Cheryl Rowley began design when she was only 20 years old. Now, 37 years later, the veteran hospitality designer has closed up her studio, Cheryl Rowley Design, in Beverly Hills, Calif., to move on to the next chapter of her life. Over the years, Rowley has become well known for high profile projects such as Hotel Palomar, The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, Epic Hotel & Residences in Miami, and theWit in Chicago. Rowley was also a designer on the forefront of the boutique hotel movement in its early stages, working on several notable boutique properties around the world. Having decided to leave Beverly Hills and head to her home and family in Vancouver Island, B.C., Rowley leaves behind a trail of groundbreaking design projects. Before she put one chapter of life behind her and started a new one, Rowley spoke with Lodging Editor Len Vermillion about her decision to close up shop, her career, and her next move.
1. Len Vermillion: Why did you decide it was the time to close up the Beverly Hills shop?
Cheryl Rowley: It’s really been a long time in the works. My husband and I wanted to relocate to Vancouver Island in our retirement. An opportunity rose for him there and he actually moved to Vancouver Island five years ago. It was my intention at that time to sort of step away and continue with the business, and try to figure out how that might work. I wasn’t really successful at that. I couldn’t find myself getting away enough, because of the way I work. My business model is such that I’m involved with just about every aspect of the business…Then everything went crazy when the recession hit. I really couldn’t walk away at that point because it was a matter of making sure everything proceeded as it needed to and taking care of our projects. And, taking care of the staff and making sure everyone has a job, and taking care of our professional commitments. For the last few years I have not been taking on new work but finishing up our existing projects. We got to the time when I could really step away.
2. LV: You were at the forefront of the boutique movement as far as design is concerned. What do you think boutique hotels brought to hotel design at that time and over the years?
CR: I think the rise of boutique hotels was really a terrific thing for the industry in that it provided choices for people in terms of where and what way they could stay in hotels. Suddenly, design became an important element of quality. Before boutique hotels, hotels were designed in a way that had a certain paradigm. They were formal and luxurious and all of those things that go with a grand hotel experience. And then from there you had motels with a bargain-type experience. Hotel projects were rather devoid of design. Then there became this whole different genre of hotels where people of all kinds of economic levels could stay. They could have an interesting experience and not be relegated to a grand hotel that didn’t pay much attention to things. I think boutique hotels just opened up a world of different possibilities and experiences for people.
3. LV: What are you most proud of about your accomplishments? What do you think your work was able to bring to the hotel industry?
CR: I hope that I brought a way for people to look at design in a different way. It can be a lot of different things. It doesn’t have to be cookie-cutter, and doesn’t necessarily have to stick to one brand image. Before I became a hospitality designer, when I was in my 20s, I was living in Laguna Beach, I remember there was a Ritz-Carlton going in. I was so impressed with the space. It was beautifully done. But the fact of the matter was that it had nothing to do with Laguna Beach. It might as well have been in Boston. Hotels now realize it should be about the place. That’s one thing that I think I, and other designers, have brought to hospitality design in general. I had an excellent mentor in Jim Northcut when I was entering hospitality design, and also Bob Zimmer, and I think my early experiences working with them stayed with me in my career and I always brought that to the projects that we worked on. It was never a regurgitation of something we did before. Every single project was looked at uniquely.
4. LV: So where do you go from here? What’s next for Cheryl Rowley?
CR: I’m definitely taking time off. Vancouver Island is where our home is, and I need to take some time and take stock, breathe the fresh air up there. I’ll really turn my attention to my own house and make it as wonderful as I can. Then, I’ll look toward the future in terms of what may be out there. I’d love to be able to collaborate and consult and do conceptual design work in the future. I’m in discussions about writing a book. And, I’m a big craft person, believe it or not. I used to weave and do things like that. I’d love to get back into working with my hands and creating things.