Happy Holidays!

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Happy Holidays 2013As another year comes to a close, I have taken a moment to reflect on the last 12 months and be able to recognize with gratitude how far we have come in so short a time.  This past year has brought amazing opportunities to work on a variety of wonderful projects as well as being able to network with the best and the brightest of the Hospitality industry.  As I look into the portal of 2014, I see a bright and busy future with exciting new projects and we look forward to providing design excellence in Hospitality!

We wish you and yours a very Happy Holiday Season and Best Wishes for the New Year!

What NOT to do in Hotel Design – Tip #6

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It’s not easy being green, especially when you’re fake!

dustyleavesPlease know that I’m not saying your should NEVER use artificial plants in a hotel environment.  There are many beautiful and realistic artificial plant and tree products in the market that have been successfully used in hotel projects around the world.  I myself have designed and implemented several artificial plants and trees in many of my projects. 

The caveat with using artificial landscaping is that the hotel property may feel that this will not require a horticulture maintenance contract and that these plants/trees can be self-sufficient.  While not needing any trimming or watering, what they do need is cleaning on a regular basis to avoid turning them into giant dust collectors.  What’s the point of bringing the outside in when it starts to look like a lint trap? 

The whole purpose of having plants in an interior environment is to assist in cleaning and purifying the air, as well as to add a natural aesthetic touch to any space.  But when you’re creating a magnet for dust, germs, and other contaminants, it sort of defeats the original purpose.

Regular cleaning and dusting with either damp cloths or air pressure cleaners will need to be a part of the hotel maintenance schedule to avoid build-ups.  Make sure that as a designer you discuss the commitment with the hotel property before inheriting them with a 200-lb dust bunny to take care of!

What NOT to do in Hotel Design – Tip #5

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Don’t use loose throw pillows in a Hotel lobby


young woman with pillowsThis was a lesson I personally learned the hard way.  After a day of carefully placing a variety of colorful custom throw pillows specially designed for a Hotel lobby project, I returned to the office and within 7 days received a call from the property that the throw pillows had been mysteriously disappearing.  Apparently the guests checking out of the hotel felt I had placed these beautiful accessories as parting gifts for them to take as a souvenir from the hotel.  In looking at the bright side, I consoled myself by knowing my design aesthetic was being displayed in private homes all around the nation, but when it comes to the hotel reality, we were back to square one. 

Unfortunately, even though the expendable income of the average hotel guest has increased, the old hotel adage still exists – if it’s not nailed down, it will walk away!!  If you’re going to use throw pillows in a lobby, just make sure they are attached or semi-attached, making it a lot more difficult for a guest to simply “accidentally” grab one on their way out!  These are hotel accessories and not decorative “after dinner mints” for the guests to take.

The other non-spoken issue with throw pillows is the 12253447-print-of-dirty-palm-with-cartoon-germsfact that they can also become living, breathing petri dishes in the hotel lobby.  With the amount of traffic that moves through a lobby on a daily basis, people, especially the young ones, tend to grab onto these pillows, move them around, throw them on the floor, have “pillow fights”,etc.  You can be almost guaranteed that these pillows do NOT get cleaned on a regular basis which means that every time housekeeping rearranges them neatly back into their places, the germs, dust, and all other fun things that are in the pillows or on the surface have also been neatly placed for your entertainment as well!

Accessories are an integral part of “decorating” any space, and throw pillows add a touch of home and a pop of color to any space.  If you do use these decorative accents, then make sure that the fabrics used are durable, easy to clean, and made from materials that will be as “anti-microbial” as possible.  Also make sure that they are tied down somehow, either fully attached or semi-attached to avoid them becoming active members of the lobby area as much as possible. Or souvenirs.  That’s what the gift shop is for!

What NOT to do in Hotel Design – Tip #4

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Don’t use solid color carpet in heavy traffic areas

There are some designers that want to think outside the box and feel the need to change things up a bit in Hotel design.  But sometimes, the box is there for a reason.  One such popular idea is to do away with patterned carpet and instead use the more modern approach of a solid color carpet.  Why is this a bad idea? Oh, let me count the ways….

