HBA INTERNATIONAL – SAN FRANCISCO
HBA International – San Francisco have been Shortlisted for 2 Categories in The International Hotel and Property Awards 2021. Read more about former Senior Associate Brooke Copani and Senior Project Designer Brittany Spinner below:
Name: Brittany Spinner (Left) / Brooke Copani (Right)
Company: HBA San Francisco
Position within company: (former) Senior Associate / Senior Project Designer
Tell us a little about your background in design (education, experience, etc)
Brooke Copani: I was born in California, grew up in Buffalo, New York, and attended college at the University of Florida, where I earned a Bachelor of Design in Interior Design and Business Administration/Marketing in 2004. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working with firms from San Francisco to NYC. As an NCIDQ certified professional, my diverse background and industry experience have helped me to build a distinctive project portfolio, specializing in interior architectural design for hospitality environments worldwide. My project history includes luxury resorts, boutique hotels, restaurants, themed nightclubs, corporate offices, and institutional public spaces.
Brittany Spinner: Interior design has been an all-consuming passion in my life since the time I was in third grade. When I was supposed to be learning math, I used the graph paper to instead draw floor plans of my dream homes. The squares turned into rooms, the rooms turned into a home, and I filled each room with all the desires of a future adult version of myself. In high school, I created an independent study course in Interior Design for myself to prepare my application for design school. Where interior design was not a common career path, I forged a path for myself to make it possible. The passion could not be contained, and I wanted to learn everything that I could to make this dream a reality.
I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career to be surrounded with the most knowledgeable, inspiring, and caring mentors like Meghann Day, Brooke Copani, Clifford Tuttle and Deborah Forrest. Each mentor took their time to invest their knowledge in me and I enjoyed soaking it up like a sponge. I was lucky early in my career to have the opportunity to assist on some international projects in China and Egypt. During the recession, I was able to work on many renovation projects, including several in my own Nob Hill neighbourhood of San Francisco. This experience was invaluable because I could walk up to the site at anytime to see the construction as it evolved in phases. These were historic hotels, so seeing the layers of time revealed during demolition was the most exciting part for me.
The experiences that have shaped me the most have been the opportunities that my senior designers and associates have allowed me to have early in my career. By putting me in front of clients, presenting, and allowing me the freedom to see my design schemes come to life have helped me grow significantly. Without their gentle nudges, and sometimes pushes, I would not be the person that I am today.
How would you describe your personal interior design style?
Brooke Copani: My personal interior design style leans modern, and colourfully eclectic. I enjoy blending patterns and layering textures to achieve a sense of warmth, familiarity and fun, and creating interest through contrast, whether it’s striking black and whites, or bold complimentary colors.
Brittany Spinner: My personal style is hard to pin down. So much of my design experience has been made to mould my style towards the preferences of my clients or what the hotel’s concept tells me what it wants to be. I tend more towards the masculine design elements rather than the feminine, but I have been known to drool over tassels and swags occasionally. I am a history buff and have such an appreciation for mouldings, trims, and the handiwork of a craftsman. I fall in love with an old Victorian or Beaux-Arts building on a weekly basis as I dream of what history the walls may tell us if it could talk.
Where does your design inspiration come from?
Brooke Copani: Travel has always been source of inspiration to me. Exposure to different environments, cultures, languages, foods – all of those things help to spark inspiration, and really keep the fire of curiosity burning. In the absence of travel as most of us have experienced this year, I’ve been looking to other forms of art & design for nourishment, from photography and film, to street art and fashion.
Brittany Spinner: My inspiration is peaked a lot by the mood and feeling of the place that the hotel resides in. There are incredible pieces of culture, history, and even aesthetic styles that can really create a sense of place. For one project in Mexico City, for example, we were inspired by an Aztec coyote god named Huehuecoytl whose colour of feathers changed based on if he was conspiring mischievous tricks or providing wisdom to those around him. The materials and mood all reflected a song and dance of his spirit moving throughout the space like a dance. Larger than life curved columns, Smokey mirrors, and a monolithic floating staircase guided guests throughout their journey.
Lately, inspiration to me has been less about finding trends and colours (although I cannot escape that), but more about how people are experiencing spaces in this new world. I have been so fascinated by watching behavioural patterns of people and studying the new ways we are engaging with our environments. There is such a huge shift in the way we interact in the spaces and with other people. I think about what the vacation experience will be like for the guest. Will they be staying in the hotel more often rather than adventuring out into the local neighbourhoods? Will they want to go on large tours, or opt for more personal, private, or secluded experiences? What type of hospitality do we have to give to these guests to help them escape and not think about potential germs or if something is unclean? Are surface materials prone to showing fingerprints now unacceptable? My mind has been spinning and I find it absolutely fascinating to start thinking about the future of design and the strong connection to behaviour that we will have to retrain ourselves on in the new post-COVID-19 world.
In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?
