FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN, AND CEO, STARWOOD CAPITAL GROUP
Well I think yesterday was ten years since I left Starwood Hotels, and ever since I left, I was trying to think if I was gonna do another hotel brand after I started with W Hotels. It had to have more than just an economic proposition; it had to be meaningful and interesting. There are a lot of issues with hotels, one of which has to do with the Internet age. Guests are not as loyal as they used to be. They can shop around so much more easily, and also there’s the turnover of employees. Turnover of employees is something like 60, 70 percent in hotels. So how do I build something interesting? A brand that has meaning, a brand with a purpose?
I had been on a panel with Snoop Dogg and Blake Mycoskie from Toms Shoes about entrepreneurship, and I was intrigued with this social responsibility model that Blake had come up with, giving away pairs of shoes with each shoe you buy. And I thought, “Well why don’t we do something for the environment?” Because my kids were doing environmental-science classes and I really think it’s our responsibility to protect the earth for future generations, I came up with 1 Hotels. And I named it “1” because it’s one world; we’re all responsible for each other. I had to figure out, “Okay, well, how are we going to reflect that in the hotels?” Obviously we’d try to do stuff that was as natural as possible, and we’d not only select our employees who now would be part of a cause and not just a brand. But I think our guests would self-select, and they’d say something about themselves by coming to 1 Hotels.
I took a lot of heat on the name because it’s the number one and there are some others. But I stuck with it because of the message that we’re trying to portray and the simplicity of it. I think too often everything we do is too much. Nature is about the right balance and that’s what we’re trying to strike in our design.
From the start, the design aesthetic [of 1 Hotel in Miami] was to make it light, make it bright, and make it clean. Celebrate nature, use as many reclaimed materials as you can, work with what was really not a very attractive building. It’s like a butterfly, right? It’s sort of ugly and then it comes out of its cocoon and it’s beautiful. We actually had butterflies in the lobby. They were in cocoons, they’d hatch, and we’d let them go. And that’s kind of what the building was. It closed its doors, cocooned itself for about a year and half, two years, and then we opened up to great acclaim. People love this design aesthetic. I think that we have a mission and if everybody copies us, I’d be really happy about that. —As told to Roxy Kirshenbaum
Built in 1938 by Swiss architect William Lescaze, the structure’s state-of-the-art recording studios helped solidify the city as an entertainment capital. Within its walls, Orson Welles defined a new standard for the then-new medium of radio, Lucille Ball filmed I Love Lucy, and Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded albums. “We always thought the revolutionary work done by NeueHouse members would be broadcast to a larger audience,” Abrams says. “Lo and behold, we were presented with this building—the first in the world to be built for broadcasting. It was love at first sight.”
Located midway between Silver Lake and Echo Park, the structure is a beacon of International style. Lescaze’s conviction that clean lines and pure geometric shapes produce beautiful efficiency is apparent in and outside the building, and in the tiniest details: he even designed housings for microphones. NeueHouse will occupy six floors, which include a 100-seat theater, flower shop, outdoor cabanas, and roof garden to grow produce for its full-service restaurant. The L.A. outpost will have its own art collection and roster of cultural programming. Its interiors have been redesigned by Rockwell and the NeueHouse Design Studio in partnership with London firm March & White, and they’ve been given a curious, colorful twist. “Despite the austerity of their work, architects like Le Corbusier tended in live in environments enriched by ethnic textiles with a domesticated sensibility,” Murray says, noting that North African motifs and artifacts will feature heavily in Neuehouse’s L.A. interiors.
NeueHouse hopes to have twenty locations by 2020: its London outpost will open in early 2016 in the Adelphi Building, near the Victoria Embankment Gardens and the Thames river. Plans for spaces in Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, and Hong Kong are on the horizon. “We will always be focusing on work,” O’Reilly says. “Creating a quality work experience is a big agenda, and that will keep us busy for many years to come.”