Hospitality Design

147 – Susan Suhar-Phillips: Interior Design Director at HDR

Susan Suhar-Phillips: Interior Design Director at HDR

Today in The Lounge, Susan Suhar-Phillips, Interior Design Director at HDR, joins Nick at the Porcelanosa showroom in the Merchandise Mart. Susan is Nick’s longest-known friend to ever be on the show. Not only did they go to Junior High together but they also lived down the street from each other growing up! On this episode, Susan discusses how she got started in interior design and the variety of jobs she’s had in the industry. Susan also talks about her big move from Chicago to LAand how it made a HUGE change in her networking pool.

Getting to Know Susan

Susan is the Los Angeles Design Director for HDR, which is a large country-wide firm. She assists with projects at these sister firms as well. Susan has worked with HDR for about a year now. Before that, she was at Eckenhoff Saunders as their Interior Design Director.

Susan originally started out in the fine arts program at The Art Institute of Chicago when she found that being an artist was not a financially successful career path for her as she moved out of her parents home. So, she went in a different direction and tried environmental studies and sciences, but didn’t really like it. On a whim, she decided to take a drafting class at her local community college and at 21, fell in love with it. It was the perfect marriage of her creative side and her science side. This class gave her the exposure to architecture, drafting and interiors that she needed for the “ah ha” moment she’d been waiting for. Susan first received her associate’s degree in Interior Design and then continued her education back at The Art Institute for Interior Architecture. She describes her community college education as gaining the technical knowledge while The Art Institute taught her to push the design envelope. It forced her to look at the world and its interior environments completely differently.

While Susan was in school she also did a couple of internships. Her very first internship was in community college with a furniture dealer. This experience allowed her to become familiar with vendors, materials, pricing, and application. While attending The Art Institute, she worked an internship with VOA which later turned into a full-time design position. VOA exposed Susan to the world of interior architecture and gave Susan a glimpse of how to collaborate with large teams, work on big projects, work with high profile clients, and work late nights. Don’t forget to bring your portfolio to your internship interviews like Susan might have ;).

Networking is Key!… But it May Take Some Time

Susan just moved to LA from Chicago a year ago, and as a result, she now has to start over with her professional network. She feels like networking is the only way to broaden your project base. Susan explains that the more exposed you are, even with your industry peers including competitors, vendors, and clients, the more you’re respected and understood as a contender in the industry. Moving can be stressful enough but it also took about a year for Susan to get used to her new routines, get acclimated with project deliverables, and accustomed to her commutes/travel before she started networking. She now has a good handle on everything and is ready to start.

The Business Today

As a BD, business developer, Susan can go out into the field and promote her company. She gave us some insight that HDR is moving away from hospitality and becoming more of a healthcare giant. Susan also mentioned that when Gary Wheeler joined HDR and took helm of the workplace, he made a significant change to the vision of HDR and where they are going design-wise. This vision is to become more interiors driven. HDR is going to be including the workplace and have strong market sectors between healthcare, work, education, science, and technology.

As Design Director, Susan, has six designers that work underneath her with experience in design ranging from fifteen years to just out of college. The hardest thing she has to do job-wise, is making sure that everyone is always staying busy and billable. Also, she has to make sure that schedules and work plans are laid out to support the entire staff so no one is being under worked. Susan doesn’t like doing time sheets, master specifications, project manual specifications, and the critical features that are called out for specs because they are very time consuming but on the bright side there are people on her staff who love writing them.

Susan has been surprised to find how different designers are regarded in varying firms within the industry and how a designer is incorporated into commercial projects. Commercial is so collaborative in working with engineers, architects, contractors, and subcontractors. It was a surprise to see how many people it took to complete a project as well as the amount of info exchanged and necessary documents.

HDR has an interior design summit that includes all 10 offices. All 30 designers meet in the Chicago office to kickoff Neocon. It’s a way for their firm to stay connected while they get exposure at Neocon. Neocon, for Susan, is the design “fiscal year” when new products are launched so they can be the first to use them.

What’s New?

Susan recently spoke at Neocon and it went so well that it was standing-room-only to fit everyone in there! Susan was very nervous, not because of the public speaking aspect, but because of her topic. Jinsop Lee’s TED talk on 5 human senses and product design was so inspiring that it got her thinking in terms of how this could be related to interiors. So, she spoke about designing based on the human sense and what that means- how we can break it down to understand our sensual impact. Susan feels like there’s a loss of humanity with technology, and this is how we can reel that back in.


Benjamin Moore’s Scruff X helps with those nasty scuff marks you get on your beautiful white walls when a sofa or chair rubs up against them.

LVT Porcelanosa (Luxury, Vinyl, Tile) Link Floor is getting put in commercial spaces, multifamily homes, and hotels because it is a high-end durable product. Vinyl stays cool and doesn’t absorb any smells. It stays fresh and is easy to clean.

