“I’m a creative with an interest in all human experiences that elevate the soul”
Waad El Hadidy is an interior designer with an anthropologist’s mind. She started her design career at Starwood Capital/SH Hotels in 2012 at the launch of three luxury and lifestyle brands, 1 Hotels, Baccarat Hotels and Resorts, and Treehouse. While continuing to support SH, she established The Medusan in 2020 to create meaningful spaces and visceral experiences through collaborative design cultures and award-winning design. Waad El Hadidy, jury member of the BLT Built Design Awards, is sharing with us, her upcoming projects and Design philosophy.
Could you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from?
Hi! I’m a social scientist turned interior designer with a strong interest in global music. If categories were not important, I would just say I’m creative with an interest in all human experiences that elevate the soul. I’m Egyptian and I spent my early career in Cairo. Currently, I live between New York City (Brooklyn) and Mexico City.
Prior to working for Starwood Capital, you were a public policy researcher at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. How was the shift from an academic to a corporate environment?
I would say the shift was more from cerebral-laden work to emotive work. The environments were secondary in my experience. In my early design work, I spent quite a bit of time trying to codify what it means to imbue spaces with feelings and what a “mood board” signifies. I have to say I am much more of an emotive processor (someone who processes thoughts through feelings – I just invented that), but years in the academic world had that side a bit foreshadowed.
Can you tell us more about your role and responsibilities at Starwood Capital/SH Hotels?
I am responsible for the overall design direction of hotel projects while protecting and evolving the brand. A lot of the work has to do with embedding a project in place and building collaborative cultures.
What are you working on at the moment, and do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re able to tell us about?
I’m working on 1 Hotel Nashville, opening in early winter 2022. Currently, I’m bringing in Nashville artists to add further meaning to the spaces. I also just completed design guidelines for Ray, a new residential developer and brand that seeks to make culture and art more accessible through daily lived experience
You mentioned that “your past and current lives converge as you design with humanity in mind”, can you tell us more about your design philosophy?
I approach projects as visceral experiences rather than physical spaces. Of course, the latter is fundamental to the machinations of building a project, but my point of departure is different. My primary focus is how people feel emotionally connected to space, how it triggers memories or feelings, and how space makes people feel or think. For me, connecting on that level is much more important than creating a “beautiful” space. Anyone with taste can create the latter. But it is more significant for a space to be relatable, familiar yet fresh, for it to beam with energy, especially in this world where humans are feeling increasingly lonely.
Where do you get the motivation and inspiration for your work?
The cliché answer is anywhere. But to be more nuanced, I think the bi-city life I’m living is very inspiring. It’s important to jolt yourself out of a certain perspective offered by staying in one place for too long. You begin to “see” things differently when you switch gears.
Outside of the Design World, do you mind sharing your other passions?
I run a music series called El Series. It started as a home music salon featuring NYC subway buskers and other musical talents and has grown to include a variety of musicians representing a range of cultural backgrounds. The Series brings music lovers together in laid-back convivial gatherings.