Hey, ya’ll. We’re kicking off a new series called Office Hours, where we give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what goes into building a Graduate and the team that brings the hotel to life by spotlighting one of our own.
To kick-off the series, we’re starting with our resident champion of the “no beige” movement. Meet our Chief Creative Officer, Andrew Alford.
As CCO, Alford heads up our design team, honoring the communities that surround each Graduate through the hotel’s interior design. We recently caught up with Andrew in his library-like office to bring you the inside scoop on his day-to-day and his inspirations.
Q: What sparked your interest in design?
A: I have been interested in design (and bright colors!) for as long as I can remember. When I was four, I picked out my own wallpaper for my bedroom. It was a loud pattern of yellow, green, and orange crayons. As I got older, I would go to the Goodwill store and buy used furniture to alter in weird ways or I would help my mom pick out furniture and finishes for the rest of the house. I vividly remember helping my mom select fabrics for new drapery when I was thirteen. I chose an unlikely stripe and floral to put together, which completely confused my mom. She asked me “Why do you think those go together?” I said, “I don’t know. They just do. It feels right in my brain.” She had the drapery made, and to her surprise, they turned out spectacular. We do unlikely combinations in a lot of our Graduate design work and to this day, it still just feels right in my brain.
Q: What is your favorite memory from your days as a college student?
A: My summers! I always joke that I was a “carnie.” I spent my college summers working on roller coasters at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. We had dorms like college, a lot of parties like college, but no home work! It was amazing!
Q: What was the best class or lecture you ever took?
A: My degree is in English Literature. Within that program, my absolute favorite class was experimental writing. The course was taught by Dr. Pope, a brilliant professor who was a graduate of the writing program at University of Iowa. The creative writing experience influences how I approach design to this day. I often say that a designer should be able to envision and describe the details of an imaginary space the same way an author puts it on the page. Similar to writing a novel, designing is a process of envisioning an environment, filling it with story, and then documenting it on paper. The only real difference is that our visions are brought into real life.
Q: What inspired you to get to this point in your career?
A: My perception growing up was that creative pursuits were hobbies, not legitimate careers. Given that thought, my first career was in theme park operations management with companies like Disney and Universal Studios. While working with those companies, I interacted with countless creative people who were designing unforgettable experiences. Those people inspired me to make a leap of faith. I moved to New York, and with no experience in design, I got a job as a receptionist and personal assistant to a residential designer. Probably the most inspirational thing that happened to me during that time was my employer telling me I didn’t have “the taste level or talent for a serious career in design.” Nothing is a better motivator than someone saying “no” to me! The initial nine years of my career were all in residential design. When I switched to hospitality, I found my true calling and that love of what I do has been my inspiration ever since.
Q: What inspires your design process for Graduate Hotels? Any triggers?
A: Every one of our communities offer different inspirations, whether it be history, tradition, fashion, notable alumni, or landscape. Each Graduate is the product of all those inspirations, however we always start by visiting the community and talking with local residents. Ultimately, the people are our greatest inspiration for creating spaces that are truly unique. They are the ones who share the hidden gem stories of local heroes, in-the-know traditions, and the flavors that create a distinctive sense of place.
Q: What are your design NO-NO’s for the Graduates?
A: The first and foremost rule for Graduate is if we wouldn’t put something in our homes, we won’t put it in a hotel. We strive to have everything look and feel residential, so the only real hard and fast rule is that nothing can look like hotel furniture. Other than that, I have a notorious dislike of beige!
Q: Tips on entering the design industry?
A: Getting into the design industry isn’t that difficult. There are a lot of routes whether it be through collegiate interior design programs or doing like I did and starting in a role that doesn’t require a degree. Once in though, the greatest advice I can give is to live by our Graduate motto of “we are all students.” Regardless of a designer’s age or experience, it is crucial to constantly learn by reading, traveling, and searching for new experiences. It is the only way for the creative brain to grow.
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?
A: Probably my late grandmother. She had such a large influence on my creativity, work ethic, and sense of humor. I would love to share my life with her now.