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Kimberley Miller

For Kimberley Miller, CEO of Dallas-based Design Duncan Miller Ullmann, respecting historical significance doesn’t mean getting stuck in the past. Rather, she sees it as an opportunity to showcase original elements, or “gems,” as she calls them, while adding touches of modern flair. 

One such project is Hotel Phillips, which recently underwent a multimillion-dollar, property-wide renovation. Located in the heart of downtown Kansas City, MO, the historic hotel originally opened in 1931 and was billed as the city’s most elegant hotel. And 80 years later, the renovation focused on maintaining Hotel Phillips’ Art Deco design and retaining its period-inspired elements, while bringing in high-quality amenities and a hip vibe that today’s travelers expect. 

The boutique hotel welcomes visitors with dramatic exterior lighting designed to accentuate the hotel’s historic stone detailing. Inside, the lobby opens to reveal inlaid marble floors and pillars, walnut and wrought iron accents, and etched glass and brass light fixtures, also seen throughout other areas of the hotel. “We really looked at the property from the approach of the guests, from the exterior and arrival to walking through to check-in and the lobby, to the public spaces, and then taking it up to the corridors and guestrooms,” said Miller. “In designing a historic property, we carefully consider the aspects unique to the hotel.” Original light fixtures and chandeliers, for example, create a frame of reference for the interior and inform the design approach. “These are craftsmen pieces that just don’t exist today,” she said, “and it was important to us to have a bit of that Art Deco flavor punctuated throughout the hotel.”

The designer revitalized the lobby and mezzanine and brought some “connectivity” to them. “We were able to create places to sit and hang out, plug and play or have a drink, all in a residential-type of setting,” said Miller. “Here we are in downtown Kansas City with a cool vibe and urban flavor, but within the confines and context of great millwork and architectural details from days gone by. Inserting modern furniture into the design and introducing daylight through these wonderful, historic windows, which had been covered with heavy velvet drapes, has infused the space with a whole new character.” 

To that end, the designer created more character, by adding a modern twist to history in an oft-overlooked area of the hotel, the guestroom corridors. “Many times, especially in historic hotels, the corridor experience can be underplayed, unlike the large, wide hallways and elevator landings in newer properties. So we wanted to do something really dramatic,” Miller said. The designer installed full-scale, custom murals across from the elevators on each floor. The floor-to-ceiling works of art depict women from the Art Deco era. “There’s a nod to history but in an updated way,” she said.

When it came to the guestrooms, Miller again played on the property’s history, while bringing the design into the present. “As with any historical hotel, there are always challenges because it’s not the typical, repetitive room template,” said Miller. “We wanted to give the rooms a really classic edge while making them unique. One way we did that was through graphics.” 

Miller cited, as an example, the side chairs in the rooms. The statue of Dawn—a gold angel-type fixture commissioned for the hotel when it first opened, which overlooks the lobby—brings visual cohesion to the design and adds visual interest to the rooms. “We took a photograph of this iconic element, had a line drawing made and printed it on cloth, which we then used to upholster the chairs,” she said.