I’m a big believer in the relationships between light and color, and how it affects materials and finishes. With Ketra, we were able to adjust the lighting after all materials were in, which is a huge advantage.
3. How do you typically approach a new project?
One of my core commitments when I design a new property is to make it feel as authentic as possible to the city it’s in. I believe so strongly in that approach that for the recently completed Riggs Hotel, I actually moved to Washington DC for three years. I felt like a bit of an outsider at first being a creative — it’s a diplomatic city, dominated by politicians, lawyers and lobbyists — but people were really inviting. I started socializing quickly and moved in different circles, which let me get to know more people, observe what they said about the city and capture that in my work. It’s so important to me to carry over that sense of place into the hotel, we’re looking to design spaces that only make sense in the context of their city— you couldn’t just copy and paste the design anywhere.
4. As a designer, are there certain elements that you hope people notice?
For me, it’s more about the things that you want people to not notice. I have to think about not only the design but all four of our hospitality pillars: design, service, atmosphere and offering. If those things are all balanced properly, then everything feels effortless to a guest. That’s the real trick — we want things to feel as natural as possible despite all the planning it takes and the hard work behind it.
Jacu arranges custom paper flowers created by Mio Gallery for Riggs Hotel's in-house eatery Cafe Riggs │Photos courtesy Jacu Strauss
5. How did Ketra lighting contribute to your most recent work on the Riggs Hotel?
I’m a big believer in the relationships between light and color, and how it affects materials and finishes. With Ketra, we were able to adjust the lighting after all materials were in, which is a huge advantage. For me personally, one of the hardest parts of a project is choosing paint colors – I usually don’t know what it’s going to be until the project is almost finished. Then it’s all about how lighting works with that color and the chosen finishes. On the Riggs project, I went through so many different paint colors! No one can truly anticipate how things could come together, and Ketra had complete flexibility to adjust the lighting once everything else was in place. That could have been a complete struggle with more conventional lighting.
6. What do you see as some top trends in the area of hospitality design?
That’s a very good question, and five months ago, I would have given you a slightly different answer. As with most everything, the post-COVID world is going to be a big change. People in the industry are really busy doing damage control and trying to prepare for the future. We’ve also definitely moved on from the generic beige hotel where everything looks the same no matter where you are. There’s been a noticeable shift to a more contextual approach for specific environments or locations. The food and beverage side of many hotels is also much more open to becoming part of the neighborhood and inviting locals in.
There seems to be a friendlier competition between smaller hotel groups as well, perhaps because with boutique properties, there is more freedom to do something unique. In some cities now, there is so much variety for people to pick and choose. Our philosophy has always been to start from scratch in new cities instead of copying across multiple locations — other groups are doing this more and more, too.
We’re looking to design spaces that only make sense in the context of their city— you couldn’t just copy and paste the design anywhere.
7. What’s next for you?
We have two hotel projects in the pipeline, one of which is a second hotel for us in D.C. — but it’s very different in style from the Riggs Hotel. We also just redesigned a restaurant in the Kimpton De Witt hotel in Amsterdam called Celia’s that will hopefully open later this year. And of course, we are always looking for more beautiful properties that need our love and care. At the moment, however, we are also very focused on what the post-COVID-19 world will look like for the hospitality industry. Our current priority is to make all our hotels and restaurants safe and comfortable for both staff and guests.
Photography: ©Jennifer Hughes
To see more of Jacu Strauss’s work on the beautifully unique Riggs Hotel, check out their online photo gallery. And if you enjoyed this feature, we invite you to browse previous interviews with architect Erin Nies of Studio Llou, plus integrators Ed Gilmore of Gilmore’s Sound Advice, and Shannon Bush of ServiceTech. You may also enjoy our dialogues with designers Sara McElroy of Silver Shoe Design, and Erin Dreyfous of Tillotson Design Associates.