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HI Connect® Designer Spotlight - 1213 Interior Design

Today we speak with Marty Vorko and Allen Russell of 1213 Interior Design, as part of our series focusing on the hospitality designers, architects and purchasing pros participating in HI Connect® Design 2014.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
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HI Connect® Design
HI Connect® Design
Experience a Design Revolution

We’re getting ready for our BIG event HI Connect® Design coming this April 2-4, 2014 at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. Act Now and register to be a part of this amazing event.

We’ve got dozens of built out fully constructed out vignettes created by the vision of leading hospitality designers, architects and purchasing pros. And those in attendance will get to step into their master creations, get a tour and see products in the content in which they belong; in a real hotel environment!

HI Connect® Design offers attendees an incredible opportunity to view, first hand, original concepts designed by industry designers and purchasing companies in collaboration with suppliers shown in context within a real environment of a guest room, bathroom, and public spaces such as Bar/Lounge, Spa/Fitness to name a few. This is a truly the most collaborative effort ever at any hospitality event.

As part of our countdown to HI Connect® 2014 we’re interviewing the people that are bringing their creative vision to life. Read the story below, or for a more fully in-depth interview listen to their story below.


Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect® Design, this April 2-4, 2014 visit HI Connect® Design to learn more and register for this unique event that sets the new standard in hospitality tradeshows. Or call 631-424-7755 x150 for an immediate response.

For today’s interview, Editor-In-Chief Glenn Haussman speaks with Marty Vorko and Allen Russell of 1213 Interior Design who are creating an Upscale Guestroom during the three days of HI Connect® Design.

Glenn: Thank you guys so much for talking with me today. I really think that what you guys have planned is going to be super spectacular. But the industry is changing a lot these days, and I'm curious as to what do you guys consider an upscale guest room to be?

Allen: I think in general its meeting the market where you've got luxury travelers going to luxury destinations. It's not just luxury destinations it's also luxury business destinations.

You basically need to give them all of the amenities, all of the things that they're looking for when they're traveling, they're used to seeing, and they're used to that. But at the same time experiencing little bit different attitude or a design direction based on the local market.

Marty: We also I think, as Allen mentioned is keeping in touch with the traveler that lives in-, business traveler that's pretty successful, he likes all the amenities, or her. And they are used to coming into a room and putting all those upscale along with that.

Glenn: How do you balance then Marty, the need of the traveler and also the desire to desire to keep it rooted in where that hotel is located?

Marty: I would say in keeping where a hotel is located, like I say we're located in a large city and their there for business travel. They have their business travel during the day and then they come back to the room and they enjoy the upscale amenities such as the USB ports the customer can use. They enjoy being able to have Wi-Fi in the room and all the amenities that come with a luxury upscale room.

And also the vacation traveler, they enjoy being in that same location as well and having the amenities within that upscale hotel that come along with that. With being able to have a spa, swimming, all the amenities that you consider that going to the upscale which is usually a four to five star hotel.

Glenn: What are the things the guest really needs to have there to feel like they're having an upscale or luxury hotel experience?

Marty: I think a lot of this builds down to the room being functional, but also to be able to be transformed into other venues. Like if you're sitting there at your desk working, but you may not be working the whole time you're there. You may be entertaining. You're going to a design show and you come back, you can push the desk away, you can convert the room in to more of an entertaining space as opposed to just a work office or a work space.

But to be able to transform that around and give a completely different feeling for the room with not a lot of effort in doing it, and it would be very easy for the guest to actually make those changes.

Glenn: That's interesting. What are some of the visual cues that you could put into a room that shows them that they could change things easily to make it applicable for whatever part of their day they're experiencing?

Marty: Lighting is one thing. We can add dimmers to the switches so that you can change the mood. Have the desk it basically swings out of the way, it basically no longer looking like a desk. Your lounge chairs work for both purposes as a work desk but also as a lounge chair.

Allen: You can also add having been able to have the Bluetooth and the Wi-Fi in the room. Being able to have a speaker system so that if you want to relax and be comfortable, or if you want to even entertain in the room with a couple of guests before you go out to dinner or something like that.

Glenn: Great, that's so important. I'm finding that more and more we're experiencing design and trying to put in those multiple uses in the room. And think that makes it more valuable for the guest as well, yes?

Marty: Yes definitely. The customer going to their room they comment back having all those conveniences there that they're used to. Being when they're home on a weekend escape, have those escape things in the room as well goes a long way.

Glenn: When you guys are thinking about design, one of the things I'm becoming most concern about in the industry and you guys really have to tackle this head on. I'm really seeing there's a compression of industry segmentation out there.