Brittany Spinner: I believe that hoteliers are now, more than ever, realizing the importance of design within a hotel space. I feel that the days have passed that a hotelier can put in generic designs and cheap quality casegoods. Guests now want quality and luxury at any price point. They want a hotel that is unique, that they can brag about on Instagram, and that offers them some sort of perceived exclusive experience. This makes it harder for brands because the design of the hotel is becoming more of the selling point rather than the brand pillars. This change can give hoteliers so much more of an opportunity to give their designers a bit more freedom to create a custom, vibrant space to set it apart from their competition.
Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2020 and beyond.
If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to interior design schemes, what would it be?
Brittany Spinner: I have always felt that having a concept is the most important step before picking up a single material or fabric. This concept helps drive everything regarding the design. It helps you narrow down the colour scheme, materials, patterns, and even the touch and feel of the fabrics. From that concept, you can objectively decide “Does this fit into the story?”. It also helps explain the reasoning of your design choices to your clients. When a guest can see the story throughout the hotel as it is reflected in the materials, the hotel becomes more alive and cohesive. They fall in love with that story too and they notice it as they walk around and experience the space. This is the magic that we can create with hospitality design. We often share this story with the hotel staff so that they themselves can pass it on for the guest’s enjoyment.
How important are The International Hotel & Property Awards as recognition of talent and achievement?
Brooke Copani: HBA is a large firm with a global outreach and reputation, so awards like this help to reconfirm our position as leaders in the industry as we look to the future. On a more personal level, its wonderful for our work to be recognised, as the design process is often intuitive, producing as many questions as it does answers, so in a way this validates our process and confirms that our instincts were sound.
Brittany Spinner: Consistently, The International Hotel & Property Awards celebrates and admires the best hotels and restaurants in the world. They showcase the hard work that goes into putting together some of the most exquisite properties as well as the talent that goes into achieving such a vision. The prestigious recognition also helps promote these unique properties so that more guests can explore and enjoy them.
What projects are you currently working on?
Brooke Copani: We are very excited about several of the new construction resort projects that are nearing completion in Cancun and Riviera Maya.
Brittany Spinner: I was involved in the design of two other hotel projects in Mexico that will be opening in 2021/2022. The projects are an urban hotel in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Mexico, and an All-inclusive resort in Tulkal, Quintana Roo Mexico. It will be exciting when those two projects open. We think they will be incredible places to visit.
What was your favourite project to work on and why?
Brooke Copani: The Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla is my current favourite. It’s not often we get to build such a bold, playful palette, particularly in the upscale market where design can often be quite formal. We kept art at the core of the concept and were able to integrate unconventional techniques throughout the project (like hand-painted murals in the guestrooms for example) to honor that. Also, the timeline was extremely fast-paced, and I think the energy and enthusiasm we put into it is evident in the result.
Brittany Spinner: The Fairmont San Francisco will always hold a very dear place in my heart. It was the first project that I was given the lead as project manager and lead designer. The hotel itself had a huge amount of meaning to me. I used to walk the halls when I first moved to San Francisco and admired the history and design. Architect Julia Morgan and designer Dorothy Draper had left their mark throughout the years on the historic hotel and it was such an honour to be given the opportunity to be included on the list of women who’ve transformed the hotel.
The hotel itself has so much history. We saw layers of wallpaper styles over time, discovered hidden mosaics and Carrara marble, and explored the original art and accessories hidden in the storage rooms. Each room was unique We had over 170 room types, 5 different schemes and each room had a unique lighting, furniture and art package because of how different each room’s layout was. Our furniture specs had so many different types that it was insane to keep straight. I ran out of many highlighters double checking the matrix. In the end, we were credited with only have one misfit in the 594 guestrooms to a single door being too small. So, we took off the glides and the desk fit through the door. Tada! However, in the top floor penthouse of the hotel we did have a sofa that was too large to fit in the elevator and had to be cut. The other option was riding with the sofa 23 floors on top of the elevator, but no one was daring enough to take that ride. It was a great learning experience that I pass on to my junior designers. Overall, the project management and construction team became like a family and in turn, the project turned out so beautifully.
What was your most challenging project to work on and why?
Brooke Copani: All projects have their own unique challenges.
Brittany Spinner: My most challenging project would have to be my first Mexico based project, the Hilton Guadalajara Midtown. Working in Mexico is a vastly different experience than what is common in a stateside project. Learning and changing our methods to adapt to their unique design and sourcing process was both exciting and a mental exercise in design concept flexibility. The client and our team really learned a lot from each other as we navigated how to create a process that worked for all of us. We travelled together, explored, found new vendors, attended tradeshows in Mexico City and were committed to growing and learning from each other. It took patient project managers on the ownership side, and a resourceful team of designers who were committed to finding solutions that ended up making the project a success. The project won an award and confirmed that all our teamwork, patience, and perseverance paid off. This client has continued to be supportive of us. From the success of those first experiences we were able to create several other incredible hotels with them, including the Canopy La Isla Cancun. I will always be grateful for what these projects have taught us and the wonderful relationships that have developed with this ownership throughout the years.
Which products/services could you not live without when designing?
Brooke Copani: While we rely pretty heavily on the Autodesk and Adobe product families, the real hero in our process this year has been Microsoft Teams. As our entire team transitioned to remote working, Teams has become an indispensable collaboration tool, allowing us to make that transition without missing a beat.
