She labored under the wings of Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute then honed her visual display and merchandising chops at Giorgio Armani. Along the way, Erin Hoover started her own textile design business and earned a master’s degree in industrial design from Pratt Institute. And since 2006, she’s served as vice president of design for Starwood’s Westin and Sheraton brands, with Le Méridien added to her purview in March.
“All of these experiences have helped contribute to my point of view as a designer,” Hoover says. “Just being around Vreeland, I grew to realize and understand how much goes into fashion. From Giorgio, I learned that to create something exceptional, you must focus relentlessly on the smallest detail.”
When she felt ready for a change, Hoover says she “looked around to see where design might be heating up and I noticed how hospitality was becoming a high-design environment that was offering a 24/7 experience.” Starwood, in particular, was adopting a blended approach of retailing and branding applied to hospitality. Soon enough, an opportunity arose at the company, and she leapt.
She found herself working on Westin, which “already had a very clear positioning around notions of renewal and well-being,” Hoover says. Since taking over the design direction for the brand, she’s overseen a few updates—mostly responding to slight shifts in lifestyle trends and technology—but with the current rollout of a new concept, Generation IV, she has applied a more research-intensive approach. Reviewing guest comments and taking a good look at how rooms are used, her team is using biophilia—a theory popularized by biologist Edward O. Wilson that holds there is a strong and instinctive bond between humans and nature—as a jumping-off point.
“A lot of other brands have latched onto the Westin look of soothing tones and inspiration from nature,” Hoover says. “It was starting to feel superficial, and perhaps not so ownable, so we wanted to put some distance between us and the competition. With biophilic design, we can dig a little deeper.”
The new rooms, which have been introduced only in a few properties, merge work, sleep, and eat zones that respond to the ways modern guests use their hotel rooms. Features include slimmer desks, larger nightstands (with built-in ledges upon which devices can stand), expanded closets with pullout shelving (no more luggage racks), additional power outlets, and beds set at a slight angle to open up the space and evoke a “meandering path.” Other design touches include a custom portfolio of patterns and textures based on fractals found in nature and a correspondingly amped up color palette.
Sheraton, too, is going through a “big evolution,” says Hoover. “We’d like to change the perception of the brand through design.” The new look will encompass updates to everything from guestrooms to public spaces including the fitness and F&B outlets, as well as a new visual identity for printed and digital materials and signage. “The new aesthetic is modern, upscale, and dynamic,” she says. Another change for the brand: a new commitment to the leisure traveler, as a third of its 25 new openings this year will be resorts—about double its current hotels-toresorts ratio. “We truly are in a golden age for hotel design,” Hoover says. “As our experience of the world becomes more and more digital and virtual, hotels become the place to experience the physical and analog. At the same time, it’s fantastic to be able to take advantage of all of this technology—3D printing, new materials—so we’re all pushed to elevate our game.”