Q&A with Tony Machado – Highgate

“When my GPS says turn left, I turn right and intentionally get lost for a while, and this is where fresh ideas are born,” said Tony Machado, the newly appointed head of design for Highgate, who has joined LUCID, the company’s in-house design and construction studio. Hotel Business spoke with Machado about the venture, how he seeks inspiration and design trends for the next few years.
—Abby Elyssa

Why are you so passionate about the hospitality industry?
I love that hotels are public spaces which are generally open for all to enjoy and be inspired by. Compared to other industries, hospitality is more innovative and experimental, and when designing hotels, we focus on capturing the interest of guests to keep them wanting to come back. I began my career designing biotech and life-science facilities, where the design focus was different. In fact, the biggest difference was that once a biotech facility was completed, it immediately became high-security and off limits to the public. When I designed my first hotel, it was extremely rewarding knowing that so many people were able to enjoy my work and benefit from the space we created.

What about design? What about it excites you?
I love that, in design, there are no real “correct” answers. Design is subjective, so everyone is entitled to their own unique preferences and styles. It’s ever-changing, engaging and emotive. It’s problem solving. Mastering design is a lifetime learning process which tends to keep you fresh, current and young in spirit.

What was your first hospitality job and what did you learn from it?
My first hospitality job was at a small beachfront hotel in San Diego. It was soup to nuts and as a young architect, I was responsible for coordinating everything from structural elements to tableware. I was young and eager to dive in, but I really had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I completed the project by approaching it step-by-step and learning on the job. but it was a crash course in learning everything I needed to know, from the process to the politics it requires. As with any project, working with incredible people helped.

What are your goals for this year at the new position?
I am incredibly honored to be with Highgate. Not only is Highgate one of the most influential hospitality management companies in the industry, but we also understand the business from an ownership and brand leadership perspective within our portfolio of owned assets. We also have a powerhouse food and beverage division, TableOne—a partnership between acclaimed Chef Michael Mina, restaurateur Patric Yumul and Highgate—which further enhances our ability to get creative. I am excited to build on the incredible momentum we’ve built and bring our robust pipeline of new projects, which includes Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, to fruition.

What excites you about the new role?
Highgate has a world-class, in-house design studio, LUCID, that draws from a diverse base of talent. I feel lucky to be working with the best people and with our incredible brands. I look forward to collaborating with our industry’s finest design consultants and establishing meaningful relationships. I love discovering new talent and then finding more opportunities to work with them on future projects.

How do you keep your design fresh and innovative for new generations of travelers?
Travel and discovery are everything to me. As Mark Twain said, “…things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth.” Experiencing new places and cultures, getting curious and asking questions and getting out of my comfort zone keep me inspired. When my GPS says turn left, I turn right and intentionally get lost for a while, and this is where fresh ideas are born.

How do you incorporate sustainability into your design?
Sustainability is no longer a novelty; it’s a necessity. Operating from this place is an expectation of all partners we work with at Highgate, and we are fortunate to have our own in-house VP of sustainability. In our continued partnership with MindClick, a data and analytics solution for environmentally and socially responsible design and purchasing, and Highgate’s sustainability team, we strive to advise our owners, consultants, partners and operating teams on the importance of this evolving effort, which is making a real difference for our industry and the world at large.

What design trends are you seeing for the next few years?
I see the “natural, crafted, honesty in materiality” trends evolving into “organic opulence.” Essentially, taking the same basic tenets and pumping them up into a culmination of effortless and harmonious luxe feeling environments.
We are also seeing a resurgence of geometric and ’80s-inspired Art Deco elements with modern interpretations. The natural cycles of trends allow us to lean into the continuation of spaces that feel as though they have evolved over time versus a specific moment in time. We can blend the old with the new to showcase a collected, curated and even a bit disparate mix of styles and elements.

Is there anything else readers should know?
I started my career as an architect which provided a great base and solid foundation for me. But there are a lot of rules in architecture that don’t often apply in design, and it took me a while to get comfortable breaking those rules. As challenging as it can be at times, allowing yourself to think outside the box is ultimately where you will be able to let your creativity flow most freely.

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