If you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant by Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal or Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chances are you’ve seen Adam D. Tihany’s work. He has been designing restaurants and hotels for more than 35 years, building quite the portfolio of luxury properties. The Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker continues to stay busy working on a variety of projects ranging from overhauling The Beverly Hills Hotel to designing all of the public spaces on a new Holland America Line cruise ship.
The leading designer took a few minutes from his jam-packed schedule to chat with us about his current ventures, his latest book Tihany: Iconic Hotel and Restaurant Interiors (coming out in March) and what he learned from owning a restaurant.
You just finished Four-Star The Joule in Dallas. What projects are you working on right now?
[Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star] The Beverly Hills Hotel is not technically finished. The rooms are being renovated in batches, so it’ll be another year until the whole thing will be done; but it’s moving ahead. All of the public spaces are done, and I would say about 30 percent of the rooms. It’s a rollout that’ll happen during 2014. They can’t close the hotel during renovation, so they have to do it in pieces.
We are working on The Oberoi, New Delhi [slated for completion in December 2014]. We’re redesigning the whole hotel. We’re doing the [restaurants at the] new Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. We’re also working on a big cruise ship for Holland America [Line]. It’s a brand new cruise ship. We’re doing all the public spaces — about 16 areas — on the ship. That’ll be coming in 2016.
We just completed the renovation of the Flagler Steakhouse at [Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star] The Breakers Palm Beach. This is our second project for them. We’re also under construction for our second project for [Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star] The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. We’re doing an Italian restaurant for them. We’ve been busy.
What will The Broadmoor’s restaurant be like?
The Broadmoor restaurant is going to be a little more classic Italian. The name is Ristorante del Lago, which means “the restaurant of the lake” in Italian. There’s also a large bar, which is part of it; they’re actually two separate areas, but they’re connected. It’s sitting on the lake. It’s going to be about 140 seats indoors, and there’s a beautiful, big veranda overlooking the lake. It has private dining rooms, wine cellars [and] a big open kitchen. It’s going to be fun.
Where did you get the influence for Ristorante del Lago’s design?
It’s sort of a take on a villa on Lake Como. That’s the imagery. It’s a lakeside restaurant. Typically, these semi-classic Italian restaurants take their inspiration from Tuscany and are vernacular. [This inspiration] is a little more north, on the lake, so it has beautiful lakeside ambition. If you sit in the restaurant, you can imagine George Clooney walking by with his dog, like at Villa d’Este. I think it’ll open in June.
Is this Holland America Line project your first cruise ship?
No, I’ve done some work on a previous cruise ship, which was for Royal Caribbean’s Solstice Class. We did like three or four areas — so not to this extent. The [Holland America Line cruise ship] is basically all the public spaces (all the restaurants, atriums, bars, dining rooms).
You do a lot of hospitality design. Do you like to do restaurants or hotels more?
I love the hospitality world in general. I started off by doing restaurants. I was really the first person in this country that actually called himself a “restaurant designer” — this is going back to the ’80s. It’s all described in the [new] book [Tihany: Iconic Hotel and Restaurant Interiors]; it’s sort of a history of restaurant design. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. It was just the beginning of designed restaurants and the restaurant evolution (and revolution, subsequently) in this country. Just by sheer coincidence, I was at the forefront. I really liked what I was doing, so I bought a sign that said “restaurant designer.” Before that, I didn’t want to define myself as anything. I didn’t want to put myself in one particular aspect of the profession. But it stuck. The first restaurant I designed [La Coupole in New York] was very successful. The next day someone called and said, “Oh, you do restaurants?” So this is how I got into the business. I’ve even taken the ultimate suicidal step and opened my own restaurant [Remi], which I owned for more than 20 years.
What did you learn from owning a restaurant?
Everything I know I learned from that. It was truly a hands-on [experience]. I worked the floor for years. Every designer that worked for me had to work in the restaurant in some capacity at a certain period just to get to understand what makes a restaurant work. It’s not just nice furniture, pretty lighting and flower arrangements. It has to do with people and how the front of the house interacts with the back of the house, and where you find the balance. I certainly became a much better designer following my experience in operating a restaurant. You get to learn much more than what’s just on paper. Through the process, obviously, we were relatively successful and got to know a lot of people in the business. Colleagues and chefs such as [Forbes Travel Guide Tastemakers] Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller have known me not just as a designer, but as a restaurant owner, and they deal with me as a colleague, not as a guy who is going to spend their life savings designing a restaurant. They know that I understand what you need to do to give the guy the best chance to make money, how a good restaurant should operate — why do I need a service station in the dining room when I can stick it at the table?
You have your third book [Tihany: Iconic Hotel and Restaurant Interiors] coming out in March. What made you want to write that?
It’s sort of a reflection of everything I’ve done. I think you get to a point, past a certain age, when you need to cement your legacy. I need to catalog my achievements and think about what’s next and how the rest of the world is going to view this, and so on and so forth. It’s a summary of the past 30 years of being in the hospitality business. It’s certainly not the last chapter, but it’s a milestone.
Aside from it being a reflection, what else can we expect from the book?
The book itself is a beautiful design object. It has quite a bit of spectacular projects in it, need I say, modestly. I think it’s just an interesting subject. It’s very timely. People now care about hospitality and hospitality design. I think given that restaurants and hotels are meeting places of choice these days everywhere because they’re easily accessible, you can see a lot of beautiful and interesting designs, and it influences the way you think about design. The book has a collection of about 15 projects in it that are dramatically different from each other. Altogether, they represent a picture into this incredible world of hospitality that affords designers challenges, opportunities and platforms to display their work to the public. There are a lot of beautiful books about residential design, but chances are that you’ve never been in one of these homes. You can see pictures, but you can’t really feel and touch. Hospitality — hotels and restaurants — on the other hand, you can actually experience, which makes a world of difference. I think this will be a handsome addition to the wonderful world of hospitality design.
Photo Courtesy of Joe Schmelzer