s ballroom and 20,000 square feet of meeting rooms.

Sonesta Hilton Head was renovated using items commonly found in the local surroundings, such as lamps made of driftwood and porcelain tile inspired by the wood planks of a boardwalk.

“We’re in the feel-good business,” Patrick said. “We want the guests to feel great from the minute


Sam Cicero Jr., Cicero’s Development Corp.

they arrive on the property until the end of their stay.”

Sims Patrick Studio conducts research on each of its properties and the local area to inspire designs. The company’s goal is to maximize customer satisfaction and the owner’s return on investment.

Hotels typically stay open during the renovation process, with renovation phasing carefully coordinated to occur during slower times of hotel occupancy. The entire renovation process takes between 12 and 18 months to complete, according to Patrick.

Warner plays a similar role as Patrick, but for Starwood’s brands such as Aloft and Element. She described Aloft’s interiors as sassy and savvy, with drink menus changing by the season. Element is designed to provide a reimagined version of the extended-stay concept.

Starwood’s global brand design team is charged with designing standards for each brand. Many brands, such as Aloft and Element, cater to millennials, which can greatly affect the design process.

“We’re looking at brand positioning, the guest mindset and creating a set of core values and belief statement for each of the brands,” Warner said.

Warner described the set of standards for each brand as a design foundation document.

Beverages are a big part of Starwood’s brand strategy. For example, the Four Points brand offers beer from local craft breweries on tap. Guests can walk in and experience something local, which is a way to offer customization and regionalizing within a brand structure.

“The global brand design team creates the foundational documents, then we provide these to our owners and our design teams. They use them to build their projects,” Warner said.

The trend is to incorporate more customization and regionalization into hotel renovation projects, so Warner emphasized that foundational documents are guidelines meant to inspire design teams while still creating a consistent brand.

Implementation of Design
Benjamin spoke on the role of the purchasing agent, which is much different than that of the interior designers.

“In my world, purchasing and logistics, we don’t like the unexpected.” Benjamin said. “We’re like the old Holiday Inn phrase: ‘The best surprise is no surprise.’”

Vendors have adapted to new hotel design trends. For example, carpeting manufacturers have adapted to include not only carpet, but different types of flooring such as wood and synthetic wood.

Another trend is the convergence of wall covering companies and art companies to create a whole wall as a piece of art. However, Benjamin cautioned owners to remain practical during the renovation process.

“You need to make sure you have a great FF&E team, a great designer, great purchasing agent, great people at the brand who will figure out how to take the new look and make it work from a hospitality standpoint,” he said.

The goal of logistics is to minimize risk. Benjamin works to ensure that owners and brands have vetted new designs before implementation.

While it may be exciting to be first to market, Benjamin said it’s often better to be second or third to market to avoid pitfalls and unexpected risks.

Cicero, who specializes in installation, began his segment by saying his company also does not enjoy surprises.

“You’ve got to have the right tools, the right systems and the right strategies,” he said. “It leads to consistent success on every project.”

A major key to success is hiring the purchasing agent and contractor early in the process.

“We spend a lot of time working with teams of designers, brands and purchasing agents to make sure we can maximize the team synergy, play off of their energy and understand their goals,” Cicero said. “It helps us get their projects done on time and on budget. It helps eliminate change orders and it helps eliminate surprises.”

Problems arise when a contractor is hired late in the process, especially in a time-sensitive project. This can lead to a project that’s low in quality and plagued by budget overruns and unhappy owners.

“You have to get the right people with the right experience on board early. I can’t stress that enough,” Cicero said.

Everyone on the panel agreed that communication is paramount in the renovation process. All companies involved in the process need to meet at regular intervals to ensure a successful project.

The process used to follow a design-bid-build model approach. Today that’s been replaced with a new model.

“We tell all our clients that we will not charge you to hire us three to six months early, “ Benjamin said. “Early on we can meet and identify issues to avoid problems later in the process.”

Lastly, the panel emphasized the importance of hiring a great project manager to help coordinate a project’s various elements and “conduct the orchestra.”

“You need someone to drive the bus, whether it’s an owner’s representative or the project manager,” said Cicero. “Also, schedule a regular meeting so each discipline knows when it’s their turn.”

This year’s Hunter Hotel Conference attracted 1,300 attendees, up 8 percent from a year ago, according to Bob Hunter, CEO of Atlanta-based Hunter Hotel Advisors and conference co-chair.

— Haisten Willis

You may also like