Meet the 2021 Wave of the Future

This year’s honorees are pushing industry boundaries, bringing their singular visions to life through the design of hotels, restaurants, cruise ships, and everything in between. Meet these 10 standouts who are instilling their work with a new perspective while redefining the status quo.

Kristen Conry
Senior Vice President, Global Design, U.S. + Canada, Marriott

What was your first job out of school?
[I worked] at a boutique architecture and design firm in Chicago called Gibbons, Fortman and Weber (now Gibbons, Fortman and Associates). We designed high-end residences, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Several colleagues are still good friends (one is now my husband), and one of the partners, Ed Weber, remains a trusted mentor and friend.

Best hospitality advice?
J.W. Marriott said: ‘Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back.’ Design is one way we take care of our guests, but it is our colleagues in our hotels interacting with our guests everyday who breathe life and spirit into the experience. That spirit of service can often overcome a gap in design, but design can rarely overcome a gap in service. When we align a clear purpose, great design, and a strong spirit to serve—that’s hospitality at its best.

Read more about Kristen in our September 2021 issue.

James Cull
Design Director + Associate Principal, Rottet Studio

How did you get into design?
I have always been intrigued by art and science. I was originally pre-med in undergrad, yet I graduated with a degree in art history. Design utilizes both sides of your brain, and I embrace both form and function. I am happiest when designing spaces that are practical and beautiful.

Project you are most proud of?
I am very proud of the Cap Juluca resort in Anguilla. This was the first Belmond property to be reimagined under their new brand direction, and we were tasked with providing a fresh take on an island retreat. The interiors are richly layered, and the detailing is very residential.

Read more about James in our September 2021 issue.

Pallavi Dean
Founder + Creative Director, Roar

When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
I grew up around Dubai in the 1980s and 1990s, just as it was embracing design to make a splash on the world stage. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel (1996) and Burj Al Arab (1999) hotels were blatant uses of architecture as a marketing weapon. Looking back, the fast pace of Dubai’s development throughout my youth was a big part of what propelled me to study architecture.

What do you consider your big break?
I was commissioned to design the region’s first Delano hotel on Palm Jumeirah. The property changed operators four times, but we were retained through this eight-year journey with local owner IFA. It opened in July 2021 as the House of Originals by Accor.

Read more about Pallavi in our September 2021 issue.

Damon Lawrence
CEO, Homage Hospitality

Memorable career stop?
My time working for the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC. My understanding of service at the highest level for some of the most high-profile clientele in the world was a unique experience that I’ll forever cherish. I learned some of my most important lessons with that brand—the [biggest one] being the value employee loyalty has on consumer loyalty.

What drew you to hospitality?
As a multidisciplinary creative, it was the first thing I had ever done that captured my full attention. Real estate, design, culinary, music, art, and fashion all rolled up into one discipline. For the first time in my life, my brain could wander from interest to interest without ever leaving the same industry. Suddenly my thinking didn’t seem so scattered.

Read more about Damon in our September 2021 issue.

Susan Nugraha
Vice President, Design + Development, TAO Group Hospitality

What are your early design memories?
My father is a contractor in Indonesia and he builds restaurants and retail stores. From a young age, he would walk me through his construction sites and show me what was going to be built. When the venues opened and were full of guests, I was in awe of the transformation.

Most rewarding part of the job?
Being able to witness the joy and excitement that some of my projects have brought to those who are able to experience them.

Read more about Susan in our September 2021 issue.

Jacu Strauss
Creative Director, Lore Group

Did you go to school for design?
I started out doing spatial design but then moved on to architecture school. I did my first degree at Auckland University and my subsequent two degrees at the University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture and Westminster University for the licensing part.

Greatest lessons learned?
You need to be brave and take risks. You do not get do amazing things without making some mistakes along the way as long as you learn from them and do not make the same mistake twice.

Read more about Jacu in our September 2021 issue.

Paris Swann
Associate Vice President, Architectural Design, Celebrity Cruises + TUI Cruises, Royal Caribbean Group

Why did your current job interest you?
The opportunity to work with RCG and Celebrity Cruises came unexpectedly (and through a LinkedIn message!) but I could not pass up the chance to help transition a strong hospitality brand into a new design era of modern luxury. I jumped at the chance to explore the intersection of hospitality and transportation through cruise ship design. The chance to have a major impact on a hospitality experience at that scale in a holistic way was simply irresistible.

Most rewarding part of the job?
Watching a ship that you helped lead from napkin sketches to floating steel city sail smoothly off toward the ocean, on her way to go share the world with thousands of people—that is a feeling like no other.

Read more about Paris in our September 2021 issue.

Kaitlyn Thornton
Director of Brand Strategy + Studio Director, Yabu Pushelberg

First memories of hospitality?
Most kids when they’re young want to go to Disneyland. I wanted to go to the newest restaurant. I always loved to cook. I would pick out the recipes that were on the cover of Bon Appétit. It took me being at AvroKO to realize that these interests that I always had as a kid could be a career.

Project highlight?
We’re working on the Park Lane in New York on Central Park South. It’s the first hotel I have been able to see from start to finish. It is a perfectly preserved specimen of luxury from the ’60s and ’70s. It was owned by Harry and Leona Helmsley, and it was the crown jewel in their empire. She famously was under house arrest for tax evasion and lived on the top floor. [The design is] a love letter to New York and to the building’s legacy.

Read more about Kaitlyn in our September 2021 issue.

Rebecca Weinstein
Director of Design, Highgate Hotels

Why Highgate?
Highgate had been a client of mine since 2007, both when I worked at Wimberly Interiors and Gensler. I understood the values of the company, the speed at which they work, and the need to think quickly on your feet. I have seen how much the company has changed and evolved. I thought, ‘I need to get on that rocket ship.’ I wanted to learn how the projects got set up, why owners made the decisions they did, and what happens after opening and the hotel becomes a living, breathing thing.

Most challenging part of the job?
Transitioning from designer to owner was more challenging than I anticipated Learning how to guide when you want to do it yourself is a skill I am still working on.

Read more about Rebecca in our September 2021 issue.

Ashley Wilkins
Founder + Creative Director, Islyn Studio

Why did you want to start your own firm?
Working as a hospitality designer is hard. The hours at most firms are long. Often, we aren’t given the tools we need to succeed. There were very few opportunities for women to grow past being a senior designer, and more often than not, when upper management positions would open, they’d be given to a male employee. After 10 years, I was burnt out. After moving to New York, I felt like I was swimming upstream, chasing goals that weren’t attainable. I finally decided to take my future into my own hands. I wanted to seek out projects and clients that were looking to make a difference. I wanted to be in charge of my own narrative and prove to myself that it was possible to accomplish all of the things I believed in.

What keeps you passionate?
I love when people in hospitality share their craft with others and create something because it’s what they feel they were put on this earth to do, not just because it makes money.

Read more about Ashley in our September 2021 issue.

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