For more than a decade, Hospitality Design magazine has annually honored a handful of designers, architects, brand executives, and owners as our Wave of the Future—those who are young enough to be considered visionary, but tested enough to be accomplished. Here are the 2021 honorees.
Kristen Conry serves as Marriott International’s Senior Vice President of Global Design for the United States and Canada. In this role, she leads a team of 100+ architects, designers and project managers who oversee all projects across the region for Marriott’s 30 brands. She and her team partner with owners and the hospitality design community to deliver excellent design solutions in support of Marriott’s mission to be the world’s favorite travel company.
Prior to joining Marriott, Kristen worked at Gensler, an award-winning architecture and design firm, where she served as Principal and Managing Director of the Chicago office. While there, she co-led an office of 220+ design professionals working across industry sectors, including hospitality, with accountability for design excellence, talent development, client relationships, strategy and performance.
Prior to this, Kristen held several roles over her twelve-year tenure with Hyatt Hotels Corporation. As Vice President of Global Product & Brand Development, Kristen led global design strategy and innovation for full service and select service brands. Kristen also served as Vice President of Design Services Select Hotels, leading Hyatt’s select design teams directing new build and renovation projects globally. Additionally, Kristen led the workplace design effort for Hyatt’s award-winning headquarters in Chicago.
Kristen serves on the boards of Changing Worlds and 826 National, nonprofit organizations dedicated to youth arts and writing, as well as the Dean’s Advisory Board at the Architecture School at Illinois Institute of Technology. She holds an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Science degrees from University of Michigan. She is a licensed architect and LEED Accredited Professional.
Kristen lives with her husband and two children in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is an enthusiastic runner and an equally enthusiastic baker.
James Cull is the Design Director at Rottet Studio in New York. He leads a talented team of creatives, designing innovative luxury interiors for leading hospitality, residential, and retail clients around the world. He is passionate about establishing a compelling narrative and devising immersive design experiences that enthusiastically embrace an authenticity of place.
He has worked for landmark hospitality brands such as Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, and Belmond, and his projects have been featured on the covers of Interior Design and Sleeper magazines. In 2018, James was awarded Interior Design magazine’s HiP Award for Designer of the Year, in the Rising Star category. Prior to joining Rottet Studio, he was a senior designer at Yabu Pushelberg, in New York.
James holds a Master of Science in Interior Design from Pratt Institute, where his graduate thesis explored the intersection of installation art and interior architecture. He is an undergraduate alumnus of Boston University and spent summers abroad in France, studying bookmaking and conceptual furniture design.
Pallavi is the founder and creative director at Roar, she’s won multiple awards for work across a range of sectors including commercial, hospitality and residential. Recent work includes The Accor House of Original in Dubai, Sensasia spa at Kempinski Dubai and Mckinsey HQ in Doha. She was born in India, raised in Dubai and spent years working in London; her designs reflect these eclectic influences.
A former professor of interior design, she strives to implement the latest theoretical and practical research into the firm’s designs. As a product designer, Pallavi collaborated with Artemide to launch ‘Interweave’ an interactive lighting system for Euro Luce in Milan 2019.
Her work has been profiled in some of the world’s leading international media including the Financial times, the BBC, Monocle , Wallpaper and the Architectural Digest. She was named Architectural Digest Middle East designer of the year in 2020.
Damon’s experience in hospitality stretches among some of the best brands in the world. A graduate of Howard University, Damon first began his hospitality journey in the nations capital as a front desk agent for the Thompson Hotel Group’s Donovan House Hotel in Midtown DC. From there, Damon moved within management ranks at companies such as Ritz Carlton, Intercontinental Hotel Group & Dusit Thani International for a career than spans over a decade. After witnessing a lack of African American representation in brand ownership and leadership, Damon created the Homage Hospitality brand in 2018 and oversees operations and creative direction.
Since launch Damon has won Boutique Design’s Up & Coming Hotelier of the Year in 2019 and followed it up with a Gold Key award the same year for the Best Emerging Hotel Concept from Hospitality Design for their New Orleans property The Moor. With Hotels slated in Albany, GA, New Orleans, and Memphis, Damon looks to take the Homage brand to new heights.
Susan Nugraha is Vice President of Design & Development at Tao Group Hospitality. Since joining in April 2017, she has overseen more than 19 venues opening in New York, LA, Chicago and Singapore. Prior to Tao Group, Susan was an associate at Rockwell Group in New York City. Projects while at Rockwell Group include; Tao Downtown, Vandal New York, Moxy Times Square, Gato Restaurant, Omnia Las Vegas Nightclub, Omnia Bali Dayclub. Her expertise and knowledge in construction in the hospitality sector brings a creative edge to Tao Group’s brand development. Susan holds a BFA of Interior Architecture from Rhode Island School of Design.
