Igniting Curiosity And Expanding Worlds - Linda Laucirica - Defining Hospitality - Episode # 122

DH - Linda Laucirica

Dan Ryan: today's guest is a talented designer who's on the cutting edge of design. She has over 25 years of experience and is an important fixture in our hospitality community. She served as an adjunct professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

She is a senior director of Design and project management at Marriott International. Ladies and gentlemen, Linda Lasa Rica. Welcome, Linda.

Linda Laucirica: Hi. Thank you.

Dan Ryan: It's so good to have you here. Um, I wanna give everyone a little bit of color on when we first met, 'cause I remember it vividly and it was when the west, or when the meat packing.

District it was, I don't even know if it was called the Meat packing. It was just like below 14th Street on the west side. And there were, it was always meat packing. I feel like it was just, it was just a place where there was

Linda Laucirica: meat

Dan Ryan: lot of, a lot, a lot of butchers. Yeah. Meat packing and, and other things that happened at night, late at night.

But, uh, it was when people actually still worked there and designed there and, um, you could get like really good rents and it was like a really creative, vibrant community. Um, and it's changed so much now. It's like a crazy outdoor shopping mall. And I remember walking in, you were working at McCart Design with, with column, right.

And I just, I remember walking up the stair. I remember being in a suit, 'cause I was like 20 something and I felt like I had to wear a suit to. Feel like I knew what I was talking about and, uh, it was so hot and I just remember just dripping sweat coming in to meet you, and I'm sorry for that first impression, but, but here we are 20 years later or

Linda Laucirica: remember that, honestly. I remember meeting you. I don't remember the sweat. Don't worry.

Dan Ryan: oh, good. So now I, now I have something to talk about with my therapist. Um, but it's, it's so good to have you here and, uh, also just knowing you for so long and seeing your career journey in ARC and where you are now and all the important things you're doing at Marriott from a brand perspective, which I know we'll talk about, um, in a little bit.

And it's, it's, it's really exciting, um, on a lot of different levels. But before we get into that, you know, I gotta ask you the big question of, you know, what does hospitality mean to you?

Linda Laucirica: Yeah, the big question, uh, well, first off, I wanna say congratulations on your two year anniversary for this podcast. I

saw that, um, yeah, two years.

Dan Ryan: It's amazing.

Linda Laucirica: Yeah. Yeah. Time flies. So like, we've known each other for a million years. Um, yeah. So hospitality to me, it, really is the desire to give comfort and joy. it's the celebration of, a shared human experience, and wanting to connect, you know, through that humanity, That to me is hospitality. it's, gracious and it's giving, and, um, I know that's what a lot of people have said on this podcast of yours, but, um, it's, I, I, I always think back to, uh, like the peanuts, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters, uh, and this sort of idea of, of finding happiness or defining happiness.

And that is also sort of, I think, parallel with hospitality. Um, and that happiness is, is defined differently by different people. Um, but I think there's a universal, um, definition that, uh, it's, finding joy and pleasure in the small things in life. Finding meaning and significance in the smaller things.


Dan Ryan: I'm really

Linda Laucirica: yeah.

Dan Ryan: thank you and I'm really happy you brought up the peanuts because, um, as a former adjunct professor at N J I T, and I guess, and this actually could be a really great departure into, um, the evolution of your understanding of, of hospitality or the further clarification of it. But like, how, as a professor with all those kids in front of you, would you keep them captivated and not sound like one of the teachers on the peanuts?

Linda Laucirica: I dunno, maybe I did. I was, you know, I'm not in, I wasn't in their heads, but I probably did sound like that sometimes. Um, yeah, that's, that's a good question. Uh, it's, you know, well I taught, I taught a studio class. It was definitely hands-on. It was, it was a lot more, um, uh, active participation on the part of the students.

So it wasn't just me lecturing, uh, thank goodness. Uh, and, um, and it was, uh, it was really trying to have the students, um, get into the minds of their, um, Fictitious or perspective clients, like who are they designing for? Uh, I taught residential design and I actually was able to, in the final project of the semester, use a, um, small boutique hotel project as the final project for my students.

Um, so they had to, uh, you know, really come up with a concept statement, a thesis for their project, and, and write that out in paragraph form. And every design decision that they made had to tie back to that, to that thesis. Um, so in a sense that was, that was sort of, you know, trying to teach them thenar narrative design.

Dan Ryan: So I, I've brought this up in these conversations before, and I'm still very mystified by this fact, but I took all fine art, like a lot of fine arts classes in high school, um, painting, drawing, sculpting. I would like do pottery and all this stuff. And then one summer when I was in high school, I went to Cornell and I did like this architectural discovery program.

And I, I learned about architectural design, but take the word architectural out of it and just design and what you're saying, coming up with a thesis, writing it out in paragraph and really thinking about it. And. It's, it's, it's, um, it's taking very nebulous ideas, creating a thesis, and then in a linear way writing about it.

And in a, in a way, what it taught me was that actually writing, and I love writing, um, and I'm writing a lot of stuff all the time, but, um, writing is really a way of design. It's a, it's a, it, you have to design what you're writing and take these, all these different ideas. And because you can only put one word in front of the other.

Um, so it's, it's, it's a, a really important way of clarifying, um, priorities and what you're trying to convey. And I know that there's oftentimes in, in design, and this, people say it's overused, but I, I can't think of a different way to talk about, but this idea of storytelling or narrative, But that's really in essence what it is.

And I think, and that's what design is. It's like what are you trying to convey and how do you get a halo effect from that to keep people coming back or, or to imprint a really positive memory on them. Like what are your thoughts on that? I love talking to professors.

Linda Laucirica: Uh, well, I mean, at my, at my core, I was, so, I was an English literature major, right? So English lit is, is kind of in my blood, and I was a studio art minor in college. So that, that intersection of, um, of storytelling and design has always been at my, you know, at my core and my passion. Uh, We, we talk about editing, right? Editing our designs, um, making sure that the design decisions we make are significant for that particular project. Um, and that also ties back to the idea of narrative or storytelling, right? You want to edit your, edit your story, edit your words so that you have a really clear, um, message that you're trying to, to get across.