Highpoint Market

Nick worked with Steelyard to bring hospitality design to High Point Market. Nick will be hosting a panel discussion on what it takes to move from residential to hospitality. It will be part of the Viewpoint Panel series titled, Hospitality Insiders Share All: What it Takes to be a Designer in the Hospitality Sector on Sunday, October 15 at noon with Gary Inman, Nina Magon, Patrick Sutton, and Todd Ellenberger

Let Nick know if you are going to highpoint and he would love to meet up with you there! Leave a Review on iTunes and ask us about our internship opportunities by using the Question? tab or emailing

  • Upcoming Events

Casual Market Sept 12 – 15

ICFF Miami– Oct 3 – 4

IDS – Oct 13 – 16

High Point Market Oct 14 – 18

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

KBIS – Jan 9 – 11

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

145 – Francesca Bucci: Cruise Ship Designer

Francesca Bucci: Cruise Ship Designer

Today in The Lounge, Nick sits down with Francesca Bucci to talk about a BIG topic: how to design Cruise Ship interiors. 

Getting to Know Francesca

Francesca Grew up in Rome, Italy, came to U.S after she earned her degree in architecture, and finished her studies at Cornell. Sardinia and Bermuda are her two favorite places to vacation as she loves being close to the sea. Her favorite fashion accessory is a headband; they’re a little retro, unexpected, or even preppy. If she wasn’t designing cruise ships, she’d either be singing or figure skating. As an Italian, her drink of choice is obviously wine- “don’t ask an Italian a question like that” says Francesca. She loves cooking and entertaining, so, she would rather stay home than go out but does gravitate towards French restaurants.

Finding Ship

When Francesca studied Architecture at the University of Rome, it wasn’t interior-oriented, which is why she finished at Cornell. Her education in Rome was focused on architectural history, restoration and all of the technical aspects. Francesca first became interested in architecture in High School because she has a passion for drawing. Specifically, she loves drawing cartoons. In her cartoons, she is able to write the story of a building, as they take place in and are inspired by Rome interiors.

Francesca’s first employer out of school was Perkinson Whales in Washington, DC. She felt like she was at a disadvantage compared to people who did all of their schoolings in the U.S. because she was much older and lacked the interesting theoretical knowledge one might learn in the U.S. In Italy you get out of school when you 25-26 versus 22. She felt as though her knowledge was basically useless in the States, where sketching and hands-on practices were practical. So, she jumped right in and had to learn at a fast pace everything there was to learn.

Francesca’s first task at the job was solely to put project slides in containers but it didn’t matter, she was on top of the world just to have a job in an American firm. Later, she transitioned into a drafter position and her employers picked up on her keen eye for details and started to teach her more. After, she worked in a couple firms in DC then moved to NY, where she learned a lot. After 4-5 years, Francesca found herself with little knowledge on how to specify things so she went to learn! The next firm she worked at is where she learned the specialization of retail, residential, and cruise ship lines.

The Business Today

There are a lot of custom elements that go into a cruise ship. One must consider the weight and size of everything, how the ship is built, compliances, materials and outdoor elements. You need to be able to determine the parameters in a flexible way, as the building code is 10 times bigger than in NYC. There is a big learning curve when doing cruiseship interiors as it would be very challenging to learn how to build a ship in the span of one project. 

Based in New york in Times square, BG Studio International, Franseca’s firm consists of 15 people, a small firm with big projects. Projects often last 3 years and the team does multiple vessels at the same time.

  • Upcoming Events

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

KBIS – Jan 9 – 11

ICFF Miami– Oct 3 – 4

High Point Market Oct 14 – 18

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on InstagramFacebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

131 – High Point Spring Market 2017 Show #4

High Point Spring Market 2017 Show #4

127 – Angela Harris and Trio Environments

Angela Harris and Trio Environments

On this episode of The Chaise Lounge, Nick chats with Angela Harris of Trio Environments. Angela shares her journey from business to design, the story of starting her own company, and how she manages that company.

Getting to know Angela Harris

Trio Environments is located in Denver, where Angela grew up. She loves handbags, long skirts, enjoys Chardonnay and vacations in the Bahamas. Angela is married and has a 4-year-old son. She and her family live in a suburb of Denver on the edge of the mountains, where they enjoy a great view.

How Angela got into design

Without realizing it, Angela started in the industry as a child when she designed and decorated a tree house her dad built. Even in college, she didn’t put two and two together, instead, following the path “she was supposed to.” She ended up with a business degree in marketing and management. She later obtained a master’s degree in sustainable design and is grateful for this path, which allowed for a good left and right brain balance in her work.

