[WOMEN in Design].
Partner Deborah Berke Partners, New York
At 14 years old, Deborah Berke knew she would become an architect. Growing up in a creative Douglaston, New York household (her mother was a designer who studied at Parsons and taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology), she painted murals on her bedroom wall and frequently visited museums. Her favorite expeditions were those to hardware and art supply stores.
After fine arts and architecture degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design, she worked for a few firms, but it was clear early on "that I needed to do my own thing." In 1982, she founded her eponymous firm in New York, and later pursued a graduate degree in urban design at City University of New York.
Berke has long focused on high-end residential architecture and institutional projects for colleges and not-for-profit organizations, but today she's also known for her work with 31c Museum Hotels. For the past 12 years, she's collaborated with the Louisville, Kentucky-based brand, opening eight properties that double as contemporary art galleries in locations such as Oklahoma City and Nashville, with three more on the boards.
She is also passionate about adaptive reuse properties, like the former psychiatric hospital her firm transformed into the Hotel Henry in Buffalo, New York last year, or the many historic buildings reimagined as 21c Museum Hotels. The latest, for example, is set in Kansas City's late-19th-century Savoy Hotel and Grill, where President Truman used to dine. "It's not just about preserving an old doorknob and stained glass window. There is historic gravitas," she says.
In 2013, Berke received the first Berkeley-Rupp award, honoring the advancement of women in architecture. Three years later, she was named the first female dean of the Yale School of Architecture, where she has been teaching since 1987. Academia is at the heart of meaningful design conversations that inspire Berke. She likes "exchanging ideas with my colleagues and being around students, both hearing their questions and the issues they are engaging with." Even her dream project underscores her role as an educator: "I would love to do a science or industrial design museum, working with curators to understand what's in a collection."
Creative Director and Global Senior Vice President of Design Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, San Francisco
A newly minted graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Ave Bradley set out for San Francisco armed with a psychology degree. While pondering her first professional steps, she worked 15 hours a week on the sales floor of a Pottery Barn. Buoyed by memories of frequent after-school visits to furniture stores with her mother, she took on the job simply "to be around things I liked."
She was a fan of the items on display, but Bradley also reveled in the visual merchandising aspect of retail. Soon, she moved to the corporate team, knocking on the doors of buyers and asking if she could help with anything. "I was young and scrappy and had hardworking Midwestern roots," she says. "That mindset has stuck with me, and I now hire people with it because it represents a willingness and attitude that nothing is too small or beneath me." That tenacity snagged her a role as associate buyer, where she had to be "creative but logical." a balance that has fueled her career.
Bradley grew up in a small Wisconsin town, "riding my bike, playing kick the can, and watching dragonflies." She also dreamed of being an artist, and her next career move plunged her even deeper into the world of design. In 1998, she pivoted into hospitality, joining the newly formed W Hotels brand. The sink-or-swim moment proved to Bradley that stepping out of her comfort zone was the right move. As director of interiors and brand development for W, a period of six years she describes as "an irreplaceable experience," she worked on more than 20 hotel openings.
It primed Bradley for her own consulting business working with the likes of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which she shuttered when Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants came calling in 2009. Now, as creative director and global senior vice president of design for the brand, she's spearheading its international reach, filtering Kimpton's distinctive, playful style through the lens of different cities in locations like Paris, Frankfurt, Taipei, and Tokyo.
For the kid who loved reading about lost cultures, befriending future pen pals, and "staying at a hotel with a pool," Bradley's circuitous career route has manifested the sense of adventure she long craved: "There was this halo effect travel had on my life."
Principal Geremia Design, San Francisco
Lauren Geremia is not, she admits, "a tech-savvy person. Tech is the antithesis of me. I'm so analog there is Scotch tape in my hair." This is ironic considering Geremia has designed innovative offices for startups such as Instagram, Dropbox, and Hightail. But it's her well-rounded fine arts background and thoughtful, considered approach to design that has made Geremia so coveted in fast-paced Silicon Valley.