And that message also wants to have an emotional connection to who you're speaking with, right? Um, otherwise why, why write the story? Why share your thoughts? Um, so when we, um, you know, it, it's interesting at, at Marriott, uh, we have many, many, many brands. And, uh, the ones that I work on are specifically the full service lifestyle, um, brands.

Uh, we call them premium, distinctive, uh, segment of brands. Um, And so because it's lifestyle, uh, and it's full service, there's this really sort of aspirational, um, design that has to go hand in hand with the, with the brand itself. So, um,

you know, so that's Storytelling is


Dan Ryan: before you go into that. I know. 'cause there's so many brands, but I'm also amazed, and I I want to keep going with this train of thought, but just to let the listeners know there's 30 something brands Correct. And, and growing. Right. But when you, I was actually really amazed how when Marriott acquired Starwood and got all those brands, I was like, how are they going to differentiate this in all this?

And I remember so much work went into creating that grid of like, okay, premium, distinctive, luxury. I don't even know what they all are, but like it in a way, it makes sense to me. Um, and it's specifically just to let I, what I wanted to let everyone know is this, on this, uh, premium. Distinctive silo that you're in, or, or cross section, however you want to talk about a matrix.

It's Westin, it's Autograph, it's La Meridian, it's Renaissance Design, hotels, tribute and Gaylord.

Gaylord? not Gaylord.

Linda Laucirica: Well, gay. Yeah. Gaylord is, it is, it is, it is considered a premium distinctive, but I think it's in a league of its own. It's such a, a ma, a mega, you know, it's like a mega resort kind of place. Um,

so we don't really do this, but yeah, we have, we have, so we have a handful that are what we call hard brands, and that is the Western Le Meridian Renaissance and, uh, and w

Dan Ryan: Oh, and W

Linda Laucirica: Yeah. I mean, w pushes into the luxury, but it's lifestyle luxury. Um, we could,

I can share a little bit more on that later. Yeah.

Dan Ryan: I want to get back to that 'cause there's like pretty, I like the W story from as it relates to my experience with hospitality. And, and on my career path. And it, it's just super exciting and we'll, we'll get there, but I wanna go back to this idea of editing, right? So, so sorry for the, the sidebar everyone, but,

Linda Laucirica: that's okay.

Dan Ryan: I need to contextualize things so we can tell a story.

So, uh, so they're coming up with this idea. They're, they're writing it. You're an English lit major. Editing is a really important process and this iterative design process, and so keep going.

Linda Laucirica: Yes. So, so the, you know, the one thing that I've always asked my students, and I actually ask of our, um, our design partners, um, is that, You have when you do all of this research and you put together your contextual insight, um, and you're, you're analyzing that context through the lens of the brand that you're, you're designing for, right?

Um, at the end you need to sort of wrap it all up, wrap it up with a bow, and, and we call it, we call it give me the elevator pitch. If I was to get in an elevator with you, gimme two or three sentences that you could define the concept for your project. Um, because that really helps. It helps our, it helps our owner, um, franchisee who's hired the designer.

It helps the designer and it helps us from the brand perspective to then have something that we can all, you know, lean back on and say, is this design decision that you're proposing supporting your, your thesis in a sense. And so that's where the editing comes in because there's so many, so many options out there and, and.

You know, it's, it's, it's, it's interesting I work on so many, um, projects for our brands that, you know, you start to see, uh, some of those same inspiration images over and over again. It doesn't matter what the brand is necessarily you, you see what the trends are out there. And so you have to ask that to the designer, well, is that particular gesture, um, the right one for this project and for this brand.

Because, you know, as we know, there, there, we don't, we don't, we don't do the cookie cutter, right? We, we are the bespoke, um, you know, design driven brand. So, um, even though, even though it's an overarching brand umbrella, everyone has to feel, every project has to feel unique to its destination.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. And I think, you know, uh, running around in all the, with all these different entrepreneurs of all these different companies, I also find that, um, that's culture, right? And that's values and really it, to come up to that elevator pitch, you have to be really clear in, in all of the values and really ultimately the why's.

Like, why is this way? And again, It's in

Linda Laucirica: is my favorite word.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. Why? Yeah. What's that? You ask why five times on anything and you'll get to a root cause or a root, a root idea. But it's, uh, it's really important and especially like if you look at the however many brands of all hotels that are out there and the however many properties look, you have independence and you have branded, and there's, I think there's positives and negatives to both.

Um, but if you look at like the big hotel brands, they bring so much more to the table from a brand and even to just move away from the idea of hotels because we can get, um, I don't know, biased in this 'cause It's what, it's what we do. Um, just other brands like Nike or, or Apple or Google, or. Tesla, like all these big, crazy brands, there's this halo effect that makes whatever that elevator pitch is so much more than it creates raving fans.

It's the real value driver is in these brands. And what are your thoughts on that? I,

Linda Laucirica: So that's a really interesting question because you, I, I, you know, I listed some of our hard brands, um, that we work on, but we also have a category called Soft Brands. Um, and those are our collection brands, right? Autograph collection, tribute portfolio, luxury collection. Um, these are in a sense, those, those, uh, independent, um, you know, brands are one-offs.

Um, and. We've, we've sort of learned that there's a very different approach to creating a, you know, what we call a narrative for our soft brands than it is for our, our hard, um, or fixed brands. Um, the, uh, You know, we, we often start out when we're explaining to designers on, on the soft brands that it's, you know, you can't just go out there and do your contextual insight like you do for a hard brand, because for the hard brands, we're giving you the toolkit, we're giving you the strategy, we're presenting it to you and saying, this is the lens you need to look through.

Um, just, you know, go out there and, and, and find a, a why. Uh, for our soft brands, though, we sort of start out by saying, listen, if Nike came to you as a good example, if Nike came to you and said, please design a, um, you know, an exclusive, uh, high-end stylish shoe for us, we wanna get into a, you know, a little bit of a white market there, white, you know, um, space.

