With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does ForrestPerkins stand out?

Barbara: Our impressive history and extensive industry experience led by our founder, Deborah Lloyd Forrest, have built a solid base of knowledge and developed a dependable process. With that foundation, we are able to focus on innovation and creativity to set our designers up for inspired design success.

Colletta: I believe our culture separates us from the rest. Even though we have offices in four very different parts of the country, the way we work is as one team. Deborah has worked very hard over the years to ensure a seamless culture. I might be biased, but I think we have a fantastic group of committed professionals, committed to each others’ success.  

What does design mean to you?

Barbara: Creative problem solving. I have never met a puzzle that I didn’t love. Design allows me to use both sides of my brain to resolve complex financial, operational and psychological challenges, all wrapped up in beautiful, livable built environments. The best of all worlds! 

Deborah: At its heart, design is providing creative solutions to often complex criteria. For me, it means creating places, spaces and objects that delight, comfort, engage and support humans. It involves deep thinking about every decision to support the overall goals and vision for a project, small or large.

Colletta: Design is a vehicle used to enrich people’s lives. For me, it has always been emotional – I feel its impact on me in everything I touch and every place I go. In the work we do, design facilitates that unique experience, creates that emotional connection, and makes an impact on people’s lives for the better. Design shapes the world, and it shapes the future.

How can design be used to manage the guest’s expectations of the hotel experience?

Barbara: Design is the first impression as people enter our environments, so it needs to visually represent the client’s intended connection with their guest through visual clues that are designed to support their narrative. We can tell the first part of the story through the built environment, while the service level and voice of the client work in concert with the interiors to complete the story.

Deborah: Design engages guests from the moment they approach the hotel. From the door in, design should communicate the story of the hotel, its place in the community or setting, and the experiences they can expect from their stay. Great design draws guests into the hotel and makes them part of the story. If well realised, the hotel then becomes a stage or backdrop for creating memorable experiences and lasting memories. Then, they tell their friends or post photographs of their stay, influencing others and creating new guests.

The guest’s expectation is highly influenced by social media and booking sites. Great photography can affect the guest’s decision to book the hotel. But, if the hotel does not live up to the expectation created by the photography, a negative first impression cannot easily be overcome through service alone. So it’s critical for hotel sites to manage guest expectation through authentic communication.

Colletta: I love the quote by architect Morris Lapidus: “If you create a stage and it’s grand, everyone who enters will play their part.”  I believe that design gives guests a purpose, and place to belong.

“The most successful guest experiences provide an opportunity to form a connection to the place, through their engagement with the hotel”

Deborah Lloyd Forrest

Turning to the topic of authenticity of experience, how do you approach each project?

Barbara: We begin each project by building an authentic and unique story that supports the history, culture and connection the client is striving for as they engage with their guest. Each project has its own story to tell, and we work to bring that story to life through the building of a design narrative that acts as a roadmap to project success.  

Deborah: We start with a deep dive into the owner’s vision, the brand and the place, to arrive at a shared vision of the hotel’s essence. Then we create a story that weaves through every space and element in the design while allowing for special moments of surprise and delight. The most successful guest experiences provide an opportunity to form a connection to the place through their engagement with the hotel.

Colletta: One of the primary aspects of authenticity of experience is deeply tied to the brand. Brands provide the stability in a traveller’s experience. Ensuring that the end product stays true to the brand pillars is critical to maintaining an authentic experience.  

How important are public spaces in hotels? Are there ways in which you’ve used innovative design in these areas to facilitate innovative usage?

Barbara: The public areas should be the heart of the hotel, where people are brought together to engage, gather, eat, drink, work and relax. The design challenge is in how we support all of these functions at the same time, and allow them to transition through different times of day. The subtle flexibility in space planning, masterful lighting, and intelligent use of materials and FF&E can do all of these things.   

Colletta: We love the projects that envision activated public spaces! Many times, helping operators see the possibilities is the ‘secret sauce’ to loosening the traditional mentality of fixed spaces. Flexibility equals increased revenue.

How high on the list is revenue creation for designers?

Barbara: Revenue generation is a vital discussion for any hospitality designer. Our clients’ ability to fund our work, support our ideas, and potentially provide future work is tied to their ability to increase revenue. Furthermore, the more we understand about our clients’ financial goals and the more time we spend on helping them allocate funds to areas of greater revenue generation, the more successful our designs will be.  

