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What do you do and how did you get here?
There are days when I feel like I do nothing at all as we are a collaborative and ideas here tend to move on their own. Most of my time is spent helping people to develop and focus ideas. We are a think tank and our product is ideas. I studied at Cornell Hotel School to learn the restaurant business with the aim of starting my own. After graduating, I worked within hotel brands such as Park Hyatt, Westin and Hilton, and shifted into the boutique world when I met the people from Nikko Hotels and worked on their openings in Chicago and LA. I loved the idea of learning a Japanese approach to hotel design and operation, which is very much like the Ace way today - very collaborative and all about the people, with the focus on detail with real hand-made quality. That was a fun time and the LA property was at the heart of the early boutique hotel craze. I was then introduced to Barry Sternlicht and so had the opportunity to work on a new brand (W Hotels). Building that brand from the bottom up was an exciting, creative time, as it was about the fun part of this business - branding, development, and all that. It was fantastic to share my passion and see it be inspiring to others. When Barry resigned, I decided to move on and had the opportunity to start, James Hotels. After the James brand was sold I thought, what now? And I soon met Alex Calderwood and the Atelier Ace team (in the early stages of developing Ace New York). We connected on so many levels and Alex wanted to expand Ace beyond Seattle and Portland, so along with Kelly Sawdon, our Chief Brand Officer and two other partners we formed a new partnership to grow Atelier Ace and focused on new projects, like London, Los Angeles......
Was hospitality something you always wanted to do?
I grew up in hospitality, as my mother ran a catering business back in Chicago. When I came home from school I’d be rushed into the kitchen to chop carrots and get ready for that night's event. Smart thinking on her part, she didn’t need to pay for babysitters and got me to labor for free. But it seems to have worked out well for the both of us, and I did love working in that environment. Creating events and special moments is something I’ve done ever since, whether in restaurants or hotels, and a lot of it stems from that time. We (the Ace team) have become obsessed with making stuff that's interesting with a compelling point of view.
What's the biggest change you've seen in the industry over the past five to ten years?
I think trends are more cultural than industry specific - but of course the biggest influencer has been the internet and the information age. I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment but when I came into the hotel world I was shocked by how little thought really went into traditional hotels. They were all just doing what they always did. I think in the last several years it is great to see new energy in the industry, challenging the norms and throwing out conventional ways of doing business. The internet has really empowered independent brands and hotels to stand out and get recognized when they do it better or do it right. A point of view is valued in our industry today and that I find inspiring. With more information so readily available you can make more considered travel choices and the emergence of an online market place (Expedia etc.) has actually opened up more opportunity for independent players, as it’s levels the playing field with the bigger global hotel chains. This information availability has also prompted even more need for hotel brands to create something that stands up and stands out.
Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration in the industry today?
It is probably predictable but I would have to say Ian Shrager as he was one of the very first to challenge status quo in our industry and show that you can be successful doing things with passion. I have been impressed with how he has grown himself and reinvented along the way. Today, he is just as valid as he was when he opened Morgans Hotel but at a different level of the market. I think we have a lot of mutual respect. Ian likes what we are doing at Ace and though we are very different, we are all motivated by a point of view and passion for our projects in similar ways. Ian has given me confidence and encouraged us to move forward with our core vision but always be evolving, not to stay in the past but to always respect it. I think this was great advice and something that will always be part of our strategy.
If you had the day off today, where would you be?
There aren’t many days off, but at home cooking! I travel all the time so the idea of a day at home in my kitchen is always very appealing. I love to cook, entertain friends and create memories around special nights.
Do you have a favorite hotel in the world?
Just about anything Aman is simply brilliant. Their former property in Delhi had a swimming pool in every room, so you can sit on your fourth floor terrace with a private pool overlooking the city – incredible! I really want to see what they are doing in Tokyo. Another of my favorites is the Lake Palace in Udaipur, India, which is literally a marble island floating in the middle of a Maharajah’s lake. The property was his pleasure palace and has been converted into a hotel and screams luxury as you can imagine - everything is solid marble. But it's also so authentic and real, a real moment in time. I don’t think you could do it today. The service is beyond belief.
What's your favorite mini bar item?
The Carmel Corn bucket at Ace Palm Springs, by far. It’s basically a gallon bucket of Carmel Corn, and every time I spend a few days there I must eat a whole bucket. I never realized I liked it so much!
If you could host a party for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Why?
One of my best friends Alex Calderwood passed away last year. So I would probably take the theatre at the Ace Downtown LA and host a dinner party on the stage. Along with Alex I’d probably invite Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Schindler…I think it would be a fun party with great conversation. I'd also like Alex to see the Ace LA because he never saw it completed. For all of us launching the theatre in Los Angeles with Spiritualized was a dream come true, and there are more dream performances to come with the likes of Patti Smith in 2015.
What will you be doing ten years from now?
Probably something pretty similar to what I’m doing now - working on the next project we have and trying to figure out what’s really interesting to people. I happen to really love what I’m doing and the people I’m doing it with, so I’ll be happy to be here ten years from now doing the same thing I’m doing today, differently. One of our sayings is: "Everything will be okay." And it will be. So get it out there, believe in what you’re doing and keep making it better.