Brittany Spinner: My representatives. My gosh, without them I would be nowhere. There are so many times I have made crazy requests for multiple samples sent to various locations. Or clients have requested the most impossible deliverable dates for goods. Somehow and someway they make it work and get it to the site on time. They always seem to pull through and I cannot ever thank them or cheers them enough for all the support they have provided my team throughout the years.
What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?
Brooke Copani: I’ll be candid – earlier this year, circumstances arising from the pandemic led me to take a momentary hiatus from my design career in order to focus on my family and our collective wellness. It was a difficult decision that I might not have made for myself if not for these circumstances, but has allowed for a tremendous amount of personal growth and healing that I didn’t know I needed. My goal for the next twelve months is to maintain that grounding while reconnecting to and redefining my professional direction.
Brittany Spinner: This year has been insane with the pandemic. I think this next twelve months will be a journey to take a bit more time for wellness. I would like to get outside more often and explore new places (granted that the world is safe again). We have several incredible projects coming online and look forward to those hotel openings.
Final thoughts; tell us a little more about yourself and your daily inspirations:
Your most treasured possession? My old leather suitcase full of photographs – priceless relics from the pre-digital era.
Your favourite holiday destination? Anywhere I haven’t been yet.
Your favourite hotel, restaurant & bar? This is impossible to answer!
Your favourite book, film & song? This too is impossible to answer!
Your favourite food and drink? Anything breakfast, and coffee, coffee, coffee!
Your favourite way to spend an afternoon? Driving somewhere picturesque and remote, then losing the car and getting lost on my bicycle, stopping only every so often for wine and snacks.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be? An author or artist, or some other romantic vocation requiring long, frequent periods of reclusive creative exploration.
Your most treasured possession?
From the time I first learned to write, I kept a journal from first grade and on. I love looking back at those simple days and remembering those childhood memories of bike rides and camping trips in Oregon. The best parts are always about who I had a schoolyard crush on that year.
Your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere that takes me near an ancient ruin. I love to explore the crumbling walls of old temples, castles, and abandoned cities. My goal is to see all the famous ruins throughout the world and then work my way to see the modern marvels like the buildings in Dubai and Singapore.
Your favourite hotel, restaurant & bar?
There are so many incredible options. The best I could narrow it down to is that I pretty much love any Proper or Thompson Branded hotel. Their mood and vibe are everything.
Your favourite book, film & song?
I love the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I might be the only person in the world to say it, but I also love Specifying Interiors: A Guide to Construction and FF&E for Residential and Commercial Interiors Projectsby Maryrose McGowan and Kelsey Kruse. I’m a bit of a nerd for specifications.
My favourite film is Great Expectations or The Great Gatsby.
My favourite song could be anything by Lady Gaga.
Your favourite food and drink?
I am a huge fan of tequila and Elote, the Mexican street corn.
Your favourite way to spend an afternoon?
I have two young children (a 1 year old and 5 years old), and I love to watch them create. My son is especially good at art and engineering and spends his days drawing hotels that he would like me to build on Mars and the Moon. We joke that he will one day become a “Space Planner” Or a “Mars-itect”.
When I get some time away from my children, my husband and I could easily spend all day playing complex board games, doing various renovation projects on our historic home, or hiking outside taking pictures of stars.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
That is a question I get all the time and that I have tried hard to think about. Honestly, I cannot picture myself doing anything else. I am addicted. I think I will be a lifer.
Anything else interesting?
Many brands want to be sure that the hotel you are designing allows the guest to feel exactly like they are in the city that they are visiting. Sometimes designers will put photos of tourist attractions on the wall or of the like. We took a different approach to hotel hotel projects in Mexico and wanted the essence of the hotels to feel like the destination so that it surrounds you experientially. The client often expressed that it is particularly important to design a hotel that is what Mexican style really is, not the style that American’s think Mexico is. This is hard because when designing a hotel outside of your home city, you sometimes do not get to visit it. You often must rely on research, social media, and the few times you were able to explore outside of your hotel if you were lucky enough to visit. Fortunately, we were so lucky with a generous client who encouraged us to really go and see the cities that we were building the hotels in. We explored Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Cancun and Playa del Carmen and were able to really see how different each city was in terms of style.
After the designs were approved and in process, we worked with a graphic design firm in Monterrey, Mexico to develop some branding for the restaurants. We sent them all the designs for each of the hotels in those cities. A few days later she came back to us and expressed to me that she could not believe how perfectly we captured the essence of each city within the design of the hotel. She said it truly felt like we really understood what it meant to experience those cities. Her hometown was Monterrey and she said this hotel feels exactly how it feels to live in Monterrey. The hotel in Guadalajara somehow captured the unique light cast throughout the city and the warm and inviting nature of those living there. The hotel in Mexico City felt excitingly masculine and artistic. To our team, this was such an incredible piece of feedback that what we did felt authentically local. It also helped us see that the hard work and research paid off and we are so excited for guests to come experience these spaces for themselves.
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