You've got upper mid-scale, then the upscale which is what you guys are doing for HI Connect® of course, April 2 - 4, Nashville, Tennessee. And then you have upper upscale. So where do you draw the line and create the delineation between those different segments so the guest understands that they're getting something that’s of good value for the level of hotel they're in?

Glenn: How do you communicate to the guest the nuances between upper midscale segment, upscale segment, and upper upscale segments?

Marty: We basically go through the process of first of all understanding exactly what the actual market is, or what is the brand that we're talking about. And trying to distinguish the little nuances between each brand.

For example, lighting in the room. You may be going down the path were we don’t do all the dimmers and all the special features with the lighting, or mood lighting those kind of things.

The next market we may have the mood lighting in. so it's really just understanding the whole process that the operator is actually looking for in order to give them the subtle changes between the brands.

Glenn: So you're communicating early and often throughout the entire process?

Marty: You have to. Each and every operators looking for something a tad bit different so if you're not understand what the operator is looking for, and where the operation side is coming from, that's how you basically meet their criteria. At the end of the day.

Glenn: Right and it makes a lot of sense. Not only are you worried about all these segments here in the United States, but you gentleman do a lot of work around the globe. To me I'm curious, how do you make hotels that appeal to those local audiences, but still have a lot of the modern conveniences and stuff that the American traveler is interested in?

Marty: I think in general again you have to understand the market, you have to study what the markets like, you have to go there, you have to travel to those places. See how people live, see what they're looking for, and see what their interpretation of a luxury property is.

Allen: Also we do a lot of work in the Middle East and so you have to be observing of their cultures, their religions. You have to make sure that you're putting artwork or anting in the room, to make sure that it adheres to that culture and that religion so you don’t offend anybody. You make sure that it also creating them the luxury and upscale that they want but also adhering to those local principles.

Glenn: How do you make sure that you are fully up to par with their cultural norms?

Marty: I think as Allen mentioned when we're in the areas we make sure that we're visiting, we're speaking with the architects, or we speak with the owners and also different operators, and understand the culture. We make sure we go there ahead of time, and we try to experience as much of the culture and learn the about what we're doing before we start designing.

We definitely go see museums, we try to get as many books as we can, understand the culture. But we can definitely not just go in there and thank you to put in the New York metropolitan hotel right in the center of some city in Saudi Arabia.

Glenn: Make sense. Is there anything as you've been going through the Middle East properties that you've been working on. And I want to talk about one in particular in a moment, that you were very surprised to learn that affected your design based on the culture?

Marty: I would think yes, and you think you're going in with time to elevate them and keep them modern. But you're surprised at times when a current owner still believes that heavily in the culture, or the principles and they want to sort of take you back in time. So you're trying to push the envelope with them, because you don’t want to design a hotel that looks out dated by the time you're done. So I think being surprised with how much poaching you have to do without going over the line.

Allen: And in combination with your operator as well to help make the process easy for the client. Because like Marty was saying, they will take you down a path that maybe it doesn't work design wise, or anything else.

You actually want to respect their design, and what they ultimately do, but you want to make it modern, fresh, pull the local clientele forward a little bit so that they're not opening a dated hotel.

Marty: Another example is we did the Radisson, work on Radisson in New York, and it's a smaller market for them, but we're pushing the envelope with them because they are pretty much the big game in town. So we keep pushing them down the line and the owners are sort of, "Oh we're not sure about that." But it's evident in the last two shows, for example this week, the Carlton Rezidor conference is going on, and the hotel has won the best renovation design with the work we did on the restaurant we did last year.

So they come to fruition when they see, "Okay yes I need to listen to these people because they really know what they’re talking about."

Glenn: Amazing, and congratulations for that. I was actually supposed to be up in Minneapolis right now at the Radisson Blue, but shockingly enough over this winter the weather has kept me away. But at least we get to talk so that's pretty cool.

Speaking of making sure that hotels open in the right atmosphere, how do you keep them future proof, because design aesthetics change so quickly?

Allen: I think you have to really look at the trends across the board, what's going on in the design community, what's going on in the fashion community, what's going on on TV, award shows. You name it.

You draw all your inspirations from so many places and then you take that and turn it around into design for a local culture. It may be an Arabic culture, however you want to take them and pull it forward with the things and the knowledge that we see from day to that they're not accustomed to seeing. You put that on the design board, and on your presentation, then you pogo hang it, you walk them through it.

And basically help them understand that what you're giving them yes it's a little bit they might be slightly uncomfortable with it, but at the end to the day they're going to be ahead of the market when they actually open. And to understand that they are yes on a world market instead of a very, very, local cultural market.

Because sometimes they do get in a rut with something. I think the biggest example of that is the Al Mansur which you were mentioning. It is a property where they're living in the past. They're basically living in what was going on 20, 25, 30 years ago.