And you go back, you ideate, you, you come up with all, you have all these inspiration images and you come back to them and you hand them a, you know, Manolo, Blahnik, high heeled sandal. Well, you, you, you delivered what they asked for, but you didn't design on brand, right? It's not. A Nike version of that. So when, when our designers are faced with a soft brand, um, the owner has actually had to go, uh, hire a, um, a branding agency who does, who creates, um, who does a market study, creates, uh, a, uh, a brand architecture to fit that white space that, that, um, you know, that area needs where that property is going.

And the designer then actually has to create a, a design strategy. It's not a narrative at that point. They have to start with a strategy, uh, to support that brand and, and define how, you know, define how they will deliver that brand in three dimension in a sense. So they have to come up with, um, you know, a brand vision, uh, a brand ethos, and a design strategy that supports the, um, The brand pillars and the brand personality.

So it, it has to be a direct connection. Um, and I think a lot of designers don't realize that, that you have to do that step first before you can jump into creating a narrative.

Dan Ryan: It's actually interesting you say that because recently I was at a conference in Denver and we were staying in an independent hotel, and when all these speakers got up, I think some of the owners and other other brands were there. They were saying, I was like, oh, the designer did a great job here. But what I was, as they were talking about it and like doing tours, it was really the branding.

Everyone was, yeah, they appreciated what the designer had done, but it was really, the branding agency got a lot of credit because I think they have a system and a process and a story to like come up with what the brand is, and then the designer, it makes it easier to execute on that, that story and that thesis.

And I, so I, I was a little surprised by that then. I didn't really think about it much. But now, what you're saying now on the soft side slash independent, that's really, really important to put so much, um, forethought into that and defining that and being, having, creating these defensible positions like, so that you can really execute on what that idea or thing or feeling or place is.

Linda Laucirica: Yeah, that, that is the most successful property. And I'll say design project is always the one where there is, um, you know, a really clear, uh, line, a really clear connection between what the brand is trying to say and what the guest experience the physical space. Um, So again, that comes back to the editing, right?

Like, what, what is, what is your perspective on color and materiality and lighting and like, everything that goes into a designer's toolbox, right? That we use on every single project. Why pick this, you know, this cran out of the box versus this one for this particular project right there. There has to be that why.

And that's, that's where the story comes in and that's where that, you know, that thesis, that really concise, clear picture, uh, is so helpful.

Dan Ryan: So I want to go, uh, okay, so going back to the English Lit major, I, I studied literature. Focus on American literature. But I did take a class, um, on science fiction 'cause I'm just a big

Linda Laucirica: Oh yeah.

Dan Ryan: but, but when you, you kept saying the word editing and again, that iterative process is really part of design.

And what was interesting, dune is one of my favorite series of science fiction books. And I think they did a really good job with the movie and the second movie's coming out. But what we studied was, is that it was interesting as we were going from early science fiction to like mid, mid sixties to into the seventies, um, Frank Herbert, who wrote Dune, he wrote Dune the first three on a typewriter the old fashioned

Linda Laucirica: Mm.

Dan Ryan: rewrite with each page.

So I'm told by the professor, but they basically take the page and you're, he's actually physically rewriting it. The later books got super, like metaphorical and dreamy and it was like, Because he was tackling some weird things, but it was also very choppy. And what was interesting, it was that the, his editing, it was the first time that he started using a word processor so he could copy and paste.

And it became like a bit choppier as a, as a reader of this Right. Or as an editor. Um, how are you finding, is there any correlation between that choppiness versus seamlessness on the iterative process with technology and design? Are you seeing are, do, do you see anything with that?

Linda Laucirica: That's an interesting question and that you're kind of throwing me, throwing that one at me there. Uh, technology is so, it's so interesting how, uh,

Dan Ryan: I.

Linda Laucirica: you know, we've seen even just within our, you know, span of knowing each other in our careers, um, you know, going from. I can remember back in the days of Rockwell group, going to Barnes and Noble buying books like bags and bags of books, photocopying pictures on the copier, deciding like how big, like scaling them, 200%, 300%, 75%.

So I could cut them out, mount them on foam court and put them on a presentation board,

and we would spend nights doing this and have these big boards just tell the story. Right? Um, you know, now you know, what are we doing? We're, we're going onto Pinterest and Instagram and we're collecting images online.

Um, you know, how does that process, how has that process affected what designers are seeing and how they are choosing to edit? And the rabbit hole you go down as you, you know, spiral into like, what does this lead you to? What does this lead you to? Right? Um, and, and you know, now we, now we also are thinking everything in three dimension. So when I was teaching my students, uh, were doing everything in Revit. Um, they didn't even know how to use a scale ruler.

Dan Ryan: Mm,

Linda Laucirica: So, uh, I would ask 'em, I was like, well, you're drawing this, you know, in, in two d in plan you're drawing a, you know, a square that represents a table. What, what size is that table? Like can, or that chair, can you actually, you know, sit in that?

Is that scale, like, is that the right? Like, does that feel right

to you? Like, do you know what you're designing? So it's interesting, but, but they could visualize three things in three dimensions so much more easily than I could when I was in school. So the technology definitely, you know, they're all, it's all tools and how you use those tools, um, to then create again, the three-dimensional space that is relative to our human experience.

Like going back to our human, our human experience, and our connections. Right. We still sit in a chair,

Dan Ryan: We

Linda Laucirica: sat in a chair. Right?

Dan Ryan: not going

Linda Laucirica: So, and it's, and it's gotta be comfortable. Um, so, you know, the style, style aside, that's, uh, you know, there are some basics that will, that won't change just because of, you know,

Dan Ryan: Yeah,

Linda Laucirica: has to function and how we are

Dan Ryan: I'm, yeah, I just like that whole idea of the tact, tactile interaction with the projects that we're working on. And I even just see it with my kids, like when they're playing games on their iPads and whatever. It's, uh, I remember when I was young, see, now I can sound like the old guy, but like, I would play with blocks or a, or a, yeah.