After school, Angela worked in marketing at an engineering firm. One day she woke up and decided it wasn’t for her. She left her position and took a job at a furniture store.  Angela worked for the summer and then started in the store’s design program, where she fell in love with furniture and textiles. Angela then went back to school for a two-year design program and opened her own business with $500 in her pocket.

What the business looks like today

Trio Environments employs seventeen individuals, which includes a director of sales and marketing, design directors, a procurement team, three design teams with design associates, and interns. Angela grew up in a family business and inherited her business instincts from her grandfather.

Trio Environments

Her first hire was a former associate from the furniture store, to help in an administrative capacity. Angela loves the people aspect of the business and mentioned that relationships are most important. When seeking new employees, Angela makes sure individuals fit into the company culture and align with their core values of communication, consistency, and creativity.

Trio Environments takes on projects that include builder / developer work, high-end residential, multi-family, and hospitality, and Angela loves it all, as long as they are creative and have fun.


Carrie, Director of Sales and Marketing, joined the conversation to share about the company’s involvement in the community as well as the re-branding of the company. The team is also involved with industry associations and has developed relationships within the real estate market. Other methods of business development and marketing include creating and putting out video content, doing photo shoots, participating in conferences, leading speaking engagements, and being activities on social media.

After seventeen years of business, Angela and Trio Environments hit the tipping point and became an“overnight successes.” The company survived the economic downturn and is now taking on work outside of Colorado. Angela and her team continue to position themselves as a boutique design firm and don’t rely on mainstream design. Projects are treated as one-off, unique, and custom. They handle 75-100 projects at a time.

Angela recommends to be fearless and take care of the people around you. She advises against putting all of your eggs in one basket, as she learned from having 80% of her business with one client. She said she would never do that again, but she learned and grew from it.

Learn more about Angela Harris and Trio Environments at their website or feel free to call directly – 303-663-1285.

  • Upcoming Events

ICFF – May 21 – 24

NeoCon – June 12 – 14

PCBC – June 26 – 28

Las Vegas Market – July 30 – Aug 1

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

KBIS – Jan 9 – 11

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

126 – BD West: Boutique Hotel Design Conference

BD West: Boutique Hotel Design Conference

Today in the Lounge is a BIG show. Nick traveled to LA for all things hospitality and design, the BD West conference. He had the chance to interview Christian Schnyder, a very accomplished hospitality designer based in LA, Deborah Herman, founder and president of Fabric Innovations, who was showcasing at the conference, and the conference head honcho, Michelle Finn.

Checking in with Michelle Finn

Michelle Finn works for the Hospitality Media Group, which owns BD West. The company hosts two trade fairs every year – BDNY and BD West – in addition to three forum events that connect buyers and sellers with unique interests like skiing, wine, and craft beer. Hospitality Media Group also puts together the largest hospitality matchmaking event.

Learn more about Hospitality Media Group and their events, please visit the Boutique Design website.

Getting to know Deborah Herman

Deborah Herman is the president and founder of Fabric Innovations. She loves to travel to new destinations. Deborah’s favorite room in her home is the library, where she has a memory of every book that she’s read.

In the past, draperies and bedding in Las Vegas hotels would last for 10+ years, but these days, Deborah tell us that properties are switching over to all white bedding. She has contracts with them and works on only hospitality projects. Deborah also provides quilted blankets to Delta Airlines.

Deborah builds her business through personal connections, sales calls, and working hard. She was recently recognized as an enterprising woman of the year and gives speeches on the do’s and don’ts of business.

To learn more about Fabric Innovations, please visit

Christian Schnyder of Belaco Design

Christian Schnyder owns Belaco Design, which he shares with us, is named from a made up language. The firm works on 75% hospitality projects, including hotels and restaurants. Christian Schnyder is from Switzerland. His favorite room in his house is the living room, as it represents who he is.

  • How Christian got into design

Christian is a trained architect, but when he came to the U.S, he needed a job to sponsor his Visa immediately. Christian ended up taking a job in interior design and never looked back. As a project manager, he oversaw renovations and new construction in restaurants. This position helped Christian understand the business side of design, but at some point, he became disinterested in managing and wanted to get back to design. He took a job with K&A Design for eight years and became a principal designer before starting his own firm.

  • What the business looks like today

Belaco Design employs a design director, three designers in FF&E, and designer in architecture. Christian says that the industry is a family and competitors are your friends. As a business owner, Christian enjoys wearing different hats. He tells us that there is no time you completely have off. He can never not think about the business, as he loves it and always wants to do more.

Christian and his team do some residential work, but mostly hospitality. Residential allows for more materials and detail that you can’t do in hospitality. Also, Christian mentioned the anxiety surrounding spending people’s money in residential and that decision making in hospitality is much different. In addition, residential design is more rewarding than hospitality as you get to see people’s reactions and contribution to someone’s life.