Jacu Strauss is the Creative Director of Lore Group. Throughout the design process Jacu places emphasis on exploration and experimentation as a means to showcase the beauty and characteristics of each project and its context, uncovering the stories that bring to life the destination in which each Lore Group property sits.
Jacu and his team led the complete redesign of award-winning Dutch hotel, Pulitzer Amsterdam, and Lore Group’s debut U.S. property, Riggs Washington DC which opened in February 2020. Jacu and his team design and create bespoke furniture, fixtures and equipment for each project. In addition, as Senior Designer at Tom Dixon’s Research Studio, Jacu designed South Bank lifestyle hotel, Sea Containers London, and has since re-imagined various spaces throughout the hotel, including the award winning Lyaness bar, as Lore Group’s Creative Director and Designer.
Currently London based, Jacu has lived in several countries across the globe, beginning his architectural training in New Zealand and going on to study at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Westminster University in London.
In concepting and designing both Pulitzer Amsterdam and Riggs Washington DC, Jacu relocated to each destination in order to live and breathe them, ensuring that the properties reflect the communities around them.
Kaitlyn Thornton is in the business of storytelling at global design agency, Yabu Pushelberg, blending narrative with strategic operations. With a unique ability to passionately convey creative details while maintaining vision of overall project execution, as the Director of the New York Studio and Director of Brand Strategy, Kaitlyn moves the agency forward with a well-rounded mindfulness that has evolved Yabu Pushelberg from a practice rooted in interior design into a full-fledged creative agency spanning seven creative practices.
Spearheading Yabu Pushelberg’s Brand Strategy department, Kaitlyn architects the agency’s overarching character, strategically securing new business whilst crafting the internal and external language used to convey the studio’s evolving outlook. Working through each touchpoint of project experience, Kaitlyn ensures the studio moves beyond design into the realm of holistic memory makers, drawing from her roots in film and philosophy to conceive of design as a language that can build community and spark purpose. Kaitlyn tells the story of Yabu Pushelberg with a layered narrative that speaks to the unique intention behind each of the studio’s projects.
Prior to joining Yabu Pushelberg, Kaitlyn managed development at Avroko and has dedicated her expertise to a number of notable hospitality design firms. Completing a Master of Arts in Cinema at New York University, Kaitlyn went on to Harvard University to pursue Legal Studies.
Rebecca Weinstein is Director of Design at Highgate Hotels where she guides design and project manages developments within their rapidly expanding portfolio. Before her current role, Rebecca was an Associate at Wimberly Interiors and Gensler where Highgate was her client.
Rebecca has 15 years of hospitality design experience. She spent one of the most influential years of her career on-site of a large-scale casino project in Vietnam. Managing the design aspects of construction and traveling to various factories and markets throughout Asia, Weinstein gained a keen understanding of how to build and infuse local culture into her projects. She was then drawn to the ownership-operator side as an opportunity to influence the entire life-cycle of a hotel project and to more directly craft the guest experience. Most importantly, Rebecca serves as an advocate for the incredible designers she gets to work with every day.
Weinstein is a certified Interior Designer with a BFA from Syracuse University. She resides in the ever-inspiring East Village of New York City.
Ashley Wilkins founded Islyn Studio in 2017 as a way to shift design into a kinder, more meaningful place. Hailing from the poppied coast of Northern California, Wilkins is inspired by the spiritual power inherent in beautiful, idiosyncratic places. With a focus on curiosity, collaboration and cultural storytelling. She and her team build immersive spaces for a wide swath of clients in a range of culturally-relevant industries.
With Wilkins at the helm, Islyn Studio has designed spaces that transcend conventional hospitality genre and medium — from 2020 Interiors Awards Healthcare Winner Kindbody, a cutting-edge fertility clinic, six critically-acclaimed Bond Vet locations to spaces for Capital One, Heineken, Kimpton Hotels and Sawmill Market, New Mexico’s first 50,000 sq ft multi-use food hall. These spaces have become groundbreaking cultural hubs and global design destinations for a new generation of curious travelers.
Islyn Studio was built as a lean and nimble firm that’s highly selective in talent and client base, inventing a new model for deep work that uses time and resources efficiently and with considerable depth.
Prior to founding Islyn, Wilkins cut her teeth at top-notch design firms including Ace Hotel Group, Rockwell, Avroko and Creme Design working with clients like Walt Disney Imagineering, Sydell Group, Four Seasons and Equinox Hotels. Ashley is well-versed in the inner workings of small and large-scale hospitality, retail and commercial projects. Ashley holds a BFA in Interior Design from Ringling College of Art and Design, where she was awarded as 2021 Alumni Honoree.