Or action figures or like, I would actually use my hands and do stuff in it. I don't know. Just, I guess it's just a different experience. I can't, like, I'm not judging. Um, okay. That was a little sidetracked, but thank you. But I really, it's like that chop the, the choppiness of editing, um,

Linda Laucirica: Now we've got ai. Throw that into the, into the mix, you know, and that's all about editing, that's choosing your, choosing your prompts to create something new, right?

Dan Ryan: So that's actually interesting on the, on the ai, on the AI thing and choosing prompts and using that as like a, a muse, if you will. Um, how are you finding using that? Or like, are you guys experi? Like how are you experimenting with that, um, through your design process and iterative process?

Linda Laucirica: That I haven't really gotten into it, to be honest. Um, I'm curious to see, you know, I'm curious. I haven't, it hasn't presented itself yet, so

we'll see which, who will be the first designer to pre, to come to what? To the table with a, with a

presentation that

Dan Ryan: I, I, I was with someone and they were showing me like a rendering of a room that they used in some three D AI thing, and they were saying, yeah, it took like 30 seconds and it's, look, is it perfect? No, but it's like, it's a great first step. It's like, it's like as a ri. As a writer, it's like you stare at that blank page and you're like, okay, I have an idea, but like, just gimme a, gimme a push.

That's why I say it's kind of like a mu it's a muse in a way.

Linda Laucirica: It's like a prompt. It's like a prompt, you know, like, here's your, here's the, here's the, here's the premise. Now, you know, write something about this, right?

Dan Ryan: totally. And it's funny, um, I think if AI was around or as easily available as it was two years ago when I started this podcast, one of the main motivations I had for starting the podcast was I was writing all these articles to like present myself as like a, a thought leader or whatever in, in our industry.

And I was like, I wrote like 50 or 60 articles on design and trends and, and I like writing, but I was like, uh, I'm like, I'm my, my well is running dry and it's annoying. I was like, one of the data points in creating this was like, wow, if I just do podcasts and talk to people, I could plagiarize myself and it, yeah, I get, I get lots of ideas, but if AI were there two years ago, I may not have.

Done this, maybe I would've been like, oh, let me just keep writing this way. Um, or using this muse to help. So that's actually an interesting idea. Okay. So back, back to you. Um, so when I met you in the, in the meat packing, uh, you were working and designing hospitality projects, but were you always there and like, how did you, how did you find as a, as a fan of, as a designer and a fan of design and someone who's super passionate about it, how did you find your way into hospitality?

Linda Laucirica: Mm, good question. So, uh, I think it really, it comes back to, uh, my love of storytelling, of literature, um, and, and art, uh, and that combination of interests. Uh, I didn't know that I wanted to study interior design. Um, after college, uh, I started working, um, I, I moved to Washington DC and I started working, um, uh, as a freelancer basically in the, in the local theater, um, community.

And I was doing stage set design and scene painting and, you know, that kind of support stuff.

Uh, uh, but all of those, like William Mammoth, all of those, like little like, um, arena stage, those little theaters.

Dan Ryan: The arena stage is a cool, I went to one there when I was like 13 or 14 'cause it's like in the round. And that was really, that was cra I can't imagine designing a, a

play for that. Right. That must be really hard. 'cause

everyone, 'cause

Linda Laucirica: college grad, so, you know, I was there painting sets.

Dan Ryan: yeah, but it's interesting 'cause like there's people all around the stage, so that must have been presented a whole bunch of different challenges.

That's cool. Anyway, I'm sorry. Keep

Linda Laucirica: yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, and, and then I started, uh, doing some back in the day, uh, faux faux painting. So on the side, I was all, I started working for a, a, a house painter who was doing, you know, rag finishes and fo fois faux marble. And so I was going out there like I was, I was doing strayer rag finishing and all that stuff.

Um, and that's, that's where I kind of was like, well, I really love designing physical spaces and working and creating and transforming physical spaces. Um, I, I, I, that's where I sort of landed on, you know what? I think I'm gonna switch and go to interior design and went back to school, uh, moved back up to New York.

Um, Went to New York School of Interior Design and, uh, when I grad. Yeah,

Dan Ryan: I'm sorry. When you went to New York School of Design, did you have like super buff shoulders from

like like painting interior? Like, I remember I had, I painted houses for a

Linda Laucirica: Everybody thought

Dan Ryan: yes, it's so, it's so physical and exhausting, but I was like, whoa, how about that? And I was rowing at the time, so it kind of helped me.

So anyway.

Linda Laucirica: yeah, exactly. I, yes. So, uh, yeah. So, uh, my, one of my first jobs out of then design school was at Rockwell Group. And

that is true, that was sort of the culmination of my passion for theater, for storytelling, for, you know, for design, um,

for experiential design. It was just, it was, it was like a great place to

Dan Ryan: a, a

Linda Laucirica: at that age, it was a total playground I was pinching myself all the time, like they're paying me. It was amazing. It was so much fun. Um, and that's, so that's, you know, that's really defined. My entry, my entry into, um, hospitality design, um, New York City, living in New York in the, you know, the late nineties, early, early knots was a wild time too. So, um, yeah.

Dan Ryan: and then, uh, if you could think of, okay, so then that was, were you going at to Rockwell to do hospitality design, or did you get to play in all those different silos that they have?

Linda Laucirica: So I started out, uh, I was hired to do Mohegan Casino, the, the original Mohegan Casino. And so within that, which is an interesting project because obviously there's the casino part of it, but then there's all of the dining venues and the entertainment venues. Um, so, uh, really, I, it was. It was interest.

What was interesting about Rockwell Group and, um, and David Rockwell's passion for wanting to do different types of projects. You talk about silos, like in, in the Rockwell world, there was, there really were no silos. It was an approach. It was an approach to bringing, um, our mindset and our, um, sort of collaborative, uh, creative thought process to any type of project.

Um, and, uh, you know, one of my, one of my favorite projects probably is, has nothing to do with casinos or hotels or restaurants or nightclubs. It was, um, it was a children's hospital and yeah,


was, uh, so this was the children's hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx?

Dan Ryan: Oh, okay. I see signs for that when I'm driving into the

Linda Laucirica: do you Yeah. Up, yeah. Yeah.

