After successful careers at respected US design firms, Kellie Sirna and Stacy Elliston made the courageous decision in 2011 to set up their own firm – Studio 11 Design. Based in Dallas and with a talented 20-strong team, the firm specialises in producing innovative, soulful design solutions for the hospitality and leisure industries. With a number of high profile projects already under their belt, Hospitality Interiors caught up with Kellie and Stacy to find out more about this exciting young firm ...

Who was inspirational to you early in your career, and why?
KS: There are so many people near and far that have been an inspiration. I have to credit both of my parents, who have always been hardworking, goal-oriented people, for my work ethic and diligence. They had me earning my own keep with my earliest job as a babysitter, while my first “entrepreneurial” job was selling my artwork door to door for a quarter.

The supportive community of female designers is so incredible, and it is inspiring to see how my colleagues and peers are able to command a boardroom or manage so many philanthropic endeavours outside of their hectic work schedules.

SE: I was so fortunate to have had not one but two mentors that really taught me about designing in this industry. I will forever be grateful to Martha Maclay Sweezey and Katie Collins. They are two amazing women and I couldn’t have asked for better guidance through the beginning of my career. Their design aesthetic and attention to the details is something that has been with me for over 20 years.

From afar I’ve always been very inspired by Roger Thomas and Jeffrey Beers. Roger’s creativity is simply unmatched. I was lucky enough to be working on the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, MS with MGM at the same time he was designing Bellagio. Watching him in presentations was simply amazing.

Jeffrey is just an inspiring person all around. His outlook on life, design and giving back to this industry is one that I really appreciate and admire.

“The supportive community of female designers is so incredible, and it is inspiring to see how my colleagues and peers are able to command a boardroom or manage so many philanthropic endeavours outside of their hectic work schedules”

Where do you look for design inspiration?
KS: I look to fashion – colours, patterns and textures seen on the runway, or up and coming trends –that I can apply to interiors. I also look quite a bit to history. Classic patterns and colours are always fun to throw into any given palette to add a layer of nostalgia.

Local and regional cultures are a huge influence on our projects. We do a significant amount of research on each area for existing projects to get well acquainted with what’s meaningful to the city or region. The team also immerses itself in local flavour … learning what the locals enjoy and how they use their spaces so we can be sure to weave those elements in and ensure each hotel is appealing to those city dwellers as well. 

SE: Travel is always such a great source of inspiration. It’s amazing what a change of scenery will do for one’s creativity.

You have both worked for other firms previously, how did that experience affect your decision to start your own firm?
The firm I previously worked for was a very large firm, and I learned many invaluable lessons there, especially how to work with major brands on large-scale projects.

When Stacy and I started our own firm, we wanted it to be smaller and more a boutique so we could closely accommodate all client needs. It’s been key for us to be nimble and flexible, and this has allowed us to provide very tailored services.

SE: I feel we were both very lucky to have the experiences that we did. It truly shaped the founding tenets of Studio 11 Design and what we wanted to bring to our clients. Our previous experience was with two of the most regarded hospitality design firms out there – both led by women.

I know personally that I never started this career thinking that I would someday own a firm of my own. I was working on some amazing projects and thought I was quite content. Until you start thinking “what if we did THIS?”  and “what if we did it LIKE this?”.

What makes Studio 11 a boutique studio and what advantages/disadvantages does this bring?
As principals, Stacy and I are involved with every project; details like this differentiate Studio 11 from larger scale firms and allow us to offer more attention to detail to ensure every client need is met. Our clients love that each project has a principal involved.

This practice also keeps us tuned in to all aspects of our operations. Though this means we are each managing dozens of projects – and it ultimately puts a cap on how many new projects we can take on – the level of involvement is key for us as we continue building the Studio 11 brand. Maintaining a boutique studio size has also allowed us to cherry pick a seasoned team that is driven, collaborative and incredibly talented.