Glenn: If you let me key up this property one second for our listeners, because they don’t know what you're talking about but I find it incredibly fascinating.

The Al Mansur Resort is in Bagdad, Iraq. And to me that's not the immediate place would think about wanting to go away and do some business. So please continue with what you were saying and tell me more about what the experience was like?

Allen: What I was going down the path with that was that the culture there, it was a very grand hotel in its heyday. Obviously it was completely shut down, it was bombed out, it was burned out. But the local culture because they've been basically in a time warp for the last 25, 30 years their understanding of what a luxury property is, is what they had in mind 30 years ago. And they don’t understand that you're traditional, gilded furniture is not considered as much luxury any more.

So you have to take them, embrace them, and help them understand to be on a world market, and a competitive market everywhere that they have to move forward.

Glenn: Interesting.

Marty: I was going to say as mentioned, one of the things we had to do, they had in their mind they knew the buzz word, they wanted a five star resort. But they really didn't know exactly what a five star meant. So we actually did analysis for them, showing them the different tiers of what makes up a three star, four stars, five stars and up.

We brought in all of our history with the many brands that we have, and did a whole presentation of all the luxury brands, ad all the mid star brands and those competing. So we had to educate them in all the services.

So that’s the biggest thing that they really didn’t understand.

Glenn: Interesting, what was it like then working on a project, not only in the Middle East, but in a real hotspot too?

Marty: Going there in the beginning when we started the project it was still sort of in transition. The purpose that we came into do this design, is they were trying to do a Peace Conference in the Middle East for different countries and try to get them there. So they wanted to prove that they were on a rebuilding stage, and that they were starting up again.

So we came in, they were also a couple of other hotels that were doing in, but kind of came in and partnered with an architect out of Kuwait, and began the process. But in the early stages when we went there it was still in the initial stages, you were sort of scare a little bit but you knew this was an opportunity.

So we just sort of forged ahead. And as we went back a number of times you can tell that it's gotten safer, and it's gotten its way back to being what it was at one time.

Glenn: My next natural question I think is, we all as American's tend to lump the Middle East as the Middle East. But there a lot of different nuances between all the different countries there. So what countries do you think are the easiest to work with, and where do you think it's a little bit more challenging to get them to understand the modern global aesthetic?

Marty: You can probably start, number one that comes to mind is probably the UAE. Allen pretty much was going to Dubai when they were first starting to put the roads into Dubai before all the infrastructure was developed, and Sheikh Sahed road. And so basically he was the Middle East arm and started off there. And that's probably now the easiest country probably to deal with in Jordan.

In Turkey you look at the big range there those are probably the easiest to deal with. And obviously the ones where's there's been conflict lately, there been more religious, it's probably a little more difficult to incept with.

Glenn: That's got to be very true, so the more religious the country is, the more challenges that you have being able to find something that will make them comfortable, I guess would be the word.

Marty: Yeah and from a capitalistic stand point, it kind of goes in line with where the oil rich countries are, or natural reserves like gas, in Middle East, versus the countries that are poor in the Middle East. And those seem to have the conflict where they don’t have the money.

Glenn: Right. Interesting, that's a great observation. So you guys are of course participating in HI Connect® Design, April 2 - 4 in Nashville, Tennessee. And for those of you listening check out HICONNECTDESIGN.COM, for all that you need to know about it.

You guys are going to be creating an upscale guest room, don’t tell us too much about it, but tease us a little bit about what you're thinking?

Marty: We went to the HI Connect® last year, we took advantage of all parts of it. We were just participants last year, so we attended every class, every speaker. Visited all the vignettes, and wen to all the events. So it was a great opportunity to see what it was all about.

So this year we want to definitely participate in it because we loved all the energy, we thought it was such a fantastic event last year. And so for us to move forward one of the observation that we wanted to, is make sure we stand out a little bit from the other venues. So we tried to incorporate some intriguing things within the room that are going to be more standout than other vignettes.

Allen: I think a lot of these things we're going to start seeing showing up in the future. So we're definitely not doing your standard hotel room that's being built right now, today. So we're a little ahead with that, and we've really taken to heart a lot of everything. Like the functionality of the room, where is it comfortable to sit on the computer. Do you want to work on the computer, do you want to hide the room that's in an entertaining space.

So it's all about a place for everything. There's definitely a place for everything in this room. And it basically can transform from day to night very easily.

Marty: We also incorporate I think some things in there, we had spoken to some different brands, and actually asked them what are the newest things, and the things that you see that are happening trends, we try to incorporate some of those things into the room as well.

Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect® Design, this April 2-4, 2014 visit HI Connect® Designto learn more and register for this unique event that sets the new standard in hospitality tradeshows. Or call 631-424-7755 x150 for an immediate response.

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