Dan Ryan: what did you love the most about that? Like why was that your favorite?

Linda Laucirica: Well, it was, I mean, for, for so many reasons. I mean, obviously I think the, the, all the client was a was, was for children. Um, and for, you know, children who were, you know, in, in, in struggling in different difficult times in their lives. And this is to provide a, an interesting and hospitable and safe haven for them, um, to, to ex to recover hopefully, uh, or at least to explore, um, you know, explore a route to recovery.

So the, the interesting thing about that project, um, and it was a long road in, in getting there, but it was a, uh, it was a collaboration really between the, the hospital Montefiore and, um, and Carl Sa, they were, and Carl Sagan. Uh, Dr. Sagan. Yeah. So, uh, Carl Sagan before he had

passed away,

Dan Ryan: You're intriguing. My geekiness.

There we


Linda Laucirica: Into your sci-fi coming back full circle into your


Dan Ryan: amazing. We could all learn from him.

Linda Laucirica: Oh yes. So he, um, he, uh, before he passed away was, was part of the, um, children's health fund. I think he was very involved in the Children's Health Fund, and so had partnered, um, with the Montefiore, with the hospital, uh, to come up with this idea of, um, you know, approaching healthcare for children in a different, in a different way, so that they are not scared, um, in a sense of what they're going through.

Uh, so, um, the, uh, the hospital when they decided to build a dedicated children's facility, uh, decided to do it as basically a living memorial to Dr. Sagan and his philosophies. And they, um, they approached Rockwell because, um, they wanted somebody who can. Bring a perspective of hospitality to healthcare, um, and to the children.

So, and using Carl Sagan's philosophies of, you know, we are all star staff, we all come from the stars. We are,


know, we are all star dust. Um, so, you know, no matter what you are going through, you're not alone. Uh, you know, through the history of, you know, human history, we're all connected through D N A and all of these stories are told throughout every level of that hospital.

Um, and, uh, children are, uh, you know, it's really the overarching, uh, design, let's say the design principle, the design vision was that children are, um, are on a journey to just, uh, how does it go, um, children on a journey to healing.

Dan Ryan: Wow.

Linda Laucirica: that is, um, I think that was a beautiful message and. To top it all off, this project opened, uh, October, 2001, um, a month after the September 11th attacks.

So the opening of this facility, the connection to, um, just the, the sort of the sacredness of our humanity and caring for our children and, and, and their future. It was just,

Dan Ryan: oh man.

Linda Laucirica: I mean, I'll, I'll, take that with me forever.


Dan Ryan: I, I literally, I have goosebumps up and down my arm that's, uh, and such a healing and in New York City at the time of real need. Um, I. Wow. It's, it, thanks for sharing that. I'm, uh, I'm actually surprised that, um, I hear like this Montefiore story or I was talking to, um, Lionel from Crave.

I didn't realize that he had done, um, the Sloan Kettering, the new Sloan Kettering in church, and I had a friend who was there getting treatments and was like, looking forward to getting chemo. And I was like, what?

Linda Laucirica: I worked on a Sloan Kettering project too.

Yeah. I did the, uh, the outpatient facility out in Comac.

Dan Ryan: Oh, wow. Well, I was like, I was like, how can you look forward to getting chemo? He's like, oh, it's amazing. It's like, you can do this and learn, and there's all the, and I was, and then I wound up, uh, talking to Lionel about it, not knowing that he was the designer. My point is, is that, I don't know why, and this is probably a whole other podcast, but why, there's only a couple of data points around the country of where these ideas of hospitality design have transitioned into healthcare.

And when you think about healing, I think that. Hospitality and wellness and all those things that we do really well there. I don't know why it's not like a filter that every single hospital is crammed through from like a brand. It, I think it would just, healthcare and hospitals are supposed to be about healing and it just surprises me.



Linda Laucirica: Providing comfort and joy, right? Yeah.

Dan Ryan: yeah. So, and healing. But thank you for, for sharing that. And maybe I have to, I have to write that down because that's a whole other thing that we could talk about. Um, okay. So that on your journey, that being at Rockwell and being like in this playground, I've also loved the work he's done with kids.

'cause it's all about play, right? He did all these playgrounds like down by the, um, south Sea, south Street Seaport with all those big blocks and you could just really roll up your sleeves as a kid. I remember taking my kids there and they would just like, well hit each other with the blocks, but they were having fun at the same time.

Um, But, okay. So that's your early career then, you know, you're, you have this hospitality design bug and what I, we, you mentioned w before as part of that, so I just wanted to share like, on my journey, I was living in San Francisco when w when the W Hotels first started opening in New York. And then I remember the San Francisco one open, the one in LA Open, and there were just these great parties and I went to these opening parties.

I don't even think I was in the industry yet, but it was so much fun and so exciting and such like a, an, I think an important time in our industry. And now, um, Marriot. Just bought the actual, and they don't, Marriott doesn't own very many assets, if I'm correct, but they just bought the W Union


um, to kind of use this as a laboratory to refine which way or what, what the North Star for W is.

And I, I'm really excited. I'm actually with Berman F We're doing a lot of work in there as well. So just a little, little plug there, but working with where? Yeah, working with Rockwell. Um, and just tell us about your experience now of, okay, your whole journey. Now you're working with the, with the W brand and like, where's that, where's that going?

And like, what's your, as a brand and all the things that we were talking about, the importance of brands before, like tell me your thoughts on that. Tell us your thoughts on that.

Linda Laucirica: Yeah. Uh, so again, that's sort of a, a full circle for me. Um, I like to say I was in the room when w was born, and I did, I worked on the, I was on the ideation team when we were concepting the first W on Lexington Avenue. Uh, I did the, uh, I did the design for the, um, at the Union Square one. Actually, the, there was a bar in the basement.

It's called Underbar at the time. It was like this dark. And,

Dan Ryan: I remember that.

Linda Laucirica: um, but yeah, so, uh, yeah, I lived, I was living that whole, you know, late, like I said, late nineties, early two thousands w life. Um, and, and now, uh, You know, these many years later, uh, w is, um, you know, has been tasked, our brand team has been tasked with saying, okay, well where's, where's w go?

