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White room has circular couch with fountain in the center and recessed seating area with floor to ceiling window into hallway

Becoming Designer of the Year

Staci Patton

When key moments happen in anyone’s career, you remember all the details – the time and place, what you were doing, and the feeling of what was about to happen. I couldn’t have imagined a better moment to receive a call from Boutique Design magazine informing us that DLR Group was chosen as its 2021 Designer of the Year and were also eligible for an additional seven design awards across four categories. I was stepping out of a design charette with my team where we were ideating a new brand to launch for a hotelier. It was a fun day thinking of new ideas – we already felt great about our future for the upcoming year. So, running back into the room to share the news was a surreal moment.

A few years ago, we considered this caliber of award a long-term goal as we had only focused on hospitality for a short time. But, just a few short years later, it has become our reality. Who’s to thank for this honor? Our team, our firm, our clients, and our industry partners. Our clients took risks and chances with us; we pushed each other to do more with space. I am so honored to lead a team whose talent and vision have driven designs that set us apart from the rest. Creating a boutique studio housed and supported by our large firm resulted in a cocktail to open the door to this achievement. Eight years ago, we had a hunger for more hospitality work in our personal lives and embodied a magnetic entrepreneurial spirit to light the match on pursuing hospitality full time. We took a moment to share with Boutique Design our design process and how storytelling is at the foundation of where we begin. Check it out here: Storytellers of the Year | Boutique Design.

Curating Top Talent

Not everyone shares the drive and tenacity to build something from the ground up. So, consider us daring enough to chip away at an industry that is already saturated with amazing talent. We searched for ambitious teammates who shared the same enthusiasm for establishing a studio. While forming our team, we knew that our expertise in designing lifestyle experiences would deliver for our potential clients – but the challenge was convincing those clients to take a chance on our budding studio. I look back on those times and feel like we were building a sort of family and an entrepreneurial and energetic – yet unpretentious – culture. We connected with hoteliers and hotel brand leaders through genuine experiences and brought on key individuals that seamlessly melded into our team with enthusiasm and spirit.

From there, we poured ourselves into each locale, meeting new clients and industry leaders seeking to create a reputation that attracted similar-minded folks. DLR Group’s Joe Cicora, national business development leader, and Tom Mitchell, global business development, set out across the nation to introduce potential clients to our team, focusing on gaining trust. From there, our team grew and so did our portfolio.

The Elizabeth Hotel in Fort Collins, CO. Photo by Andrew Bordwin Studio.

Fast forward to 2021, we were fortunate to have a handful of hotels open. Whether the projects started three to four years ago or were fast-tracked for completion, it’s in those moments when guests walk through the doors that we cherish the trusting handshake that gave our team a canvas to apply our values of localization and community advocacy to real spaces for real guests.

Seating area in the with wood pillars and white stone capitals in white room with recessed ceiling details. Pool table center
Surety Hotel in Des Moines, IA. Photo by Daniel Kelleghan.

Learning, Applying, and Learning Some More

Throughout our time growing our practice as a team, we reflect on how we’ve achieved our goals and establish new goals for the future based on what we’ve learned. One thing we’ve taken to heart is how important it is to cultivate a meaningful relationship with the client – and not just a close relationship, but one that truly prioritizes their best interest. The ethos of our company is entrepreneurial as is our clients’, so we approach design with the lens of beauty to tell the project’s story, and from a business perspective. We approach the relationship as an alliance and are always considering design features that best meet the client’s objectives and increase revenue.

Another way we ensure we’re meeting the client’s needs and staying authentic to their objective and brand is by engaging user testing, or “focus guests,” to understand how our designs affect people in real-time. Our goal is to make each space we design feel as though it’s been built with each guest in mind and its surrounding community. We throw ourselves into conversations about what the community means to different people, what defines the locale, and how this new space can improve upon the community while feeling totally organic to the area. Utilizing focus guests through a localization lens has informed us on how to truly connect to locals and avoid the risk of assuming designs that don’t seem genuine to the client or guests.

Maintaining Momentum

With a series of boutique hospitality projects under our belt and our rise to Designer of the Year, we’re pushing ahead with creating a lasting mark on the industry and our clients.

Dual brand Tetra, Marriott Autograph Collection and the AC Hotel Silicon Valley. Rendering © DLR Group.

All this was possible with the incredible talent and passion that built this family: our team. Our designers fearlessly forged ahead – even in the early days of creating a new studio – and dedicated themselves to bringing soul and friendship to the spaces we design.

DLR Group thanks you all. Travel on, friends!


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