Before becoming an editor at Cupcakes and Cashmere, I worked at a hospitality company designing hotels and restaurants. Some of my favorite design tricks in my own home are those I've borrowed from commercial spaces. But even long before hotel design became my day job, I remember analyzing hotel rooms while on vacation to figure out why they were so appealing to stay in. Whether it was the comfort of specific amenities or the overall design itself, I often wondered why hotel guests (including myself) don't incorporate the same things into everyday life, instead only reserving them for vacation or travel. To get to the bottom of it, I interviewed three of my favorite female designers: Kelly Wearstler, who you may know from her distinctive lifestyle brand and designs, Leslie Kale, of beautiful hotels all over Southern California, and Sally Breer, who worked on one of our team's favorite spots to grab a drink, Hotel Covell.
Sally Breer of Etc.etera has been practicing about a decade and started Etc.etera in 2016. She worked on Hotel Covell (part 1&2) (side note: It's one of our team's favorite spots to grab a drink), Hotel Erwin, and is currently in construction on a new boutique hotel called The Firehouse Hotel, all of which are located in Los Angeles.
Leslie Kale of Studio Collective has been designing for over 20 years. With Studio Collective she has been involved in the design of The Landsby - Solvang, The Goodland Hotel - Goleta, Hotel Figueroa – Los Angeles (with three more hotels on the way).
Kelly Wearstler's mother was a designer so she's basically been designing since she was a child, tagging along with her mom to antique shows. She officially opened her studio in 1995 - her first hotel project was The Avalon in Beverly Hills and her most recent being the Proper Hotels with one already open in San Francisco and three more coming to Austin, Santa Monica, and Downtown L.A.
All three women remarked on the freedom there is in designing hotels because there isn't one single user or person to design for, which often allows for more creative license (and responsibility). Below are their favorite design philosophies for hotel projects that can just as easily be applied to your home:
LK: Don’t feel obligated to match everything. I’ve always believed you can start with one thing you love and build from there to create your own unique room.
SB: I try to create a strong narrative for a hotel by connecting it to an imaginary person so it doesn't end up feeling too commercial or just like a "pretty" space.
KW: Art adds personality, depth, and emotion to any space. All of the art curated in the Proper San Francisco lobby is from San Francisco artists, contemporary and vintage, or related to San Francisco, giving it an authentic sense of place.
Use it in your own home: This tip is a great perspective to maintain when designing your space because it's all too easy to see something on Pinterest or Instagram and want to copy it exactly. Mimicry can be one guiding principle, but shouldn't be the only one. Trying to copy someone else's home can more often than not lead to a fairly impersonal or just "pretty" space. We love how Leslie added in artwork from her time in Iceland and a basket from her trip to Vietnam to make her nook a reminder of her amazing travels.
LK: Textiles are my favorite thing to decorate with. I love to re-purpose a carpet or blanket into a wall hanging, upholstery for a chair, or even drapes.
KW: Throughout the San Francisco Proper property, all the vintage chairs have been upholstered with new fabrics, reworked and refinished, giving them a fresh, modern life.
Use it in your own home: Marilynn's previous boss loved going to flea markets to find beautiful, inexpensive items then reinvent their purpose. For example, he'd buy tea trays or table trays and add four legs to them to create a very unique side table. If it's hard to envision how to repurpose something though, don't push it–you don't want to force something that's not inspired, which is why Leslie Kale's tip is a good, specific way to reuse something like a blanket or rug (bonus points if it's a travel souvenir, family heirloom, or something that tells a story) as a wall hanging instead.
SB: Move your existing furniture around every couple months. It literally costs you nothing and I think it forces you to rethink the flow of your space in a really important way. We work on floor plans for a year and then once we actually get stuff in the space, sometimes we change the layout entirely (plus it’s a good workout).
Use it in your own home: One of Marilynn's favorite skills as an architect is being able to draw scaled floor plans (she uses a program called AutoCAD). But honestly anyone can mock up layouts, even without specialized software. She recommends simply cutting paper to scale (if your room is 10' by 15', have each foot equal a half inch of paper, so cut a piece of paper that is 5" by 7.5" and then cut block-y pieces of paper to represent furniture pieces (at the same scale) and play around with the layout yourself. We recently did this with our own office after realizing we weren't using our new space efficiently enough for our growing team. And per Sally's tip, instead of buying all brand-new furniture, we relocated some of our existing pieces to a different area or bought a new rug to lay under some old chairs to give the space a fresh feel.
SB: Perennials fabric is our godsend. Super wonderful patterns, colors, and textures while simultaneously being super durable.
LK: Leather is your friend! It lasts and lasts and becomes more beautiful as it patinas with use.
Use it in your own home: Our first reaction to these tips is seeing $$$ in our eyes. Both Perennials and leather are expensive fabrics but there is definitely value in investing in great fabrics for pieces you love and plan to keep around for a while. An alternate to real leather is to get vinyl leather. Hear us out: Fake leathers have really progressed and now look and feel practically real... plus they're wipeable! Marilynn has found vendors who reupholster existing furniture through word-of-mouth and by searching online. Another hack is buying outdoor furniture and using it indoor (a tip Leslie wrote about here!). Outdoor furniture is naturally more durable and stain resistant and many of them now look good enough to be used indoors.
SB: I think one of the best parts about staying in a hotel is that every element is thought-out and part of the experience. Think about this when designing your home. Upgrade your towels (white is classic and easy to clean.), upgrade your bedding (one great set is worth more than multiple mediocre ones!), buy a great coffee mug to have coffee in each morning. Have monogrammed stationery made and on display (and actually use it). All of these little luxuries are easily brought home and are really great additions to everyday life!
Use it in your own home: Leslie remembers the first time she invested in a great set of sheets (from Parachute Home) and to this day, can definitely attest to the power of a nice set of sheets (she appreciates them every night!). Other small touches that make our homes more hotel-like: monogrammed towels, makeup towels for guests that say 'makeup' or 'visage', a nice water carafe for your bedside table, a charging dock for your guest room's bedside table, a guestbook that lists information like the wifi password, how to use the entertainment system, where the snacks and water are, etc.