Where will w go for the future? We, you know, let's evolve the brand. Let's let the brand maybe grow up a little bit without losing its, um, it's origin story, which was, is critical to I to the definition of the brand, right? That is WW can't lose its essence. Um, but how do you, that's, that's always the crazy challenge, right?

How do you keep a brand relevant? How do you allow it to evolve while staying true to its essence? Um, and that, that is what's, I think what's really exciting for me right now. I'm, I've been working on, um, uh, renovations for, uh, some of our. You know, big properties. The Union Square one, there's a another team working on that.

And like you said, that's sort of Marriott, um, owned, managed, and they're definitely putting, you know, their money, where their mouth is. Uh, but with, um, partnering with some of our other owners, we are also doing, um, full repositioning and renovation of the W Hollywood. So that will be a sort of an East coast, west coast, um, proof of concept for where W is going.

Uh, and, um, you know, and we have a bunch of new openings, uh, globally that are also happening to sort of spearhead this, um, this forward momentum for the, um, we just had Rome Open and Budapest and, um, we've got coming, uh, you know, on the boards in Naples. So there's lots, there's lots happening. Um, for w it's a super exciting time.

Um, I. the the interesting challenge of having known, known it in its, you know, from its origin story to, to now and, and having that perspective, uh, and being able to push it forward. Um, the brand team is, and our strategies team who, you know, we work very closely with, we have lots of layers in Marriott. Um, but the, uh, the, the, the promise of the brand now is to, uh, what do they say?

They say, um, ignite, ignite curiosity and expand worlds. That is, that is W's new, um, north Star. Uh, and the, the promise is, um, Is fulfilled through, uh, defining this new, uh, new white space of luxuries. And we call this luxury liberated. So, uh, how do you define luxury liberated? That is the, um, that is the, the gold ticket question.

Um, and, and that is what we are working on. Uh, it's shifted from what you were call talking about, like this nightclub party scene, right? That had so much energy. Uh, so we call, we used to call that the, uh, a cocktail culture,

right? Uh, now, um, w is evolving into more of a, um, a cultural cocktail,

you could say. Uh, so it's really about a mix of culture. Uh, our guests who used to be known as the, uh, disruptors. Are, um, are now identified as the connectors. So they are taking, um, you know, it's really diving into the, into the mindset of guests who, um, are intrigued by paradox. Like, you know, unexpected collisions, different perspectives, uh, pulling, you know, pulling world experiences together.

So that also is very true to New York and the energy of New York from the nineties when the brand started that sort of very forward thinking, positive energy is still the heart of, of w today. And, and that's where we're taking it. So it's, it's much more sophisticated, it's definitely more luxury, um, than, than it was in the past.

Maybe, you know, it's, it's not as, um, I'll say it's not as, Sort of designed for design's sake. It's not as gratuitous. It's much more, um, intentional, meaningful, um, guest experiences and materiality. Uh, not so much that plastic and bling. Um, you know, so that's where it's evolving, uh, and it's really beautiful and I'm so excited to, for everybody to, to see where it's going.

Um, it's, it's definitely, uh, it's definitely pushing the envelope of luxury in a, in a different direction.

Dan Ryan: Well, and also going back to the early ones, that idea of cocktail culture,

Linda Laucirica: Mm-hmm.

Dan Ryan: since then, all of our livers have hardened, right? So, so we have to, but as you're saying, it's, uh, to ignite curiosity and expand worlds. And I, you really lit up as you were saying that, and to me it was the same kind of lighting up that I saw as you were talking about, like Carl Sagan and being Stardust.

Right? It's the same. And I love that idea of collisions and connection because that's where everything happens. That's where like from kinetic energy, you collide with something and you have a new trajectory. It could be an experience, it's a conversation like we're having. Um, yeah, that's, it's really exciting.

And, and it's, that's a great brand promise to ignite curiosity and expand worlds. Oh, and I, I just remember, even though it's different than the original w but I. W I think what I, if, if, just from my experience, I was back in the day, like after the first ones were opening, I was working with Steve Higgins.

Do you remember him?

Linda Laucirica: Yeah. Yeah.

Dan Ryan: He, god rest his soul. Um, but he, uh, I remember Theresa Tino, who was working for w she's doing the design. She like concepting it. I remember one time she, like, she came into the office and I was buying stuff and make, and making things happen, executing the design. And I, she dropped like a bunch of shirt fabrics, like striped shirt fabrics, like thump on my desk.

Okay, we, these need to be bed spritz. And I'm like, what? How do I do that? But it was just the idea of like, she had a totally different perspective on what it should be and no, this is what it needs to be like, figure out a way to get there.

And then I would have to work with all these different vendors and try and find like, how do I make this thing.

A striped shirt like last and be durable, but also look cool and be comfortable. And it was really interesting, interesting challenges. And I think in anytime you're starting something new or or reigniting something, um, you really have to look at things from a completely different perspective.

Linda Laucirica: I mean, there, it takes a lot of, you know, courage

Dan Ryan: Yeah.

Linda Laucirica: and break out of the old mold. Um, but that's, you know, that's all part of W two. It's, uh, it's definitely a bold and, uh, and, um, statement making, uh, brand. And, uh, you know, ultimately it's the concept of, uh, of the living room, right? Came out of, out of w um, lobby is still called the living room.

And, and that's where everybody wants to hang out, right? That's, that's where the, that tribe, that tribe, that community comes together, right?

Dan Ryan: Mm. And that, and from an operational perspective, that idea of the whatever, whenever line like that

was, that was, that was, and it's still there, but that was like so different. Like, it, it,

was just like, and it was

Linda Laucirica: because it's New York, right? I mean it's, it's, it's true in the city. You get whatever, whenever, and that's the promise that this brand was trying to share with the world,

Dan Ryan: oh, I love it. Uh, a walk down memory lane, so,

Linda Laucirica: even in the meat packing district.

Dan Ryan: yeah, exactly where they actually packed meat. I think there might be one bit. One butcher's still there,

Linda Laucirica: Yeah.