At Rhode Island School of Design, she studied painting, something she loved doing as a child. That's when Geremia realized she "wanted artwork to be multifaceted, placed in different elements. I was a bit more social and organized, I didn't want to just sit in a studio making things."
When she graduated, the Connecticut native moved to the Bay Area--a cousin who worked in animation at Disney propelled a general love for California--and she hung out with an entrepreneurial group of people who were opening restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. They turned to Geremia, asking her about everything from light fixtures to wallpaper, and she "was industrial enough to be a one-man show," taking on tasks like painting furniture salvaged at flea markets. "Conceptually, I was prepared to sell the big idea, but I could also do it scrappily and on a low budget," she says.
Geremia worked incessantly, and then the tech boom struck and all of a sudden, through the community she had nurtured, she was getting calls from entrepreneurs, saying things like, "I'm starting a company called Instagram." Everybody likes what's familiar, says Geremia: "It's a monoculture, so I was passed around a bit. After Dropbox and Instagram, I was able to hire a staff overnight. It was intense."
As principal of San Francisco-based Geremia Design, she now works on a diverse set of projects, including residences, a jewelry store, a few restaurants like Sartre at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati, and AutoCamp. This mobile hospitality concept offers luxe accommodations in Airstream suites and tents in locations like Yosemite, which taps into Geremia's affinity for the outdoors.
Her work is anchored in the fine arts, and she remains a curator, championing the work of artisans. "There's emotion and a human scale to [design]," says Geremia. "I'm interested in preserving human connection and what's going to be left behind from this era. I'm the one sitting here who says art matters."
President Interactive Design Architects, Chicago
In her Chicago South Side high school, Dina Griffin had to choose between a home economics or an industrial education course. A tomboy who wanted nothing to do with domestic matters, she chose the latter, knowing there was a risk she'd have to "get dirty" with carpentry, mechanics, or welding, she says. Griffin was thrilled to learn the theme was architecture, a subject that set her professional career in motion.
Before transferring to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she was eager to study architecture, Griffin was faced with adversity at another school. She was sitting in her engineering class during the first week as the only woman and person of color when, in the midst of explaining requirements, the teacher blurted out: "Dina. that doesn't apply to you. You have to come up with a different major." She was shocked. "He had nothing to gauge my success.'' she says, but the experience only motivated her.
It was her professor, Arthur Kaha, who made a lasting, positive impact on Griffin's college years. Surrounded by peers who she thought drew a lot better than she could, and who had more advanced visual communication skills in comparison to hers, she announced she was going to transfer into engineering or law. But Kaha told her to give the architecture program more time before walking away. "He said. 'Let us focus on your weaknesses and you focus on your strengths,'" she recalls.
Today, Griffin is president of Chicago firm Interactive Design Architects (IDEA), a position she's held since 1999. The prolific practice has worked on a number of historic, cultural, federal, educational, and library projects--one of the most significant being the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, designed in partnership with Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Completed in 2009. it was part of what put IDEA in the spotlight for collaborating on larger, civic-minded buildings.
One such notable partnership is the Barack Obama Presidential Center, slated to open in late 3021, for which IDEA is working as associate architect to New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. "Having this center located on the South Side fuels Obama's legacy," Griffin says. "It aims to educate and train future global leaders, to connect, engage, and make a difference in their communities."
Another forthcoming project that personally resonates with Griffin is the new 8,200-square-foot home of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign--where Griffin, thankfully, once had the gumption to stick with architecture.
At 8 years old, Robin Guenther was riding in a car with her family when she asked who made the buildings they were passing. Dissatisfied with the answer of construction workers and carpenters, she clarified: "But who decides what they look like?" Upon learning that the responsibility fell to architects, Guenther determined her future career.
The intense atmosphere engendered at her male-dominated technical high school in Detroit primed Guenther for tackling architecture, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels at the University of Michigan, and then at the Architectural Association in London, where her focus was on sustainable design, something that lost favor with many after President Jimmy Carter claimed the energy crisis of the 1970s was over.
