Cheryl Neumann, Interim CEO, COO of WILSON ASSOCIATES

Posted in People on 4 April, 2017

Originality combines with experience in the work of Wilson Associates. Cheryl Neumann, Interim CEO, COO, speaks to Can Faik about the challenges and triumphs of creating some of the finest hotel interiors in the world…

Wilson Associates creates new definitions of luxury for an era that’s increasingly well-travelled, connected and culturally diverse. For more than 40 years, the interior architectural design firm’s dynamic talent and collaborative spirit have created the world’s most trendsetting, iconic projects. Through their dedication to progressive design, they aim to inspire and engage their clients, people and world culture. Founded in 1971, Wilson Associates employs over 300 design professionals throughout eight global offices.

Tell me about your role at Wilson Associates?

I’ve been COO since 1987, overseeing the operations of all eight offices and seven studios. Now, as Interim CEO, I’ve continued to carry forward the firm’s vision and strategic plan. 

What five words would you use to describe Wilson Associates?

Global, collaborative, diverse, renowned, visionary.

How long have you been involved with hotel design?

I’ve been involved in hotel design since joining the firm in 1977.   

What makes Wilson Associates different to other design companies? With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Wilson Associates stand out from the rest? 

We bring a depth of expertise to our projects starting at the master planning level.  We are often invited to participate very early in a project, where we collaborate with the master planner, architect and landscape architect in order to create a fully integrated design solution. We contribute much more than interior design. 

Our designers work all over the world and have opportunities and skills to design a variety of project types, creating a depth of experience, a sort of cross pollination. We also work collaboratively across the globe, enlisting the most suitable talent from each office for our clients. Sometimes that means sharing a project over three offices. This allows us to successfully match the personalities of our designers with the project and client. 

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?

We are seeing development of hotels with a strong point of view, designs rooted in fashion or music for example. Of course technology will always be a big conversation within the design process, not in and of itself, rather how the guest experiences technology.

How important are public spaces in hotels?

They are very important! They establish the hotel as a social or gathering place, and establish the mood and vibe of the hotel. The public spaces connect the hotel with the local community and create a sense of place.

How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Wilson Associates felt the effects?

As a global firm, we have been able to successfully weather changes geographically in the market. We’ve seen some softening in the hotel market in China with less aggressive development locally but with investment in the U.S. and Europe, allowing us to work with our clients worldwide.

Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?

The Middle East has grown significantly, as well as Asia Pac countries, and we are starting to see more growth in the Americas as well, particularly in the Lifestyle Hotel Market and repositioning and renovation work.

What is the biggest thing the company has learned over its years in the industry?

The need to continuously evolve and stay fresh. After creating a legacy over the past 45 years, we are focusing on developing the next generation of design stars who will continue to create outstanding interior experiences long after the founders have retired. It’s important to nurture our design culture and mentor young talent and create an environment of connectedness amongst our global talent.

What has been your favourite project to date?

While it’s always hard to name a favorite, the Montage Laguna Beach is a property that will always be memorable to me. We created a resort that was embraced by the local community as one that felt like it had always been there. We continue to assist with renovations and are asked by the client to refresh, keeping the original design intent.

What’s next for you?

I will be spending more time and focus on talent acquisition and mentoring of staff. I am most interested in supporting the future of the firm.

How would you define your ‘Hotel Style’?

What I am most proud of is our ability, as a firm, to create a unique design solution for every project, every client, every time! We are inspired to tell the client’s story with all aspects of our design, expressed through every finish and detail. Within this variety, there is always a common thread of quality, curiosity and authenticity in all Wilson projects.

What does design mean to you?

Design is about solving problems, creating solutions. It’s a complete experience and includes all our senses. As Designers, our interiors are inspired by everything from fashion, music, technology and nature.

What would be your dream hotel project?

A project that requires a fresh expression of local culture, to capture the essence of a design vocabulary in a more modern context. This requires us to fully understand local culture and the nuances of historical references. This is where our passion really comes to life.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?

I like adventure travel and have most enjoyed trips that include an experience of nature. Patagonia is on my wish list as well as a second visit to the South Island of New Zealand.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

People are looking to travel and experience places more deeply, more authentically. They want to learn about local cultures and be more experiential. Hotel design will better accommodate adventure travelers, sustainable travelers, and mission/community service trips. We are already seeing a variety of brand offerings across all operators to appeal to the myriad ways people want to travel and experience the world.

Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?

Work can easily take over our lives if we let it. Actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle, with time scheduled for the gym and meditation practice helps me stay relatively balanced. I enjoy learning new things, this keeps life interesting and inspiring. Fifteen years ago I learned to play the Highland Bagpipe and play regularly with the North Texas Caledonian Pipes & Drums. More recently, I turned my focus to learning to play golf.    

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