Dan Ryan: Is it La Frida? I don't know. I don't remember. Or it might, is it just a storefront for them? I don't even know, but it's, it's, so I was just there yesterday and I'm just like, oh my God, this place is just so different.

Um, okay, so career journey, kind of what you're working on now and, and importance of brands and, and reinvigorating W. Kind of as we're talking right now and you're thinking about the future, what's exciting you most?

Linda Laucirica: Uh, well, uh, I mean it's definitely w it's, that's the biggest challenge on my plate right now, um, is getting it right. Uh, and, um, it's, you know, it's, you have to be willing to make some mistakes along the way, uh, because that's how you experiment. Um, and so again, it's that sort of fearlessness of just going out there and trying to define something, uh, redefine something.

Um, I guess the other, the other challenge really is, um, you know, is for our team as a whole, uh, and for global design, um, Mart Global design, I think, you know, we, uh, we have so many different brands, as you said in the beginning of our conversation, and, you know, it's, we are, um, tasked with sort of being the stewards of those brands.

And, and I. You know, when we partner with, uh, our owner franchisees and, um, and their design, uh, clients, they're our, you know, we sort of see this as a, you know, triangular partnership. Um, you know, we are, you know, we want the, the project, the property to be on brand on strategy, but we also want it to be successful for the owner, um, in, in renovations or new builds.

These are things that we are constantly, uh, you know, addressing every day, uh, trying to make sure that these projects happen on time, on budget, on strategy. Those are our three, our three big things, but, you know, really. We also wanna put our, you know, put our money where our mouth is when we're saying, you know, we, we see so much come across our plate and we've done as collectively as a group, we have so much experience in the design industry.

Um, you know, tap into us, tap into our expertise, uh, use, use global design, US and Canada. Canada as your extension of your team. Um, because we really wanna see the success of these projects. We're so passionate and excited about design, um, and about hospitality and delivering that to the guests. So I think that's, you know, that's our biggest challenge every day.

Dan Ryan: Yes, I agree. But that's why we keep getting up every day

Linda Laucirica: Mm-hmm.

Dan Ryan: to solve these challenges.

Linda Laucirica: To solve these


Dan Ryan: so going back to this idea of igniting curiosity, expanding worlds and having collisions and connections. Um, okay, so that's, that's the brand promise, right? And then if we go back to the beginning of our conversation where, um, you know, hospitality is really about.

Connections and making people feel comfortable and having positive human shared human experiences. Um, what's something either currently or in the future, when you think about the W brand that kind of best exemplifies that? And it may, it may be the living room, but, uh, like, is, is there something, um, like if you were to like, walk us through verbally about what, what that could, what that looks like or what, what you're excited about and how, how that all, how that becomes a reality

Linda Laucirica: Hmm. Um,

Dan Ryan: or it might be all under N D A and you can't say anything.

Linda Laucirica: No, it's, it's, you know, I could do a, I could do a whole, uh, w brand, uh, strategy immersion for you here, but that would be another hour conversation. Um, so we, you know, we have a strategy, right? There's, and that's what we ask designers to do when they're coming, um, to the table of, you know, looking through the lens of this brand looking, you know, trying to find those paradoxes or those collisions.

We give them a little bit of a toolkit to use in order to do that, but, right, everyone is different and unique. So, um, we call it the mix. Uh, and we have these sort of three tenants, uh, within that, um, within the mix of, um, you know, creating, lemme see, I have it actually right here.

Dan Ryan: Oh, fancy that.

Linda Laucirica: Fancy that. I happen to have it right here.

So we call these three tenants, um, form follows. Fantastic. Tactile materiality and clean maximalism.

Dan Ryan: Mm.

Linda Laucirica: And, uh, these are, this is what the designer needs to interpret to create the, or at least draws the parallel of igniting curiosity and, and expanding worlds. Right?

Dan Ryan: Can you say those three things

Linda Laucirica: yeah. Yeah, sure. Form follows. Fantastic.

Dan Ryan: Hmm. Okay.

Linda Laucirica: So that sort of celebrating, uh, monumental and, and intimate scales. Right. So playing with scale has always been something I think that is, um, is intriguing. Uh, we see, uh, Philippe Stark does that really well. Right? Um, so that's something that we want to explore. Uh, tactile materiality is the third one, and that's, um, that's where you're using material and using color as, uh, As a architectural, like you can actually use color as an architectural feature, um, as a material.

So nobody does color like w does color, right? So it's um, not necessarily the primary colors, right? Like we're looking for those in-between colors, those unexpected pairings of color and of materials. So when I said earlier, it's not so much about the, you know, the high shine lacquer plastic, uh, sparkly look anymore, which, you know, that was very nineties.

So it's, that was cool back then. Maybe it'll come around again. Who knows? It always does. Uh, but now, you know, we want that, that richness of texture and the authenticity of materials, but used in unique ways. Um, so that's sort of putting it on its head a little bit ways unexpected. Um, and then clean maximalism, uh, You know, that is also a very sort of w way of looking at, um, at setting the stage of the space, right?

We have this idea of conceal and reveal. Uh, not everything is shown all at once. You have an opportunity to explore, uh, use, uh, transitional spaces, um, spaces for experiences of getting from one place to another, not just, you know, way finding. Uh, so there's the, we give, we give the designers some tools for sort of looking at things differently.

Um, but it's really up to them, uh, that challenge is, you know, again, don't be, don't be safe, be fearless.

Dan Ryan: Yeah.

Linda Laucirica: uh, that's definitely a brand, um, personality.

Dan Ryan: Oh wow. I, uh, so thank you for sharing all that and, um, thank you for repeating them because I just really wanted to get my head into, into what it all means. And, and again that, and that's what's so amazing and what I love about, like, what we all do. Me, me on just a small part of furniture. You are bigger from a brand perspective and all the parts in between.

It's really, it's always. Executing a vision that's in alignment with something, right. And you, you just, you know when it's all done well, and we know what those exciting projects are, where like everyone is happy and everyone is raving and, um, I don't know. That's kind of what gets me out a bit, right? It's, uh, it's helping.