Her first job at a New York architecture firm that handled healthcare solidified Guenther's intimate connection with the field--an interest that was piqued early on when her sister became an emergency room nurse. Indeed, as a teenager, Guenther often spent time at the hospital visiting her sister and volunteering. Her debut project, an emergency department for New York's former Roosevelt Hospital, merged the personal and professional, and cemented her focus on healthcare. She enjoyed the intellectual rigor of "getting buildings to be more responsive to caregivers," she points out.
She cofounded her own practice in 1991, an era when she began to carefully consider the science and impact of materials, especially the barrage of plastics "and what they might be contributing to in terms of health and environmental outcomes." In the process, she gravitated toward more natural alternatives like cork, attesting that materiality can positively transform institutional settings.
In 2007, she joined the New York office of Perkins+Will to head up the sustainable healthcare group and expand her holistic approach. Since then, she has worked on such standout projects as Boston's Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, designed with rising sea levels in mind to be one of the most resilient hospitals in the country, and the 521,000-square-foot expansion of the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto, California, designated the second LEED Platinum children's hospital in the world.
Guenther's commitment to sustainability is amplified in other ways, including in her 2008 book Sustainable Healthcare Architecture, her longtime contributions to the Green Guide for Health Care (a free rating system for hospitals), and her role as senior adviser to nongovernmental organization Health Care Without Harm. All of Guenther's explorations are motivated by one question, she says: "Can we create environments that feel more human, more crafted, like they were made by people, for people?"
Executive Director, Design and Construction Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York
After school as a teenager and during breaks from classes at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Suzen Heeley worked at William Sklaroff Design Associates, a multidisciplinary design firm outside Philadelphia. Upon graduating, she remained with the company until 1991, getting a second education in healthcare, wayfinding, and the design of furniture and medical devices. "I wasn't singly focused on interior design, but I looked at the big picture. To have a holistic view of design in a healthcare environment was helpful," she recalls.
A brief stint at Mitchell Associates in Wilmington, Delaware, led to a position at New Jersey-based Hackensack University Medical Center in 1994, where she ended up staying for 16 years. As director of design and construction, Heeley tripled the hospital's physical size and introduced a new paradigm of fostering "initiatives that improve patient experience," she says. Here, fashion designer Nicole Miller dreamed up hospital gowns. Ritz-Carlton hotel chefs upgraded the food, and a day spa offered bedside services.
For the last seven years, Heeley has applied this visionary spirit to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where she is now the executive director of design and construction, responsible for a $2 billion capital program for more than 30 locations in the tristate area. Consider the soothing hotel lobby-like waiting area of the Josie Robertson Surgery Center (JRSC), designed by local firms Perkins Eastman and ICRAVE in collaboration with her in-house team. Instead of a traditional check-in desk, guests are greeted at an open beehive-shaped kiosk with light fixtures as focal points. "Patients get off the elevator, briefly check in at the Beehive, and sit wherever they choose, then staff comes over and pulls up an ottoman for a personalized face-to-face check in," she explains.
Along with seeking out designers from beyond the healthcare sphere, Heeley also looks to other industries for inspiration. The availability of amenities like food and retail at airport gates, for instance, influenced the device given to patients at JRSC so they can safely roam the facility, their steps monitored, without being tethered to one room. Similar to airport concerns of missed flights, waiting rooms often espouse "anxiety and a fear that the patient will be forgotten." so this technology helps reinforce humanity as the centerpiece of healthcare.
"We bring such a high level of quality care clinically, so the environments also need to reach that level," says Heeley. "When you understand what families are going through, the design is so intergral to their experience. To be involved in crafting that is quite humbling."
