Jan 7, 2022
In this episode of the Hotel Design Podcast, we welcome Malcolm Berg, who is the founder, President and Design Director of EoA Group. He also was named the Designer of the Year during the 2020 Gold Key Awards.
Host Glenn Haussman and Malcolm start by discussing his background, and Malcolm shares what motivated him to be a hospitality focused designer. He attended graduate school for architecture and studied a variety of architecture design focuses - a path which ultimately led him to hospitality design as a focus for his emerging expertise.
Malcolm and Glenn discuss EoA’s work at the JW Marriott in Marco Island where he talks about engaging stakeholders to help projects run smoothly. For Malcolm, creating extraordinary design is about finding those “little golden nuggets” in imperfections, and beauty found in those uncommon places. Then it’s a process of extracting those factors and then distilling them into something essential. That’s where the project’s DNA reveals itself.
The hardest aspect of the design phase, Malcolm says, is creating the overall concept. To solve this issue, the EoA team works to understand what the “property wants to be when it grows up, and what is its personality.” Everything else flows from there. It's not a subjective exercise, it literally is sequential, he says, adding that everything else follows naturally from that point.
He addresses how the property must be something authentic and organic; not contrived. Malcom’s goal for any project is to make that property fiscally successful and emotionally satisfying, which has myriad components to it from creating spaces people want to be in and how its run operationally. Plus, Berg says its critical to hue close to trends, as pushing boundaries too far could result in designs that feel outdated in a relatively short period of time. He also explains his notion of empathetic design, sharing what that means to him and how it relates to satisfying all project stakeholders beyond owners, such as how it relates to daily operations.
The next project Glenn and Malcom discuss is the Barcardi Ocho Lounge, a VIP lounge sponsored by the spirits company and located at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. According to Berg, finding success in all projects is about deeply understanding a brand, and how that brand is represented in a physical space. In this instance, they asked many questions to drill down to the brand’s essential elements, then built a strong design around those brand tenets. This is the secret sauce essential to design success!
Meanwhile, his work at The Ben, Autograph Collection in West Palm Beach, Florida focused entirely on creating a rich backstory, inspiring overall design. Here, his team reached into history, bringing past stories to the fore. In this case, the story was driven by the notion of the hotel’s namesake character Ben - a rugged type who’s out hunting and trapping in the wilderness by day, and then cleans up and demonstrates impeccable style by night. The spoils of his work are displayed throughout, which helps create individualized moments and clearly defines the hotel’s aesthetic.
But be warned - Malcom urges those to think carefully about creating Instagramable moments for the sake of creating Instagramable moments. That leads to poor decision making because you wind up creating erroneous moments that distract and take away authenticity. Berg finds it’s better to engage designing space holistically, by thinking about the entire space, rather than a photographable moment.
Finally, they talk about The Peregrine Omaha Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton, located in Omaha, Nebraska and managed by Chesapeake Hospitality. This former bank had a peregrine falcon family roosting on the roof, and during the demolition phase other birds flocked to this location - creating the idea of birds taking flight as a symbolic relationship to property design. This project also had a series of structurally related challenges that helped push Malcolm and his team to be even more creative to find success. Here, they had to lose some space to create better, more potentially profitable guestroom spaces. It’s an interesting approach to bringing in natural light as an element to create a more engaging, natural space.