Intro by Mary Scoviak | Executive Editor | Boutique Design Magazine

EVERY DECEMBER, Boutique Design editor Matthew Hall turns over his editor’s page to me to welcome you to our special issue featuring the year’s winners and finalists of the IHM+RS Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design. Co-sponsored by Boutique Design and HOTELS magazines, this 34-year-old honor recognizes the best design work submitted in 19 categories as well as the Designer of the Year.

So, what’s required to be among the firms that get to take home one of the glittering star awards created by Swarovski for the Gold Key winners? This year’s nine-member judging panel had some definite ideas on that subject. They liked projects that were provocative, even polarizing. For judge R. Tyler Morse, CEO and Managing Partner, MCR Development, like his fellow panelists, the words “been done” instantly knocked an entry out of contention. His favorites were “clever,” “unique” and/or “truly innovative.”

As judge John D. McMullen, Highgate Hotels’ senior vice president of construction, pointed out, hospitality clients
are looking for designers with fresh ideas that will differentiate their properties. Conceptually, anything’s on the table—with a couple of big caveats…

1) “Why’  The designer has to be able to explain the “why” of every piece of the interior puzzle.

2) ‘Wow factors’ are still essential for a Gold Key. But the definition of what that means has changed. Judge Trisha Wilson, chairman of Trisha Wilson Global, echoed her colleagues’ high marks for projects that used interesting finishes, unexpected details, unusual local materials or elements that were just “fun.” In some cases, the right table lamp or rug pattern was as important as any expensive art work or chandelier in getting a submission short-listed.

3) ‘Authenticity’ was key, whether as an exposed brick wall in a re-purposed factory or a new way of expressing individuality within tight brand standards.

4) ‘Contextualization’ He or She has to justify those decisions within the context of the building, the setting, the hotel’s target market client’s aims, the budget and the brand or individual property’s DNA.

The Judges

Here is a comprehensive list of the iconic and innovative hospitality industry judges covering all sectors of the industry.

All judges clearly have an astounding knowledge base, unfathomable experience and visionary perspective for the best in Hospitality Design as they all come from top-tier organizations from around the world. It is beyond humbling to have Schoos Design Group, not only nominated alongside such venerable piers, but also named a ‘Gold Key Award’ winner by such industry leading voices.

The collective body of work by these phenomenal judges speaks further to the prestige and enormity of such an honor. Moreover, from a designer’s perspective, the Gold Key Awards represent a celebration of creativity, craftsmanship, art, innovation, entrepreneurship and paramount to the aforementioned, a fundamental love of design, across all sectors of this venerable industry.

The team at Schoos Design would like to thank Boutique Design Magazine, Hotels Magazine & these iconic judges for honoring our dedication to excellence and achievement in hospitality design.

ALAN PHILLIPS| CMO | Morgans Hotel Group


LORA SPRAN | Senior Designer | Walt Disney Imagineering Interiors

RON KOLLAR | Chief Design Office | Tishman Hotel & Realty LP

DANA KALCZAK | VP of Design | Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

JOHN D. MCMULLEN | SVP of Construction | Highgate Hotels

R. TYLER MORRIS | CEO & Managing Partner | MCR Development

SERENA RAKHLIN | VP of Hotel Development & Acquisitions, Americas | Trump Hotel Collection

TRISHA WILSON | Chairman |  Wilson Associates/Trisha Wilson Global

The Awards


Schoos Design (West Hollywood, CA.): Puesto, San Diego, CA

Thomas Schoos| Principle Designer/Creative Director | Schoos Design Group

Lisa Gill | Senior Designer, Commercial Design | Schoos Design Group


Puesto is a celebration of authentic Mexican “street food,” and its newest location in an old jail building in San Diego provided a perfect opportunity to evoke all of the sights, sounds and textures one associates with Mexico and southern California culture.  In transforming the industrial space, Thomas realized that, instead of attempting to obscure or “clean up” the distressed architecture, it would be far more evocative to preserve the rustic, sensual textures, using them as inspiration for the overall look.  On top of this, we added a number of modern elements, such as two murals by a graffiti artist, that express a typically Mexican love of color.

“I’d like to extend a warm congratulations to my fellow nominees, who are equally as spectacular in their own design aesthetic. As trite as it may sound, it truly is an honor to be nominated amongst design teams in my category! With that said, I wanted to share the fantastic ‘casual dining restaurants’ who were also nominated alongside myself.”

– Thomas Schoos | Schoos Design Group


“In Mexico City, they loved the ‘wow’ of the theatricality of the W Mexico City’s lobby renovation. But, in New York, they were won over by the art and wit of The Lexington. As dissimilar as these two concepts are, their masterful mix of solid design fundamentals, operational under- standing and market-driven style earned both top honors in the Best Lobby – Upscale category. Whatever their visual narrative, the leading vote-getters do share some basics. First and foremost, they work. Clumsy circulation patterns, flimsy materials and hard-to-maintain flooring or furniture knocked that entry out of contention. So did the failure to think like a guest. As judge Serena Rakhlin, of Trump Hotel Collection, commented on one hotel, “It’s a great looking guest room, but where would I put all of my stuff ?” On the plus side, work that let the bones of a converted building show through, interwove fresh takes on sense of place or eco-consciousness or surprised with well-chosen details got a second look every time. In addition to being memorable, all of the interiors that earned Gold Key recognition this year were also marketable—not to some broad demographic but to an audience of individuals with definite preferences. “Would I wish-list a stay at all of the properties I voted for? No,” says judge Ron Kollar, Tishman Hotel & Realty LP. “But, that’s the point. The acid test for good design now isn’t whether everyone will love it; it’s whether it resonates with the audience the client wants to serve.”

– Mary Scoviak |Executive Editor | Boutique Design Magazine

“The Winners and Finalists in the 34th Annual Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design competition, co-sponsored by Boutique Design and HOTELS magazines, owe as much to Abraham Lincoln and Apple as they do to any designer or architect. Among the record number of nearly 300 entries, the projects that looked like they were trying to please all of the people, all of the time were least likely to please this year’s judges. What impressed these nine hospitality experts were the submissions that weren’t afraid to create a strong identity that wouldn’t tick everyone’s boxes.So, that’s why this gallery of best-in-class hospitality design doesn’t have one right answer in terms of trends. The judges reviewed each entry in its own context, weighing how successfully it achieved excellence in four categories: concept; execution; innovation, and the wow factor. They considered contextual factors such as integration with the neighborhood, the constraints of renovation versus new build and the challenges of saying something new within the parameters of brand standards as opposed to the issues inherent in developing a “brand” for an independent. Like the modern consumers they are, the decision-makers for the 2014 Gold Key awards weren’t unanimous in their choices. A lobby filled with dynamic graphics and a detailed FF&E package summed up urban energy for some. For others, it was too much. Their preference was for the hand- some lines of public spaces with a few easy pieces and a polished palette of menswearfabrics and colors.”      – Mary Scoviak | Executive Editor | Boutique Design Magazine

Featured below are a selection of other fascinating
Gold Key Award design category winners
Best Nightclub/Lounge | Moon Club, Paradise Island, Bahamas
Best Restaurant - Fine Dining | St. Cecilia, Atlanta | Mayer Davis Studio, New York
Gold Key Designer of the Year 2014 | Concrete Amsterdam

For a full list of winners in all categories for the 2014 Gold Key Awards see below. Congratulations again to all the Award Winners & Finalists!