Kavitha Iyer is a licensed Architect and Designer with 21 years of experience in Hospitality and a passion for Art and Travel. In her current role as Head of Design for Intercontinental Hotels Group, she leads Brand Design for the Americas, focusing on defining inspiring design experiences for each brand. In this interview with the BLT Design Awards jury, we get a glimpse of her love for design and travel.
Could you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from?
I grew up in three different countries starting in Houston TX, USA, Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia and Chennai, India. I went on to live in 6 other cities before I landed in Washington DC, so the concept of home is always present tense with fond memories of past landscapes.
What has inspired you to work in the Hospitality Design field?
I have had the successful opportunity to blend the two things I love: Design and Travel. My parents were avid international travellers, so I spent my early years in many hotels and resorts for extended periods of time. On the one hand, it was enjoying the joy and perfection of the guest life, learning the remarkable impact of expression and on the other, appreciating our tremendous hosts and service culture in remarkable hotels all over the world.
A quote by Gustave Flaubert is what I hold dear to my heart and it makes one realize the significance of designing for travel: “Traveling makes one modest – you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
What are your key responsibilities as the Head of Design Americas for Intercontinental Hotel Group?
I head up a group of highly talented Designers to provide Brand Design strategy across the IHG Hotels & Resorts portfolio of Brands. My role focuses on providing individualized interpretations of the unique personalities of each Brand into memorable Design experiences for our guests, and achievable and trustworthy business investments for our owners.
If you have to choose only one project you have been involved in, which one would it be and why?
Every project I’ve worked on and continue to be a part of is near to my heart. I’ve long dispelled the notion that there is the “one” thing. The best-in-class projects are the ones that are truly multi-disciplinary and the ones which forge impressionable learnings on how we revise the way we think for the better.
What do you feel is the most challenging part of working in Hospitality Design today?
It is a challenging time in any industry at the moment. I would say in Hospitality we have an opportunity to provide for our guests by way of creating memorable and trustworthy experiences which offer respite from everything happening around us. An empathetic haven, to suit a variety of needs states, whether it be for work, destination leisure or extended stays, with the assurance of being safe, clean, and reliable.
Outside of the Design World, do you mind sharing your other passions?
I started out as a painter before I decided to pursue Architecture and Design as a career. Painting is the much-needed analogue respite in today’s “at the tip of your fingers” digital world. I also enjoy cooking. As an early-age traveller, spending time in many hotel kitchens, nurtured an appreciation of cuisine as a process and art form to bring joy to my community of friends and family.
Last, do you have any tips for aspiring Hospitality Architects/Interior Designers?
One, Design is Design. In Hospitality, Architecture and Interior Designers should speak each other language fluently. You aren’t designing within a discipline, you are designing an experience.
Second, Network. Reach out. Introduce yourself. Be curious and let learning be a continuum. The world of Hospitality and the Designers within form an inspiring, talented, and thought-provoking community. There are so many forums and associations which provide support, education, and engagement at various levels.