Flooring is one of the largest surface areas in any room, and when you use a solid color, it naturally draws your attention to it.  You want to use solid carpet in your home? Not a problem.dirty-270x405  In a Hotel environment, however, this can turn into a hot mess.  First, a solid color will show every piece of paper, fuzz, dust bunny, or dirt spec that falls on it.  Second, most cut pile carpets have what is called a “nap”, or a textured surface that looks different depending on how it is combed.  If you’ve ever vacuumed your carpet at home, you have noticed how the color changes depending on which direction you move the vacuum. In a hotel this is accentuated by the vacuums, the housekeeping carts, and even the guest suitcases.  Patterns in the carpet can disguise this, but with a solid carpet it is front line and center, giving a perception of messiness.

Lastly, solid colors show dirt, and there is no way to disguise it.  Between the grease from the cart or suitcase wheels and the gunk on the bottom of shoes, carpet-beforeif you put solid carpeting in any public area you may as well refer to it as a walk-off mat, because that’s what it will look like after a couple of weeks, especially the light-to-medium colors.  Patterned or print carpets tend to hide more “sins” as well as add a more aesthetic element to the floor surface, allowing the property to  have more time between carpet replacements. Make sure that the hotel guest aren’t treated to the previous guests’ left-overs with stains and marks on the carpet.

So word to the wise, if you want to be “moderne”,  express yourself with the furniture, not the carpet.  Boxes can be good.  Learn to work with the box.

What NOT to do in Hotel Design – Tip #3

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Don’t use marble countertops in bathrooms or bars

white-carrara-marble-with-wine-stainsYou don’t need Michelangelo to tell you that marble is one of nature’s most beautiful creations.  When used properly, it can add a level of luxury and sophistication to any Hotel project.  Composed primarily of Calcite, marble can be used as either a polished finish or a honed (dull) finish on both walls and floors.  But the flip side is that Calcite makes it a very porous material, which means that marble is highly susceptible to stains and acids.  This means that marble should NOT be used anywhere that needs heavy chemicals (such as bleach or ammonia) on a daily basis, like bathroom or bar counter tops.  This daily cleaning which is required by health code in these areas will literally disintegrate the marble tops.

Wine, coffee, & cranberry juice will also easily stain marble, which makes it inadvisable to use in food and beverage applications. images-3 Granite and other aggregate conglomerates are much better choices, giving the look of natural stone, but with the durability needed to stand up to use and abuse.  While one may argue that the Coliseum and the Parthenon are still standing and they’re made out of marble, I have to remind everyone that the Greeks and the Romans were not into the Hospitality business.  For the rest of the world,  we have to make sure our countertops don’t look like the Lines of Nazca after a few weeks!  Be aware of the materials you specify, and make sure you understand their limitations in the application.  Cheers!

Even when you’re down, people still look up to you!

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Although I typically write about design-related topics, I was recently reminded about the importance of mentoring & I wanted to share my thoughts on this ever important yet largely ignored topic.  Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of counting on a handful of persons which I call my “guardian angels” or otherwise known as my mentors, and a few weeks ago I was inadvertently thrust from being a mentee, and became a mentor to a young colleague in my industry.

Mentoring is defined as “a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.” (Wikipedia).  This definition can be extracted from ancient mythology, specifically Homer’s “Odyssey”, where Odysseus left his son,Telemachus in the care of an older man named Mentor. As it turns out, Mentor is actually Athena, goddess of wisdom disguised as the old man, who helps guide the young prince during the absence of his father.

As most people can relate, my career started off in a very rocky and uncertain way. The economy was not good, and the design jobs in the mid-90′s were few and far between. After stumbling around for a little over a year working in a very small firm, I was given the opportunity to work at Gensler.  It was a company I had dreamed about working for since my college years, and to finally have the chance to work there seemed almost impossible, but there I was!  Well, once I walked in the door, my initial elation was immediately replaced by terrorizing fear that maybe I wasn’t good enough to be there, surrounded by people who were much more talented than I was. I was sure that at the stroke of noon I would turn back into a pumpkin and be kicked out of there!  After a few days of stumbling around getting my bearings, I was standing in the corner of our weekly staff meeting when I was approached by a fellow co-worker who had the biggest smile I had ever seen, Brian G. Thornton.

