It's the company you keep as much as the real estate you inhabit that determines the staying power of next-generation boutique hotels, says Ace Hotels' chief brand officer, Kelly Sawdon. "Finding like-minded people and being able to hear what things excite them - that can really be the key to unlocking a city," she says.
Sawdon, who spoke in Sydney recently at the Semi Permanent design festival, says Australia remains on Ace's radar for expansion, along with Cuba, Europe and South East Asia, though she offered no time frame. "It's really more about finding the right partners, the right project, the right city," says Sawdon. "When all of those stars align, that's when you know you have something special."
In a decade with the dynamic hotel group, Sawdon has overseen the opening of eight hotels in North America and one in London, each property uniquely fine-tuned to reflect its location and community. As head of Atelier Ace, she'sinvolved in everything from interior and graphic design to food and drink offerings and online stores.
Ace Hotel, New Orleans.
Ace Hotel has based its business on an "anti-velvet rope" approach to hospitality, which draws on the energy and expertise of local creatives to help turn faded or low-profile neighbourhoods into destinations. To this end Sawdon has helped broker partnerships with artists, and brands such as Opening Ceremony, London Design Festival, Coachella and APC. At its new hotel in New Orleans, which opened in March in a former furniture store in the Warehouse District, the "minibar" is stocked with Louisiana jazz, zydeco and Cajun vinyl, and the hotel has teamed with local organisations such as Liberty's Kitchen to help at-risk youth find jobs.
"In new cities, people really want to find things that make them feel like they've immersed themselves in the culture of that community," Sawdon says.