| Aug 7, 2013 |
Morgans Hotel Group designer recreates iconic hotels
Boh staff
By Staff

Morgans Hotel Group, known for its iconic hotels including Mondrian Los Angeles, Hudson New York and Delano South Beach, is spreading its unique designs and recreating the looks of such hotels in other cities across the globe—from a Mondrian and Hudson in London to Delanos in Las Vegas and Moscow.

The Mondrian hotel in Los Angeles

At the visual helm is Italian-born Senior Vice President of Design Verena Haller, who is bringing together the creative power of many—designers, artists and decorators—to achieve the flavor and flare guests have come to know.

Morgans Hotel Group describes itself as immersive, transformative and deeply engaged, embracing irony and style, elegance and luxury, with a strong and daring vision. This reporter sat down with Haller at the offices in Manhattan to learn about her background, her creative design process and what is coming down the pipeline.

Haller grew up in northern Italy and knew that New York was where she would end up. After studying architecture and interior design, she moved to Manhattan 13 years ago and dove into hospitality with Morgans Hotel Group.

Haller in the Morgans Hotel Group Manhattan office

With an architectural degree, what made you want to go into the interiors side, specifically into hospitality design?

Interior design grabbed me a little bit more because I felt I was better able to really express my feelings and touch people in a way I wasn’t able to do with architecture. Especially hospitality, which has so many different components—it’s a restaurant, it’s a store, it’s a gym, it’s a spa—so there are so many components, which really captured me.

Did you work on any of the original hotel designs?

That was way before I started here, but I do remember when I moved to New York, Hudson had just opened and I met a friend there for drinks. I was just absolutely and totally memorized by Hudson, and wanted to understand who did it, and whom it belonged to.

So, what is your vision for the new hotels?

That always depends on the city they’re in. So it’s really important that we make sure, even though they are under the umbrella of the brand, that they are city-specific. Not only city-specific, but for me it’s really important that they are neighborhood-specific as well. Sometimes we have multiple hotels in one city, and every neighborhood in a city—just like New York—is so different. You want to really make sure it captures that energy while still staying true to the brand identity. My design team spent quite a lot of time in the past year collaborating with our brand marketing team, to really define what the brands are, and how we want to move forward with them as we expand globally.

Do you travel to the cities in which the hotels are opening in order to get the feel?

I always spend time in the city—it’s incredibly important for me. Otherwise, I’m not able to really create a design vision for it. I want to see the culture, I want to get to know some of the locals. I really want to see how I feel and, based on that, I’m able to create a design brief for the hotel and begin the design process.

Once you’ve chosen the city, how do you approach the project?

It all starts with the design brief. Once I visit the city and indulge in its culture, I piece together a mood board for the project. The process is quite visual and has a small writing component, usually just a few words or phrases that relate to an image or feeling. For most of our projects, we collaborate with an external designer, which is inspired by our mood boards. We share the current details with them, to give them a head start on the project. The reason we create a mood board first, and choose a designer second is because we really want to make sure our brand standards are incorporated into the design. Each of our brands have different design qualities, for example Mondrian is much more colorful and modern than our Delano brand, which is usually more sensual and provocative.

The Hudson hotel in Manhattan

Recently, I have been working on our Hudson London property. Hudson is our social or gateway brand; it’s much more eclectic. What we do with a Hudson roll out is we really pay attention to capturing the public spaces we have. We have a restaurant, an outdoor bar, a library—those components, we want to make sure we re-create them in a different way, unique to city they will be in while staying true to the Hudson brand.

How big of a team works on the project?

My design team is six people. I feel really lucky because everyone is really talented. They’re all very passionate, which I love. That creates very interesting conversations sometimes. Whenever we start a new project, I want to make sure I bring them all to the table, and start the conversation together, and then create the design brief with them all.

How long does it usually take?

It usually takes us three to four weeks to get into the right place. Then we select the designer, and from there the process starts. With building out the vision, it really depends on the size of the hotel, the location and whether it’s a new hotel or a renovation. But just getting through the full design process with the designers, getting all the approvals, that’s about a year-long process.

We noticed that you have a lot of great artwork in the hotels. How do you source that?

We usually work with an art consultant. That’s one theme of ours. We do want to get the best consultants on board for each aspect of the project because we absolutely do not know everything.

How do you see the hotels evolving as a brand?

Because the design hotels have been out there for many years, there are much higher expectations. It’s no longer about you walk in and ‘oh my god it looks so good!’ It needs to be comfortable and it needs to touch people in a different way. We are paying a lot of attention through our brands so that we capture exactly that and make sure people feel comfortable. When you walk in, it’s a beautiful design through and through, but it is comfortable, and it makes you feel good. It’s not a chair you can’t sit in. I think a lot of hotels maybe have not focused on that and I think it’s something people have expectations for.

Do you think when people go to the Hudson Hotel in London, they’re expecting to see the New York Hudson?

I don’t think so. I think they expect it to pay homage to the original and have a familiar feeling, but be location-specific as well. I think people would be disappointed if it were exactly the same. I think that’s part of the education and sophistication of our guests and what our company strives for, to offer a unique and exciting experience with each hotel in our portfolio.

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