He took it upon himself to be my office mentor, giving me tips on how to maneuver my way through the work day and slowly gain confidence in myself as I worked on the various projects. Although we were not in the same studio, I felt that I had someone that I could always go to with my questions, concerns, and self-doubts. He also helped create the mentorship program for the summer interns and encouraged me to join as a mentor, a task I thoroughly enjoyed!  I left Gensler after almost 3 years to pursue a different career path into Hospitality design as well as a new adventure in New York City. Although I was in a different city and a different firm, I still stayed in touch with my mentor and now friend, Brian. We followed each others’ careers over the years with support, encouragement and connections, & I was so happy when I was presented with the opportunity to help him in return. He now runs his own very successful design firm in Las Vegas working for all the major Hospitality brands.

After 13 years going at full speed and reaching incredible heights, I was faced with yet another major change in my career this past year, & felt a bit lost.  I didn’t know what to do, but the one thing I did know was that I could talk to my mentor, so once again I reached out for guidance and help, & Brian, as always, was there to offer it.

In the midst struggling with the ups and downs of figuring out life’s next steps, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference last month in San Francisco.  While I was there to get some guidance myself, I was assigned to sit at a table where a young woman was seated, looking lost herself.  We struck up a conversation & throughout the day I offered her some advice on questions she asked me. At the end of the day I told her that if she needed more advice, that she could contact me at any time & I would try to give her guidance as best I could. To my surprise, she did contact me shortly after I got home and thanked me for my words, saying that I had no idea how much they had helped her. That’s when it hit me, a realization that has affected me so profoundly:

Even when you’re down, at your lowest point, people still look up to you.

The magnitude of that responsibility hit me like a ton of bricks. It made me realize the importance of relationships and human interaction in life, but especially in your career. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, & I’m still stumbling trying to figure things out myself, I have the knowledge and the experience to help someone else out on their journey. It was a humbling experience to know that my words & guidance helped someone who is just starting their journey & made me realize how important mentors truly are.

The thing I love about mentoring is that it is truly done from a place of selflessness.  The mentor gets no gain out of doing this other than the satisfaction of watching their protogé achieve their successes one by one. It’s the “pay it forward” mentality of leaving an unwritten or unspoken legacy in the world but knowing what the feeling of true satisfaction actually feels like. It also creates an overwhelming sense of responsibility not only to yourself, but to the industry or the community you belong to.  My alma mater, Virginia Tech has a school motto: “Ut Prosim” which means “That I may serve“. By helping others achieve their dreams, you get to fulfill your own, without even knowing you’re doing it!

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”~ Winston Churchill

Inspirations from Leaders in Hospitality

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San FranciscoLast month I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference in San Francisco where the movers and shakers of the Hospitality Industry joined forces to inspire and be inspired.  There were many great thoughts, ideas, philosophies, & good advice exchanged over the course of the 2 days, and I wanted to share some of the ones that resonated the loudest with me.

One of the keynote speakers we had was Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels.

Chip ConleyChip has a unique approach when it comes to defining success by separating a company into 3 interesting identities: The “Farmer”, the “Anthropologist”, & the “Pioneer”.

“To start and grow a business, you have to get down and dirty.”~Paul Hawkins

Chip believes that one of the biggest mistakes most companies make is not paying attention to their own culture, meaning the people who work for them.  Your employees are truly the soil that feeds everything else.  You have to be the Farmer of your business and know what you want the culture of your company to be, guide & cultivate your employees and this will be the foundation for everything, including success.

The next role is the Anthropologist.  In a nutshell, it simply means that you need to understand your customer better than they understand themselves.  By creating innovative needs that the customer doesn’t even know they have, you put yourself at one step ahead of the game.  But first you have to fundamentally know what the core idea of your business is. Once you have a firm idea of what your business truly is about, and you understand your market audience, then your business becomes a mirror of the customer.

The third and final role is that of the Pioneer. It’s not enough to rest on your laurels once you’ve reached a certain level of success, it’s just as important to determine what your company legacy will be.  Ask yourself “Why does it matter to the world that I exist?”. Make sure that you leave the world a better place than how you found it, & that will be the true measure of success.

As Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”  The final thought we were left with by this inspirational speaker was this:

“Leaders should help transform their employees, their customers, and the industry; But most importantly as a leader, you must transform yourself.”~ Chip Conley

Our next Keynote speaker was Roger Thomas, acclaimed designer best known for his innovative design solutions in Las Vegas working for Steve Wynn.

Roger ThomasRoger talked about “Evochatecture”, a term he coined which means the creation of luxury experiences by combining the familiar with the unfamiliar.  He believes in creating “cinematic” spaces with lots of drama, or as he puts it “memorable spaces for memorable moments.”  He encourages the industry to avoid providing everyone with “Replitecture” or the cookie-cutter approach to design.

By having worked alongside the Wynn family for over 30 years, Roger has learned many great lessons which he has masterfully applied to his incredible designs.  One of those lessons came directly from Steve Wynn himself: “The first rule of Hotel design is don’t think like a designer, think like a guest.”

Roger challenged the conference attendees to not focus on trends, which is so very easy to do and get caught up in.  By the time you finish implementing the latest trends, they’re already irrelevant!  Instead, create from your own inspiration, use your own imagination and life influences, then your design will always be unique and new.

Two charismatic and inspirational speakers gave all of us words to not only think about in the Hospitality industry, but words to live by as well.  Hope you find your inspiration too!

So, the world didn’t end. On to 2013!!!

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As 2012 draws to an end, I have taken this time to collect my thoughts and add some reflections to this past year and share these with everyone (or anyone who would like to read!).  While times have been rough across the board in the design, architecture, and hospitality industries alike, it has also been a year full of hope, opportunities, and great possibilities!

This past year I have personally gone through many evolutions and changes.  Leaving the hustle and bustle of New York City was a difficult yet necessary step in my life, both professionally and personally.  Many days I felt like a Charles Dickens novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”.  But in the end, after many nights of introspection, and with the invaluable support of friends, family, and many mentors in the industry, I made the monumental decision of launching out on my own and starting my own business.

With over 19 years of experience both in Design and in the Hospitality industry, I felt that my talent and expertise would be best suited to working directly with clients and owners, and the support and encouragement I have received has been overwhelmingly positive! Starting out on your own always has its challenges, but the opportunities and rewards easily make the effort worth fighting for.  “MAD Hospitality Studio” is an apropos name on most days, since there are times I truly feel I was crazy to go this route!  But then I focus on what the “MAD” stands for and I realize that it’s my name, “Michelle Acevedo Designs”, and that is the motivation that makes me push forward and keep working towards success.

“For Success, attitude is equally as important as ability”~ Harry F. Banks. 

Truer words have not been written.  I have learned a valuable lesson in having a positive attitude throughout this year, even when sometimes it seemed I was fighting uphill battles with no end in sight. Staying positive has been the conductor in opening windows and doors into opportunity for me and for that I am grateful. As we look forward to the next year, I am positive it will lead to many great ventures in the days, months, and years to come!

So I leave you with this simple thought:

“Every success is built on the ability to do better than good enough.”~Anonymous

I truly wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, prosperous and SUCCESSFUL New Year! Happy 2013!

Michelle Acevedo

Merry Christmas & best wishes for the New Year!

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merry_christmas_everybodyI wanted to take a quick moment to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and may 2013 be a year full of possibilities and new adventures for everyone!  Here’s to a prosperous New Year!

Feliz Navidad! Bon Natal! Joyeux Noel! Merry Christmas! Froehliche Weihnachten! Feliz Natal! Mele Kalikimaka!


Michelle Acevedo


Welcome to my Blog!

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Even Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Well, such is the fate of a website just the same!  I am finally getting the blog section up and running where I’ll be able to post articles, recommendations, and thoughts about Interior Design and how it connects to the world, particularly the Hospitality industry.  I hope you enjoy this section and please check back frequently since I love to chat so I will be posting on a regular basis! Comments and questions are most welcome as well, so please, don’t be shy.

I look forward to sharing my knowledge and experience with anyone willing to listen!