Vice President and Global Retail Business Development Director CallisonRTKL, Seattle
Enamored with Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip as a kid, Cindi Kato enjoyed drawing the character "on his dog house or doing the happy dance with Woodstock," she says, even sending letters to creator Charles M. Schulz, who much to her delight, wrote her back. Later, Kato's nascent creativity translated to crafts like macrame and making her own clothes ("I liked home economics and idolized my sewing teacher," she says), eventually leading to degrees in both interior design and textile design from the University of Washington.
Armed with design experience in the disparate realms of banking, healthcare, and hospitality, Kato joined the team at Seattle-based Callison Architecture in 1989 (it merged with Baltimore's RTKL in 2015 to form CallisonRTKL) and started working with Nordstrom on its East Coast stores at Westfield Garden State Plaza and Menlo Park Mall in New Jersey. "Everything was customized for each store back then. You even met with the Nordstrom family to go over color schemes," Kato recalls.
Specialty retail took off at Callison almost 19 years ago, when the firm started collaborating with the footwear brand Cole Haan. Since then, the firm's portfolio has expanded to include such retail heavyweights as Nike, Target, Dick's Sporting Goods, Finish Line, and Sperry. Now acting as the firm's vice president and business development director for global retail, Kato's role as a project management leader is rooted in balance, acting as the mind of both the client and design team.
Kato, who is currently the president of the Planning and Visual Education partnership (PAVE), a mentoring program that connects students, educators, and professionals in the retail industry, admits the architecture and interiors of stores has indeed changed in the post-Amazon world. Once focused on capturing a brand's values and heritage, retail design has taken a more holistic turn. "It's still about the brand," she says, "but it's also about the environment, the touchpoints along the way. Visual merchandising and the customer experience are now intertwined."
As design ideas evolve and push limits, there is always the challenge of making brands relevant and keeping them true and authentic to themselves. It's a task that thrills her: "I see the evolution of our creations from the design and architecture teams, and every day there is wonder and excitement. I'll never get tired of it."
Senior Vice President and Managing Director Wimberly Interiors, New York
The summer after she graduated college, Margaret McMahon spent most of her days "windsurfing and figuring out what I was going to do with my life." Her original plan of attending law school seemed less exhilarating than it once had, so her mother proposed a different strategy--seek out the prominent New York temp agency Kelly Services and try out every post that sounded interesting.
McMahon studied political science at the State University of New York and the Danish Institute for International Studies, but she had also taken art classes, so when Kelly Services presented her with a job description that required working with matboard, she was intrigued. The company was a design firm, and her new boss was Trisha Wilson, the powerhouse behind Wilson Associates.
She cleaned the office, typed out specifications and transmittals, and made frequent runs for Entenmann's Donuts, but McMahon also worked on a design presentation for the Bankers Trust office in Cairo and developed a keen interest in Wilson's residential and hospitality projects. "[Trisha] saw something in me that I didn't see in myself,'' explains McMahon. "I was a hard worker and craved learning. I loved everything I got to do." Moving her way up from the bottom, and earning a certificate in interior design from New York's Parsons School of Design along the way, McMahon's role at Wilson Associates evolved into managing director.
She stayed at the company for more than 28 years until 2011, when an opportunity presented itself that McMahon couldn't refuse: opening Wimberly Interiors, a New York design studio for WATG, an architecture firm she long admired. "When you start a new company, you take chances, and maybe this sounds corny, but you feel born again." she explains. As senior vice president and managing director, it's not uncommon for McMahon to spend the same week dashing off to Colombia to work on the latest Four Seasons in Cartagena and then to France to put the finishing touches on a sprawling 10-room Parisian residence.
When McMahon walked through Wilson's door all those years ago, she never fathomed a jetsetting life. Growing up in Douglaston, New York, her neighbors were the Curl family. The father headed Pan Am airlines "and our parents traveled together to places like Kenya, but never us kids. The only hotel I went to was when I went skiing in Vermont. I didn't even go on a plane until I was in high school," she recalls. "Trisha opened up a world to me that I had never been exposed to. I never thought about how hotels were brought to life before."
