Get A Room
If you've ever slept in a Heavenly Bed, your sweet dreams came courtesy of D.B. Kim
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Setting the trend for white-on-white beds was just part of the groundbreaking makeover that D.B. Kim oversaw as the vice president of design at Westin Hotels & Resorts. Now, having worked his magic at one hospitality brand, he's tackling the same role at an even bigger one, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts. (With its 400-plus properties, it's a division, like Westin and W Hotels, of Starwood Hotels & Resorts.)
Kim has wasted no time undertaking a top-to-bottom evaluation of Sheraton's look, developing brand concepts, and working toward implementation at 60 international properties by the end of 2008. Here, he reveals his plans, considers the challenges facing large hotel chains, and discusses the subtle ways that design can make for a better stay.
What exactly does the vice president of design do?
I focus on the audience, meaning our guests—how they eat, how they sleep, what they listen to, and everything in between. Then I set the guidelines and work with third-party designers to roll them out. I don't look at trends, nor do I look at myself as a trendsetter. Instead, I find a better way to respond to the needs of travelers, from the low-tech to the high-tech.
What's a low-tech example?
I didn't actually create the Heavenly Bed at Westin, but I worked to embellish it. It's a simple white bed, elemental and honest, and I helped design the hotel brand around it, with the core values of comfort and simplicity.
There's a bit of a white-bed war going on now. Everyone's doing them. But they're a little late.
So what can we expect at Sheraton from now on?
We're freshening it up, giving it new energy. Our lobby and guest-room concepts have a palette of natural but vibrant colors—bright raspberry, sky blue, deep terra-cotta. We're even drawing up botanical guidelines for flower arrangements. But we're allowing for regional differences, too.
And it's not all visual. It's also emotional, and that extends to the staff. If we give employees a sense of belonging, that promotes better performance. Guests can feel the results.
A lot of major hotel chains seem the same.
I agree. They're very cookie-cutter. At the end of the day, what you expect to see is what's there.
I'm just a little guy scratching the surface, but I think we can be creative within the standards of a mass brand. With Westin, we provided a consistent experience but then worked creatively within that framework—for example, each hotel's independent designer has the leeway to select colors, finishes, and furnishings from three different bedroom concepts.
How will Sheraton differ from, say, Westin?
Westin is clearly about renewal and sensory experiences—a more meditative, introspective brand. For example, there's a signature scent that evokes calmness. Sheraton is more about vitality, community, connectedness. It's more extroverted. So we'll play that up.
Can we expect party hats in the rooms?
No, it's not a W. It's more like visiting your neighborhood park and seeing people of all demographics engaging with one another. In the hotel lobby, they're chitchatting, playing games, drinking coffee or cocktails, working on the computer, waiting for colleagues to come down for dinner. It's a gathering place, organic but also energizing. We're calling it Park@Sheraton.
How does the design express that concept?
We'll have a variety of elements such as communal tables, game tables, lounges, and a signature chair that's like a garden chair. Everything will be modular and flexible, so we can plot different configurations around the world. Last year, we put in the prototype at the Sheraton in Toronto, and we've learned a lot from it already. For example, we discovered that guests prefer simplicity and comfort over complex technology.
Nowadays, the middle price point is having a hard time.
It's true that Sheraton guests are very value-conscious. They'll splurge, but it's not about having the right Hermès handbag or the latest BMW. So I try to push the envelope on the things that will really make an impact: good lighting, clear work surfaces, a nice bed, ergonomic chairs, plush towels.
The challenge is huge, but that's what I'm here for.