Palmer's Design Secrets Revealed

Mary Alice Palmer spills the beans on the fashion and design world to LUXOS.

by Erin Hom 14 June 2018

Designing a luxurious hotel takes more than just an impressive background in the design field. It requires a unique vision and the ability to create an experience for guests. Through her 32 years of design experience, as well as extreme creativity and curiosity, Mary Alice Palmer has mastered the art of luxury hospitality design.

Palmer has explored various different areas of design, including interior, handbag, and high-end residential design. Discovery and exploration has always been a key part of Palmer’s life, as she remains ready for her next experience. Her eye for modernity and clean-cut design have assisted her in working for luxury brands such as Grand Hyatt and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

What inspired you to pursue a career in design?
My wonderful father was an architect at heart and placed high value on exposure to the arts and culture. He drove us all over Europe in a Volkswagen bus, where my memories start as young child, to introduce us to the history of art and architecture. This education set the stage for my creative passion and obsession with design in all forms. It was inevitable that I would pursue a creative career in some way.

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You have experienced quite a bit in the area of design – interior design, handbag design, residential design, hospitality design – in what ways has this process taught you how to be a successful designer?

Design, as I learned in my education at Parsons in New York, is a matter of scale and proportion. It translates into many forms and I, being a very curious experience junky, have had the good fortune to have explored design in several industries.

Residential design with John Saladino provided a rarefied view into the personal world of extreme luxury, with its rich and varied layers. Set design for the film business allowed me to explore the art of story telling in a built environment to enhance and support characters as they move through a narrative. I am also drawn to creating a product and continuously perfecting it, then branding it and taking it to market as I did with my handbag company.

In all these endeavors, I gained an understanding of the importance of uniquely creative design. Hospitality offers an opportunity to weave all these threads together as it combines elements of luxury, storytelling and fashion to produce a successful guest experience.

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How have your experiences of working in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York assisted in your work today?
Living in three cutting edge cities on both coasts of the US has provided me with a bounty of rich experiences and inspiration to draw from. All three are Meccas of global influence, each with their own attitude and perspective and a high bar for excellence. Being exposed to this thought leadership helps inspire forward thinking in all our designs.

What made you ultimately return to hospitality design?
Hospitality is the perfect combination of all my previous experience and affords the opportunity to bring together these design disciplines. As hospitality designers, we tell stories, design layers of luxury products and curate spaces to provide a framework to enhance the guest experience - truly the synthesis of all my experience. I also, love that each project is different and special in and of itself allowing for widely varied solutions which always keeps things interesting.

Related: An Interview with Giada's Gabriele Colangelo

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How has working at HKS helped you grow in the design field?
Joining HKS provided me with the opportunity to start and grow a new Hospitality Interiors sector with the support of a leading architectural giant. The established technical platform and expertise gave us a leg up in the interior design field and allowed us to nurture and advance our creative conceptual vision on a level with other boutique interior design firms, but with a competitive edge.

The reputation and connections from within the firm have also provided many opportunities to work with valued clients to populate our portfolio with some amazing designs on inspiring projects in a relatively short amount of time.

What is the first thing that goes into the process of designing a new project?
We start by finding the creative thread of the stories we wish to tell. We research history, physical landscape, contemporary culture, artistic inspiration and fictional writing about a place to discover those threads to weave the narrative.

What inspires you most when beginning/working on a project?
The narrative taking shape to become the backbone from which all design decisions are made. The continuity created through these narrative criteria lead to some exciting visual results as you start to see the design unfold and understand those connections.

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What is the most difficult aspect of being a hospitality designer?
We’re constantly wrapped up in the details. Rightfully so as the details are very important.

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What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
The details! Walking into a completed space and seeing the successful fruition of the design and seeing other people loving that experience. Working with my team to realize these results is incredibly gratifying. The creative process and the uniqueness of individual perspectives as they combine and influence the outcome is amazing to me. There is a deep emotional connection to that process.

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