Principal JSR Associates, Catonsville, Maryland
Blocks, Tinkertoys, and Lincoln Logs: Jane Rohde played with them all growing up outside Buffalo, New York. From there, it was an art teacher in seventh grade who encouraged a new love for perspective drawing and scultpure, which later morphed into an interest in mechanical drawing and chemistry, culminating in an independent study in architecture during her senior year in high school.
Rohde studied at Virginia Tech "because of its interdisciplinary approach to interior design," she says. "We had integrative programming with graphics, printing, pottery, and textiles. It was like the Bauhaus." Rohde's thesis explored Germany's fascinating medieval-era community the Fuggerei, one of the earliest known retirement communities where widows and widowers went to live, eat, and wander through gardens when they were no longer able to work.
This communal living concept informed her passion for caring for vulnerable populations, something she first explored at Erickson Retirement Communities as vice president of design. Eight years later, she founded her own firm, JSR Associates in Catonsville, Maryland.
"There was a huge gap between function and design [in senior living communities] because no one was speaking to operations," Rohde says. "So I would go to operations meetings and try to understand the needs from [the residents'] perspectives."
Guided by how to make things better for people, she chose to work on innovative design projects like Cypress Garden Senior Living, China's first resident-centered care facility in Hangzhou. She also contributed to the Wharton Care Center in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, the first to adopt the Eden Alternative, a program that focuses on improving quality of life for residents and their care partners.
An advocate as much as a designer and consultant, Rohde helps shift attitudes on senior living by bringing awareness to concepts like sustainability and wellness, which she addresses in the Senior Living Sustainability Guide she created. Rohde also encourages such elements as small houses and multigenerational living embedded in communities. "We're still seeing 30-year-old models replicated, but people are now seeking alternative models that don't segregate generations," she says.
Affordability is another big factor for seniors. To keep costs down, Rohde embraces popular Millennial approaches to housing, like pairing small, private rooms with shared common spaces to conjure a convivial atmosphere akin to The Golden Girls.
Although many senior living communities are well appointed, Rhode says, they are not always programmed to meet residents' needs or treat them as unique individuals. "The quality of life there could be so much more." says Rohde. and she is determined to make that elevated version the standard.
National Window Director Macy's, New York
When Roya Sullivan's family moved from her childhood home of Iran to Connecticut, they would head into nearby New York every holiday season to gawk at the department store window displays. "Gimbels, B. Altman, Saks, we went to all of them," she remembers. Little did she know that after all the high-school art classes she loved, those very windows would catapult her design career.
After graduating from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, DC. she received a master of fine arts in painting and photography at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. From there, she sought out an artistic job in the city that would leave evenings and weekends free to work on creative projects in her studio. Enter Macy's, which suggested she enliven the Herald Square store's windows as a scenic painter--a position that melded her love of fashion and fine art. "Many people knew about [window dressing], but it was something you couldn't study. It was an apprenticeship," she explains.
After a long stint as director of visual merchandising for Bloomingdale's, where Sullivan reinvented visual concept shops for private labels like Aqua and directed all shop designs and fixtures packages, she returned to Macy's in 2014 as national window director.
Beyond the everyday fashion displays that bring Macy's to life streetside, Sullivan also spends a great deal of time on the annual windows that are sheer spectacles, like the intricate ones fashioned for the Macy's Flower Show at marquee stores in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The brand's iconic holiday windows, also installed in the Boston, DC, and Salt Lake City locations, are a tradition that date back to 1870. when the department store was the first to celebrate Christmas in such a visually striking manner. Indeed, creating the windows is a yearlong process, with four months of ideation, seven devoted to building, and a month of installation.
Retail has changed since Sullivan began her career, but special occasion windows flaunting animatronics remain a magical experience, perhaps a tad more evolved now, with sculptures, large prints, and LED screens. "A good window is always going to be based on great composition and styling, whether it's a mannequin or other forms. It's storytelling," says Sullivan. "The best part of my job is that interaction with people. We create memories for them year after year."