Inside The Process Of International Design Icon Lauren Rottet
In the design world, few names garner as much acclaim as Lauren Rottet. Lauren was inducted into Hospitality Design Magazine’s legendary platinum circle. How does she cultivate her creations? What drives her designs? Bisnow sat down with Lauren to find out.
Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards declared the Rottet-designed Surrey Hotel the best hotel in NYC. A Rottet-designed Viking Ocean Cruise Liner also holds the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award in its category. The design process for these stunning interiors wasn’t what you'd expect. Lauren says when you design a space for leisure and pleasure, it’s better to think of it as set design than just interior design or decoration. From the finishes to the furniture, even down to the uniforms and place settings, the layers of design from top to bottom have to be a cohesive narrative. The space has to tell a story.
So when Lauren starts designing, she literally writes a story.
With The Surrey Hotel (modeled above by Lilly, Lauren's standard poodle), Lauren started with the premise that famous fashion designer Coco Chanel lived in the hotel. She began to see the world through her eyes: She came in, threw her luxurious coat off and immediately ordered a martini. That’s when she decided the hotel needed a bar, because Coco Chanel needed one. The design of The Surrey Hotel tells the story of Coco Chanel through a lens of black, white and gray. The elegant and sophisticated space has held the title of No. 1 NYC hotel and No. 3 nationally since it opened in 2009.
Lauren’s journey to the pinnacle of the interior design world started as a girl growing up in Waco, TX, making houses for horn toads. When she built one strong enough to hold the toad overnight (always letting them out the next morning, she assures us), she would fill with pride. Her fascination with architecture stayed with her. Before she went off to college, her father, who was a strict disciplinarian, let her take a morning off of school to see the interiors of the office buildings she always admired. Despite her passion she was set on becoming a doctor. Luckily, a college boyfriend told her, "All you ever do is paint buildings, why don’t you become an architect,” and things became crystal clear.
Lauren's design narratives also began as a child, and are most heavily influenced by her grandmothers. Her parents are what she calls “design agnostic,” but her grandmothers had very distinct taste. One who lived in Kansas was contemporary, with lots of wood, simple and elegant. The other loved Victorian design, her home filled with exquisite antiques. Lauren's home (above, again with her photogenic poodle Lilly), combines those aesthetics.
Throughout the design process, Lauren keeps one thought in the back of her mind, something a professor told her: If you recognize what you're doing, you’re not designing it. You have to take inspiration where you can—Rockefeller Center still inspires Lauren to this day—but you have to take that beginning and run with it, making it your own. One way to do that is to experiment with a variety of materials.
Lauren has a bit of reputation for being the queen of materials. Her collection of samples in Rottet Studio is extensive and she brings as many as she can think of to meetings. Establishing a point of view and mutual aesthetic for those who have no idea what they want has become Lauren's specialty. It was one of the main reasons Bill Gates chose Rottet Studios to design his personal office.
While much of her recent acclaim has come in the hospitality industry, Lauren’s fingerprints are all over some of the best offices in the world. In fact, her first interior design project was at Trammell Crow Center in Dallas, which she also helped design as an architect. Since then she’s worked on Renaissance Tower, Goldman Sachs' New York office and the law offices of Kirkland & Ellis, to name a few. Because designing office space is so much about function, she likes to talk to the mailroom workers, secretaries, all types of support staff, to find out how things are really working and what type of chaos is going on behind the scenes.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Rottet Studio’s success is that fact she branched out on her own in 2008, the worst possible time, and yet achieved so much. She began her career in San Francisco at Fisher Friedman Associates, then to Chicago at Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill until it folded into Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall. Her boutique design team parted ways with DMJM when the firm went public. After the seperation, Rottet Studio was voted one of Houston’s fastest-growing companies. Lauren’s management style plays a big part in the success of all three offices nationwide. You can’t put creative people in a box, so her strategy is to hire great people, share her knowledge and techniques and help them cultivate their natural talents to exceed expectations. Rottet Studio does training a bit differently. While many firms drag interns to programming meetings with clients as an afterthought, that’s the last and most important part of training at Rottet.
One thing Lauren stresses to people who work for her is the importance of understanding everything behind a look. Don’t just take it at an aesthetic face value; look deeper, find out why this particular look has become so popular. When you start to see things on that level, you’re less susceptible to falling into cliche trends. Rottet Studio’s timeless designs have become a selling point. Clients know that no matter how many years they stay in a space, it will remain a beautiful design. Rottet's Houston HQ is a prime example. You’d never guess the sophisticated yet simple space was designed 16 years ago as it still seems like an office of the future.
Lauren made the switch from exteriors to interiors out of necessity. The office market was nonexistent, so one day her boss came in and ask if she liked to do interiors. Lauren said no, not particularly. He then asked if she’d like to keep her job. It wasn’t hard to convince her to make the switch after that. She soon found that working in interiors was more challenging because you have to know so much more about company culture and specific details about so many people. The challenge made things go by quickly, especially because interiors projects don't last nearly as long as major construction projects.
Lauren chose to make her home base in Houston, where she spends the majority of her time. She loves the simple Southern Colonial style of Houston. The city has a deep and thorough understanding of art and design but with an understated quietness about it, she says. Some of the finest personal collections are in homes of her Houston clients.
Lauren is a mother of two, to her son and daughter, Kyle and Evan (above), both now adults. Her two pups, Lilly and Samson, are her children now. On the weekends, her big backyard often becomes a dog park for family and friends. For Lauren, the more the merrier. She loves to cook for others when she has the chance. When the entire family gets in the kitchen, it’s not quite a symphony, but darn close.