What’s your design philosophy?
I do all the design work myself. The places I like tend to have the owner’s personality instilled in them. It’s an intangible quality. When you walk into a place, you may not even necessarily like the taste, or the sensibility may not exactly be your own, but I think we all respond to something that has a unique vision, and understand when someone really cares about the place. So for me, I’m always trying to create something that feels personal and pure. I’m always trying to stay away from something that feels like it was designed by a team or a corporation, which is increasingly common. Places are so different throughout the world, but they’re being worn down a very rapid cliff by globalization. Everything’s so homogeneous.
That sounds right, but how do you actually accomplish that?
I’m never trying to reinvent the wheel; I’m just trying to know how it was done. And then hopefully the alchemy — or you could also call it smoke and mirrors — starts. What doesn’t look like it’s in every magazine? What doesn’t look like it’s on every Pinterest post? And yet what does feel like it’s honest and like it has been here? It’s nice to find thrift shop paintings and really great art from all around the world that costs less than $100. A person once said to me: “You don’t need taste to have an expensive art collection, but you need some sort of sensibility to have a $100 painting collection.” You need to be able to sniff out what really feels special.
Are there any finds you’re particularly fond of?
The first place I did, I had a collection of paintings of fingers that I got for $25. I’m always looking for that stuff — anything that hasn’t been ripped off by Restoration Hardware yet. I’m always looking for something that will prompt an idea. For example, I want people to say, “I don’t really like this light fixture but it reminds me of when I was 10 years old in Yugoslavia and I stayed at this hotel, and I remember this great light fixture that they had.” I’m always trying to dig a little harder and further.
What are some other spaces that you’re inspired by?
I love the Ritz hotel in Paris. It’s closed now for remodelling, but I love it because it’s so insanely Parisian. It can only exist in Paris. And I love that feeling of these places that would be wildly inappropriate to have anywhere else.
What do you hope people feel when they come into one of your hotels?
I hope they’re slightly transported. I love in the film Cabaret when it says, “Leave your troubles outside, in here everything is beautiful!” I love the feeling of having a brief rest from one’s daily life. Whether you come into the Marlton to get a drink in the afternoon and you get 20 minutes off from your regular mundane life, or you come in and stay for a month. That’s the goal: that you feel somehow exotic and ever-so-slightly different. I make a point to never state what is implied. I like that the places are different, and they mean different things to different people, and I don’t want to explain or tell someone how to feel. So certain people will come to the hotel and say it reminds them of being in the ’70s and another person will say it reminds them of a Parisian hotel in the ’20s and another person will say it reminds them of a torrid romance they had on 8th Street.
Is that how you experience hotels?
I travelled quite a bit as a child and there was always this feeling of hotels being glamorous and optimistic. There’s this hopeful feeling that something magical can happen. I used to respond to that and I still do. I also like the feeling that no matter how big of a mess you make in your room — like the worst mess — it’ll all be tidied up in the morning.