SE: We use the term boutique not necessarily to reference our size – since we’re up to 20 now – but more about how we approach a project or our principal accessibility to each member of our team. It is important to harbour and support each of our team’s goals and talents along with ways of producing great design for our clients. Everyone knows we are 100% behind them and will always be their biggest cheerleader.

“Maintaining a boutique studio size has also allowed us to cherry pick a seasoned team that is driven, collaborative and incredibly talented”

What are Studio 11’s defining philosophies?
KS: We are greatly defined by our attentiveness to client needs. Our broad variety of design services, from custom artwork and installation with the Lou Verne team to branding services with Brand Society, allows us to tailor our work to each project.

We also place a great emphasis on philanthropy and giving back at Studio 11. Community service hours are built into the workweek for each designer. I believe it is so important to give back to your community – I work extensively with Delete Blood Cancer DKMS myself – and that is something we really emphasise in our business.

SE: For me it’s simple – have amazing talent to work on wonderfully creative projects with the best clients.

How would you describe the team at Studio 11?
KS: The studio is divided into four different teams but is very collaborative – there’s a lot of crossover of strengths from one team to another. Everyone is very supportive of each other and that’s important because our team is comprised of both designers with 20 years experience to college-aged interns, all of whom play integral roles in business operations.

Our company culture starts at the top with a commitment to reinforcing the team collaboration and making sure people are valued. Stacy and I have a very open door policy here, and we want everyone to feel like they can talk with us about goals and where they want to go. In the past I was part of an environment that pushed competition, so people were always pitted against each other. We want people to work together and feel fulfilled.

SE: I’d describe the team as young, fun, energetic, incredibly talented, hard working and truly amazing. We are very fortunate to work alongside this team every day.

Which projects stand out particularly for you in your portfolio as favourites?
KS: A very memorable project was the Best Western Hotel we worked on in Haiti in 2012. We were really new then, but the best part was how we were able to be part of something much bigger than just a project design – we were a part of the rebuilding process after the earthquake. The whole backbone of that project was really special.

SE: I will personally always have a special place in my heart for that project too. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience and opportunity to be as involved as we were able to be with the art community there. It never gets old talking about that one.

“Stacy and I have a very open door policy here, and we want everyone to feel like they can talk with us about goals and where they want to go”

What is the practice currently working on?
KS: I just toured our newest project in Manchester Village, Vermont, which dates back to 1769. Part of the hotel is a tavern where a lot of the Green Mountain Boys militia, led by patriot Ethan Allen, used to meet in the time surrounding the Revolutionary War.

The hotel also owns what used to be the old opera house from the late 1800s that has to be torn down. We’re salvaging architectural elements from the bones of the opera house to use in the remodel.

We’re also working on a second Super Chix restaurant and our model rooms for the Westin Pasadena are nearly ready.

How do you feel hospitality design has evolved over the years?
KS: Hospitality design has become more residential in feel. There’s more attention to detail, textures and elements you might find in the luxury homes. Discovery moments are also something we are incorporating more and more.

We love to create those unexpected moments for the guest ... you open the closet and there’s an accent wallcovering inside. With that, art is becoming more relevant and has to be more thoughtful. For us it has to have a creative narrative and tell a story throughout the project.

We created Lou Verne by Studio 11 Design last year to bring that art package component back in-house, and it’s been a great asset to have the art installation team and interior design team working so closely. It’s  been a big part of the storytelling process for the client.

SE: I’m kinda the old gal in the office so to see the days of spending hours and hours on these massive colour boards go to something so clean and sophisticated such as a digital presentation is definitely a nice evolution. No more slicing and burning fingers on knives and glue guns.

What architectural or design themes do you envisage becoming more important over the next few decades?
KS & SE:
Social media is really driving design, and we are already very focused on creating social media moments in all of our projects – installing a custom art piece that is begging for a selfie, or creating a room that guests want to Instagram, which ultimately earns a hospitality space organic publicity.

Technology will continue to play a huge, growing role in design, with smartphones acting as your concierge, room key and more.