Intellectual Properties

Inside the 2017 Gold Key Awards!

This year’s 13-member judging panel for the 37th annual Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality  Design didn’t really care if designers were channeling real-world street smarts or ivory tower book learning. What they wanted to see was proof that the teams behind the nearly 400 submissions from around the world had done their homework and used that information to create interiors that stood out as best in class.

Obviously, they were looking for original thinking. But the fact that the six-plus-hour, in-person voting in New York ended with a record seven category-winning ties among the 21 Gold Key categories tells an interesting story about the range of entries that made the A-list. Here are some key factors the judges used to determine who made the grade:

1. There are no limits on creativity. Looking over the number of hard brands represented on the following pages, it’s clear that even the strictest big-chain platforms and standards are not constraints to blue-sky design. However, the judges did acknowledge that studios may need to apply added creativity when elevating branded building blocks into headline-grabbing hot spots. Commissions for independents and soft brands aren’t exactly no-brainers. As the judges pointed out, designers working for visionary clients are going to have to stretch into the stratosphere to deliver projects that beat expectations. And don’t even start whining about time frames or budgets. As the judges said, they’ve seen it all—and they know talented teams can make it work.

2. Design isn’t excellent if it doesn’t meet both the guest’s and client’s needs. While certain judges gave a thumbs-down to dramatic, minimalist and/or monochromatic approaches for being too high maintenance to hold up as “excellent” without breaking the operational budget, others contended it’s time for hotel managers to find ways to care for design bold enough to surprise travelers and/or local patrons and drive demand among influencers and on travel-related sites. For the end user, design is focusing more on how guests want to “live” in a lifestyle property, whether that means a place to store their skis without worrying about melt-off or specifying only sustainable elements that are as easy on the conscience as they are on the eyes.

“I wish I could take these submissions to our owners and board to show them what the competition’s doing,”

Gold Key Awards Judge
3. FF&E is one of today’s most under-utilized design tools. This sounds like a “duh” statement, but as project, after project proved as the “no” pile grew, it’s anything but. It’s not all about the architecture anymore. In their comments, the judges loved “the rug that instantly told the guest, ‘This is Istanbul,’” restaurant booths with a full wrap to increase a sense of intimacy and an angled mirror that literally changes the onlooker’s point of view. Yes, art is still critical to the “wow” factor, but overlooking ways to transform seating, wallcoverings and floorcoverings into focal points often separates B-plus work from the genius moments.

4. Show off your grasp of the fundamentals. Whatever their style or category, the winners on the following pages got special recognition for demonstrating how they inventively applied the basic tenets of interior design. The judges gave ample time in their critiques to champion the importance of scale (they urged principals to mentor young designers to fill this knowledge gap), the need for a better understanding of how to specify and customize FF&E (one reason Boutique Design is offering a special track on this at BDwest 2018 in Los Angeles, April 4-5) and the requirement for a guest- and staff-centric sensitivity to layout (as in how to make it multifunctional but navigable and why an open guest bath door shouldn’t be knee-banging distance from the bed). As the conversation continued during a post-competition dinner at The Whitby Hotel, the judges talked about how inspiring this year’s submissions were. “I wish I could take these submissions to our owners and board to show them what the competition’s doing,” said one. Read on to see where the smart money is heading in the world of hospitality interiors.—Mary ScoviakFor a more in-depth report on this year’s judging, check out


DESIGN FIRM: Studio Munge

THE SCRIPT: Cap off the urban cool of the 183-key (not including the residence itself ) newbuild hotel with a luxuriant residential space—whose $12,000 per night price tag speaks for itself—that redefines the property’s Brooklyn locale. “With one main objective, the 22nd oor suite had to be representative of Brooklyn’s artistic individuality freed from expectations of exposed brick and distressed wood, influenced by the area’s industrial past. Innovative in execution and materiality, the suite dissolves all stereotypes,” says Studio Munge founder and principal Alessandro Munge.

THE SHOOT: Drench the 1,300-plus sq. ft. suite in rich materials that play with contrasts in texture, shape, light and shadow for high-drama impact. White walls and light oak wood floors create a counterpoint to each other, while an original wooden art piece provides the suite with a natural edge. From the gradient custom drapery in cool gray tones to the sleek yet graphic metal accents, each piece was carefully selected and designed to reach the pinnacle of urban living. Providing a fresh and impactful new approach to penthouse luxury, the modern interiors capture a sense belonging within the vibrant neighborhood.

THE DIRECTOR’S CUT: Think beyond the ground oor when it comes to influential outdoor spaces. “e refreshing outdoor oasis includes a perfectly
integrated open-air Jacuzzi, extended custom white marble table and plush lounges. As the terrace’s design evolved, the natural wood flooring became a prominent element, stretching onto the interior walls of the outdoor living space. As wood panels reach toward the next oor, their form becomes abstract to expose a lush, season-friendly green wall,” says Munge.

THE HIGHLIGHT REEL: Space out. Defined by a textured marble wall, this two-story oasis makes the most of the vertical volume to celebrate an airy feel. The black and white bathroom leverages the same broad swaths of wall space for an expansive vibe.

THE TRAILER: Residential styling doesn’t mean bland. Keeping an art focus here means this might look like guests’ dream home, but it’s not a white box.


DESIGN FIRM: Studio Munge

THE SCRIPT: Seek to take Toronto’s nightlife options to a whole new level by transforming a once-decrepit music hall in the city’s rapidly redeveloping Port Lands district into an adaptable hospitality venue. In addition to housing a wow-inducing nightclub, the 47,400-sq.-ft. building can also host concerts and, by day, corporate meetings.

THE SHOOT: Go big by going global. “International cities and luxury fashion were a key ingredient, as the original creative concept and mood stemmed from a Roberto Cavalli gown,” says Alessandro Munge, principal, Studio Munge. “As the narrative continued to evolve into a progressive escape of performance and indulgence, that lovely dress blossomed into a symbolic motif of woman and animal. With meticulous
attention to detail, the revolutionary design features a fashionable black and gold color scheme, high-gloss surfaces, contemporary animalistic patterns and subversive graphics.”

THE HIGHLIGHT REEL: Looming over the center of the dance floor is a custom, 32-ft. synchronized rotating light system. “As the nightclub’s most iconic statement, the circular three-tier lighting structure was designed to emulate the sensuality of an orchid blossoming in the vivacious rhythm of lust,” notes Munge.

THE TRAILER: Don’t be afraid to bang the drum loudly. Hanging over the entry staircase is a custom chandelier that’s reminiscent of a deconstructed drum kit. The interior walls surrounding this eye-catching mobile are lined by mirrors that reflect the piece into a seeming infinity of light and metal.—Matthew Hall


Explore Boutique Design’s December Issue for the full list of Gold Key Awards Winners