Herding Cats

I have an immensely interesting job.  I get to talk with designers and architects about using American hardwoods in projects all over the world.  After several years I am finally being invited into design meetings as hotels are taking shape.  There are several projects with which I am involved now that are for well-known international architecture and interior design firms who are doing work for equally well-known hotel companies.  I am not at liberty to give names of firms or the projects, but trust me when I say that these projects are immensely complicated.  The hardwood component in the form of millwork, furniture, flooring and cabinetry requires a great deal of consideration because of the various grades that are generated out of each log that is cut.  I preach that it is prudent on a large project to connect to the mill in order to establish the realities of the resource and how it relates to the project timelines and budgets.

Quite often the hardwoods are discussed very early on in the project and if a specification is at variance with the realities of the resource, no one from the hardwood industry is there to say so.  Now I am there to help filter the unbridled imagination of architects and designers through the often painful “funnel of reality” so that the aesthetic vision for the hardwoods jibes with the end product.

After three days in New York this week I came to the conclusion that the organizing all of the information involved with a huge hotel project is a bit like herding cats.  You can have one aspect of the project settled, then a different aspect changes and a domino effect of changes have to take place to accommodate that change.  There are endless proposals and reworks based on budget price points and owners ever-changing aesthetic or operational sensibility.   The natural variation in hardwoods needs to be built into the design process at several different cost levels and this requires careful thought and precise wording in proposals.

Recently. in a design meeting about a very large hotel property in Saudi Arabia I was asked if Quartersawn White Oak could be used not only in the guest room floors, but in the bathrooms as well.  Because of its resistance to water and stability in Quartersawn form, I said that with careful installation it could be used in the bathroom up to the sink.  The lead designer said that she wanted to use Quartersawn White Oak in the shower floor and around the toilet as well.  I had to tell her that while it would be an interesting experiment in one bathroom in a private residence, doing it in 350 guest rooms in a 5 star hotel represented a high probability of failure.  In the end, the fact that Quartersawn White Oak couldn’t be used in the showers and around the toilets literally changed the design for the guest rooms and therefore the entire aesthetic design of the hotel.

In the coming months I will be out in the world of architecture and design, helping to “herd cats”.  I will share more stories like this, representing the challenges and successes of that process, with you.