Starwood’s Ted Jacobs Shares His Creative Perspective

STAMFORD, CT—Hotel Business Design caught up with Ted Jacobs, VP/Global Brand Design at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., where he leads the studio team responsible for the creative vision and design direction for W Hotels, Le Méridien, St. Regis and The Luxury Collection on a global basis. His recent projects include W Verbier (Switzerland), Le Méridien Istanbul, St. Regis Bal Harbour and Le Méridien Atlanta Perimeter.

Previously, he was principal and design director at Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm. Prior to that, he served as global director of design for Starbucks Coffee Co., as well as the global design director of Nike Retail. 

Is there anything the hotel industry is doing design-wise that you disagree with, either mildly or strongly? Can you describe anything that truly once made you shake your head in disbelief?

This is a conversation over a strong drink. Seen the amazing, the good, the bad and the ugly. 

One of my colleagues coined the term Generation LuXurY, specifically speaking to the new and global psychographic that defines the guest that travels the world searching for an innovative and new approach to luxurious experiences. We like these guys.

Per the above question, the hospitality industry is quickly becoming more and more sophisticated through design. Good design is becoming democratized. 

With that comes (apologies to my colleague) a GenLux of a different kind: Generic Luxury. This is most typically defined by ‘nice’ design…Italian FF&E, marble, more marble, shiny bits and, more often than not, a traditional approach to space making.

While we acknowledge quality and craftsmanship are always critical, luxury is no longer only defined by materiality, rather immersive and unexpected experiences specific to a location, its people and culture. We do our best to reinvent luxury through the individual filters of our brands. 

Are there any particular hotel design trends that you’re seeing now that you find noteworthy?

While I can always point to a particular, one-off boutique hotel, I give the utmost respect to those hotels ‘chains’ that can deliver compelling experiences in tandem with the challenges of global growth. 

Is there a dream project or collaboration you would like to accomplish?

We are always looking to partner with up-and-coming partner brands and individuals. While we frequently do so with world-class brands that have global reach and influence, we also believe in finding locally relevant partners, specifically with the intent to bring our brand passions to life. 

To that, for The St. Regis Aspen, we might collaborate with an artist to develop a mural for the hotel’s bar or with a guy that does tape graffiti to create an immersive space at W Verbier or a local museum to share an art installation for a Le Méridien in Taipei. Just some of the ways collaborations can make the guest experience more memorable and meaningful.

How do you know you’ve achieved success with a hotel’s design?

There are so many metrics; financial, what the locals say, and quantitative and qualitative tools and procedures that Starwood leverages to measure guest experience, among others.

I tend to keep my ears to the ground and see what the buzz is. I do like to troll the reviews by our guests, and as a designer, I really like to see what they take pictures of. If guests make a conscious decision to take up space on their phones with a picture or video, and/or share their memories with friends and the world via social media…then I think we have in many ways succeeded. 

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