Christian has not had to put a lot into marketing and PR yet. The team is fortunate that their hotels are opening up and they have good marketing people to help. He does tell us that

Belaco Design sends out email updates and that he likes to keep in touch with contacts. Every year around the holidays, Belaco Design collaborates with a maker to create custom pieces to send out to clients and potential clients. Word of mouth and repeat clients is how they sustain their business. All of Christian’s projects are currently in the US but are all over the board. The team completed twenty projects in 2016 alone.

Learn more about Christian and his business at, Instagram, and Facebook.

  • Upcoming Events

 HD Expo – May 3 – 5

ICFF – May 21 – 24

NeoCon – June 12 – 14

Las Vegas Market – July 30 – Aug 1

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

  • Wrap Up

 If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at  Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!


122 – BIG Podcast: Marketing, Business, and Hospitality for Interior Design.

122 – BIG Podcast: Marketing, business, and hospitality for interior design.

On this episode of The Chaise Lounge, Nick chats with Krista Coupar of Coupar Consulting. Krista chats about how her business supports the design industry through business, marketing, and fulfillment. Nick also checks in with Mary Alice Palmer from HKS Hospitality on her experience of heading up a new division in a large firm.

Getting to know Krista Coupar

Krista Coupar is calling into The Lounge from San Francisco, CA. She loves shoes, even if they are painful, they are worth it. Krista finds inspiration in Paris and London but prefers Hawaii as a getaway. She also loves anything bubbly, including prosecco and champagne.

How did Krista get into design?

Krista is trained in interior design, but her current business is not design. She actually started in the family business of silk trading and fabric importing, then started her own business. Krista loves the design industry but always gravitated towards business side. She is fascinated by how the business works, how people work together, and getting projects from beginning to end.

Kendall Wilkinson hired Krista to run the business side of her company with a team of consultants to help. Krista compared this experience to a real life design MBA. She found that there was not enough time in the day to serve clients and run the business and that she needed to delegate tasks.

What the business looks like today

Coupar Consulting is a larger umbrella that consists of Coupar Communications and Studio Coupar. Coupar Communications offers branding, PR, marketing, content management, web design, and social media. Krista mentioned that most designers have a website, but many are outdated, i.e. not updated in the last two years. This side of the business consists of nine employees.

Studio Coupar takes care of technical design and fulfillment. Designers have the vision and sell the dream. Studio Coupar executes the fulfillment, installation, styling, and photography of the project. Studio Coupar employs nine individuals. Krista mentioned that while some clients utilize both sides of the business, there are also plenty that just needs assistance on one side.

Krista opened her business in 2014. She still finds that designers don’t value their time enough and underestimate the time to complete a project. Krista still learns on a daily basis and loves working with her team and clients. She still doesn’t like paperwork.

Learn more at Coupar Consulting, Facebook, and Instagram.

Getting to know Mary Alice Palmer

Mary Alice Palmer from HKS Hospitality is calling in from Fort Worth, Texas. She prefers phone calls to texts since there is less room for misinterpretation. Mary Alice also enjoys contemporary art, ice cream, boots, and tequila.

How did Mary Alice get into design?

As a child, Mary Alice built houses, furniture, and clothing for her Barbies. She even drew out floor plans. Mary Alice started in advertising in college but was picky about what to advertise for. She became interested in architecture and ended up at Parsons.

Mary Alice started working with John Saladino in residential design. While she enjoyed her time there, Mary Alice wanted to explore other avenues of design and started working in the art department of a feature film. She ended up moving to Los Angeles and worked in independent film production. Mary Alice likes set design because it’s about creating an atmosphere and representing a mood and experience, similar to hospitality by an experience or vision for a guest.

What the business looks like today

Six years ago, Mary Alice was asked to head up a new division for hospitality interiors within HKS. With 78 years of hospitality and architecture experience, the company wanted to diversify their offering with interiors.

Mary Alice is able to identify and bring in talent. She looks for work they have done, a unique vision, and a nimbleness and willingness to work on different parts of projects in addition to an openness to growth. She is open to looking at experienced individuals as well as those fresh out of school.

The team is working on twelve projects currently that range from a 60 room boutique hotel to all inclusive resorts with 1000+ rooms. They are brought into the project as soon as possible to create a unified, holistic design.

Mary Alice prefers hospitality design because it’s more business-like and corporate than residential. It’s a more interesting challenge. In addition, she enjoys the collaboration in terms of design, budget, and feasibility. Mary Alice likes managing the client experience steering them to an efficient and reasonable solution.

Learn more at  HKS and Facebook.

  • Upcoming Events

 High Point Spring Market – April 22 – 26

HD Expo – May 3 – 5

Las Vegas Market – July 30 – Aug 1

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at  Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!