It's, and, and just in my small part it's, you know, I say it's shortening people's journeys, but it's like, I don't want people to burn so many calories to have to execute their vision on one little small part of this whole thing. I want to be able to like, empathize with them, see what they're, what they're thinking, how they're doing it, see what's most important to them, and translate that into a three-dimensional object that, like a chair, which we will always need chairs, and we

Linda Laucirica: always leave the

Dan Ryan: need cabinets, and we will always need beds.

And so like, I don't see, uh, well this could be hubris. Uh, hopefully AI won't take away furniture, but I, I feel like, I feel like people. We'll always need to sit down and sleep. So at least we will

Linda Laucirica: And have a conversation in person with each other.

Dan Ryan: Yes. And, and to collide with each other. So hopefully we don't get plugged into some matrix like metaverse, unless we're already in it.

When some,

sometimes I feel like we are


Linda Laucirica: You are a sci-fi geek, right?

Dan Ryan: I know I was reading, I was reading some article articles about current events, which we don't have to get into 'cause that's a whole other subject. But, um, there's all these people going down to Atlanta and, uh, or, and getting their mugshots right now and Right.

Whatever it is what it is. But in the comment section, someone wrote, wow, this is turning into a really cool simulation. Right.

Linda Laucirica: Yeah.

Dan Ryan: It's, uh, yeah, we're, uh, We're living in a, in a, in a sim. So, so sometimes I feel like we are, um, okay. Last question for you. Um, going back to when you were in college as an English lit major, and again, I really find like writing and analyzing other works and making interpretations of them, to me it's really design.

Like I, I know we talked about that, but it's, it's about having an idea and expanding upon it. But so in a way, even though you're a designer now, I would I push back and say, you were always designing and anyone who's a writer or creating things is, is ultimately designing things. But if you were to the Linda, I'm talking to now, were to teleport back to the English lit major Linda. Um, what advice do you have for yourself?

Linda Laucirica: that's such a good question. Uh, advice to my younger self back in college. Um, don't have that fourth shot of tequila. First off,

Dan Ryan: Right, because we're it, it's not a cocktail. It's

not a

Linda Laucirica: not, it's not a cocktail culture anymore.

Dan Ryan: We're now liberating luxury.

Linda Laucirica: um, no. I would, I would say, uh, that, you know, the, the skills that I developed in, uh, research, um, researching for my writing, uh, in organizing, you know, organizing my thoughts, uh, and in then efficiently communicating those thoughts, uh, was. Really the basis for everything in my professional life, honestly.

Uh, being able to communicate clearly to, um, to anyone is, is a, is an incredible skill to have, uh, either in the written form or the, the spoken, uh, word. So I think that's where, you know, theater becomes the, that essence, right? The written word, turning into the spoken word, turning into an experience held by a collective, uh, group.

Um, taking theater then and putting it into, uh, a physical space is a, is a direct, you know, link, a direct connection to all of that. Um, having worked at Rockwell Group and, you know, we know that, you know, the passion for theater and theatrical design and experience, um, there I think was sort of the culmination of that path forward.

Um, And, uh, yeah. And that, that has evolved sort of into where we are today with this, um, you know, sort of appreciation of, of lifestyle, of different lifestyles, of sharing those different lifestyles with each other. Uh, and yeah, that's, I think it's all been a, a pretty, in, in retrospect, a clear path, but maybe not such a clear path while it was happening.

Uh, but, you know, it's, it was, it's been a really fun journey.

Hopefully continuing that journey.

Dan Ryan: well,

Linda Laucirica: Who knows where it will go.

Dan Ryan: I, yeah, I know. You'll continue it. And then, you know what, whether we're in a sim or not, uh, we will all be Stardust again, and I love that. And we all come from it. And, and like the stars, like whatever we can all be doing to keep promoting these collisions of things like Stardust makes really cool stuff.

Like people like you and, um, This has been awesome. So if people wanted to learn more about you or connect with you in some way, or learn more about what you're up to at Marriott, um, what are some good ways that, um, they can connect with you?

Linda Laucirica: Yeah, sure. I am, uh, well, I am on LinkedIn, of course, and, uh, and, and Instagram. So I don't have a very interesting, uh, post on Instagram, but I do like to post things every once in a while, so,

you know, if you wanna get into my head. There you go.

Dan Ryan: and then we'll put the link to, uh, Marriott as well. Um, I don't know if you, if you guys, well, all, all of everyone's always looking for people, so, uh,

Linda Laucirica: Mm.

Dan Ryan: like, yeah. So good, good people connect,

Linda Laucirica: good people.

Dan Ryan: good people collide. There we go.

Linda Laucirica: That's right.

Passionate collisions.

Dan Ryan: yes. And what else? Okay, so I, great and we'll put all that in the show notes.

So again, I just wanna give you a heartfelt thank you. I'm, This has been a really fabulous conversation and I'm so glad I got to like, think about being stardust and

becoming a person and like all the cool things that we've created. Um, but thank you Linda. This

has been

fantastic. Thank you.

Linda Laucirica: I really enjoyed it. Hug, virtual hug.

Dan Ryan: Virtual hug. Uh, well, we'll give each other a real hug in person soon. I know we will. Um, and then I just also, again, at the beginning Linda mentioned it's, we just passed our two year mark and we wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't for all of you. Amazing listeners. And I know that, uh, just from the feedback that I get all over the place, uh, not so much about me, but about how, what they learn from our guests.

Um, It just keeps me going. So, um, again, I think it's just another way of colliding. And if so, if this helped you kind of ignite your curiosity and expand your world. How's that for looping the brand promise in there? Um, please pass it along because again, it's mostly all word of mouth. I mean, we post some things on some social media, but really it's, oh my God, so-and-so sent me this and I loved it, and thank you, and blah, blah, blah.

So it's all word of mouth. So please, if this changed your idea of hospitality or how to make a hospitality happen in the built environment, please pass it along and we'll see you next time. Thank you.

Linda Laucirica: Thank you.

Igniting Curiosity And Expanding Worlds - Linda Laucirica - Defining Hospitality - Episode # 122
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