Colletta: It is critically important for designers to understand the dynamics of revenue creation in the hotel environment and look for opportunities to enhance or create new revenue opportunities in the spaces we envision. We want our clients to be successful, and we can do that by keeping our eye on the things that make hotel operators successful.

How do you think the influence of new technology affects the luxury traveller, and will do in the future?

Barbara: I think it’s all about flexibility and choices. Luxury, to some, may mean personal attendant care, while to others it might mean privacy and exclusivity. Either way, technology is helping us support across many platforms and working ideologies so every guest can have more personal treatment.

Colletta: I do think that emerging technology enhances the human experience. Technologies make employee processes easier by giving them more time for personal guest attention, create flexibility for guests who prefer less interaction, and even predict preferences to make guests feel more known during their stay. It is interesting to think about how new technology will seize the opportunity to create the sense of safety in the pandemic era. Travel-size ultraviolet sanitiser wands? Moreso, I believe that the luxury traveller will expect to see emerging technologies in their hotels of choice – especially since many upgraded their home environments during the work-from-home pandemic era. 

“Revenue generation is a vital discussion for any hospitality designer”

Barbara Best-Santos

Do you believe simple design has become luxurious?

Barbara: Luxury is a tricky word these days. It no longer is defined solely by opulence and a more-is-more mentality. There is space for restraint and relaxed comfort with modern luxury. Luxury is aspirational, and is about what we want that we don’t have enough of – that may be time, space, or quiet.

Deborah: ForrestPerkins’ brand is Defining Luxury, an ongoing evolution that reflects the times, as well as place. Simplicity can be highly luxurious when every element of the design is thoughtfully considered and extremely well detailed and executed. With no overlay of decoration to distract the eye, every tiny detail matters.  

I equate luxury with couture. Line, form, exquisite materials and refined detail combine to create a deceptively simple Armani or Chanel suit. An elegant interior design supported by authentic materiality and soothing colours can be the height of luxury in today’s stressful world – particularly in guest rooms, which serve as a refuge and place of relaxation.

Colletta: I believe that there are many cultures in the world that have always practiced simple design and, in certain environments, are very luxurious. Perhaps the change is in cultural exposure and acceptance of a cleaner palette. We always have to keep in mind that the term ‘luxury’ is subjective and evolves, so it is highly dependent on who the end-user is.   

ForrestPerkins is known for luxury hotel design, and also for hospitality-influenced multi-residential and branded residential design. How does hospitality design influence your residential design, and vice versa?

Deborah: ForrestPerkins’ Residential Interiors practice, led by Jennifer Beggiato and Emily Woods, grew organically out of our luxury hotel design work. Hotel design has long had a relationship with residential design – hotel guests want to feel the comfort of home, and homeowners aspire to design their residential spaces in the spirit of their favorite hotel. Years ago, multifamily developers began to seek out hospitality designers to create the amenity spaces within their apartment and condominium developments, pursuing the aspirational design quality of hotel public areas.  

The influence between our hospitality design and residential design practices remains synergetic. For example, the concept of communal privacy, which we incorporate in hotel public area design to provide independent resting or working opportunities within the active hotel lobby environment, became an important influence when we started designing work-from-home spaces within residential amenities. Equally, crafting residential spaces gives our designers insight into how people live, which in turn helps us to understand the needs and desires of business and leisure travellers alike.  

“One of the primary aspects of authenticity of experience is deeply tied to the brand”

Colletta Conner

Is there anything exciting you’re working on that you can tell us about?

Barbara: We are working on one of the first new Sheraton prototype renovations, which includes re-imaging the entire property, including over one thousand rooms, six-plus F&B outlets and a conference centre. It is also a resort-oriented property, so we are addressing many varying guest needs. As we have worked on it through the pandemic, it has allowed us to test a lot of the new trends in indoor-outdoor living and multi-functional spaces, along with embracing a new prototype direction with a legacy brand.  

What’s next for ForrestPerkins?

Colletta: With new leadership, embracing legacy will be an important aspect to our culture moving forward, and always. We don’t ever want to lose sight of where ForrestPerkins began, and want all team members to keep sight of the ‘why’ behind our brand, and the passion of our founder, Deborah Forrest. We also want to continue exploring convergence with our partners at Perkins Eastman. Our partnership expands our capabilities and our reach into new territories. Lastly, we will be exploring the post-pandemic work culture, and how we can take what we’ve learned over the past year to make our teams stronger, more diverse, and more effective.