SNAP: In your 25 years designing and branding hotels, what have you discovered that guests want?
D.B. Kim: People want an authentic experience.
But when you launch multiple locations, how can you ensure authenticity across chains?
Design needs to reflect the local culture, while also adapting to modern sensitivities. In China, for instance, traditions vary by city and province. Adapting the cultural aesthetic through material selection is key.
What is your design process?
My teams and I educate ourselves on local history and culture. We also understand the user groups; we learn who the guests are.
Do you think designers automatically consider that materials must wear the same everywhere users encounter the brand?
Well, when I went to architecture school, we didn’t focus on that sort of thing, so I think it takes reminders to prepare for this or that situation. I like to take young designers to factories to show them how yarns are woven, how patterns are conceived, and to let them handle samples to understand costs and product testing. It’s a combination of educating and mentoring.
Speaking of manufacturing processes, many projects now seem to feature a hand-crafted aesthetic. any idea why?
Absolutely. Time is a luxury, and when guests glimpse artisanship in details—stitched leather or honed marble—they immediately appreciate the time that went into making it. In this digital world, you don’t need a trained eye to recognize that something made with human skill is special. It feels authentic.