The Coolest Job in the World
An interview with Claus Sendlinger of Design Hotels
By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen
Claus Sendlinger has a cool job. As CEO of Design Hotels, he gets to
travel the world in search of new hotels with distinctive architecture
and interior design to become part of the consulting, marketing, and
creative services company's portfolio. Handpicked by him and his team,
by the end of the year, Design Hotels will reach a membership of 200,
spanning 43 countries. And his passion is not only discovering the next
new destination, but also promoting the fascinating people behind these
unique properties. In between his extensive travels (he's on the road
from homebase Berlin half the year), we caught up with him in New York
where he discussed the rise of the creative class, why he just might
move to Tulum, and the most revolutionary hospitality concept in the
HD: You recently launched Made by Originals, videos that are a
behind-the-scenes look at the owners of your hotels. How did this come
CS: My team was working on couple of different type of slogans.
When we questioned people from media, people who were staying at our
hotels, and hoteliers, the term most frequently used was originality,
so they came up with Made by Originals. We want to incorporate this
originality in the entire brand experience because it is always the
people who make the difference. Everyone does everything a little bit
differently and has their own ideas, and it should be that way, but
they are all the same kind of consumers.
HD: What do you look for in a new member hotel?
CS: With the design per se, making sure it's not just one
particular style, making sure it is the holistic approach between
architecture and interior design. But this is a minimum requirement. We
look further, is the proportion right? Is the size of the hotel right?
Then we look at the people [behind the project]. The owner, which
designer he is working with, which architect he is using, which F&B
people, and who is in charge of the arts, and so on and so forth.
HD: Has the economy hurt how many applicants you have been receiving?
CS: We are getting more and more applications, 350 to 400 a
year. [We choose] less than 10 percent. Now it's contracting season; we
have a lot of very exciting perspective hotels. And from an
architectural and interior design perspective, it is getting broader
and broader. Last year was the toughest year for the hospitality
industry, but we sold exactly the same amount of rooms as the year
before. As I told the hotels last year, the people who used to stay at
Mandarins, Four Seasons, Peninsulas, and all those luxury brands, will
be downgraded by their finance departments and will not go to a
Radisson or a Holiday Inn. They want the same type of experience in a
more casual way—music is right, light is right, people have a passion
for what they are doing. You cannot buy that. You must love it. When
you love it, the money will come back. That's the reason for the
success for most of the hotels and for us as a group.
HD: With all this success, did you ever think you would be where you are now?
CS: My first interview was with a Dutch journalist. He said
'what is your intention? What do you plan to do here?' And I said 'we
will be the Leading Hotels of the 21st century.' Not comparing with
Leading, because I realized in the hospitality industry that people did
not understand this new, youth culture. (Now I call it the rise of the
creative class.) Thirty, 40 years ago, maybe 25 percent of the jobs in
the developed world had to do with creativity. Now we are at 70 to 75
percent, because creativity is working with your brain rather than
working with your hands. From scientists working for Google to
engineers working for Apple to ex-musicians working in law firms and so
on. I would say we are getting into a new era where hybrid thinking
will even become more important.
HD: Any areas where you have seen some cool developments?
CS: Italy has been very good to us in the last 12 months. We
have such a strong portfolio. There's Moschino's Hotel Philosophy. It
is not just another hotel-meets-fashion brand collaboration. The people
from Moschino are not too serious—it's their interpretation of
themselves. They have a bed that is like an oversized dress. Then
there’s Palazzina Grassi in Venice, designed by Philippe Starck. It’s a
very particular property, only 23 rooms on the Grand Canal. Starck
lately doesn't show up on his constructions, he has people doing it.
But he has four houses in Venice, he designed the logo for the city, he
loves the city, and he did spend a lot of time on this project. It’s
HD: Do you have the most perfect destination?
CS: I've just been to Tulum in Mexico, which I loved as a
getaway destination. It's a real gem on the Mexican Caribbean coast,
which, thanks to few tourists and restrictions on building
developments, is very peaceful and private. There are some incredible,
unspoiled beaches, Mayan ruins, and nature reserves to explore. I
stayed at our new member hotel, Be Tulum, which is more like being at a
private home or at a friend's place than at a hotel. It's a stylish
place attracting a stylish crowd, and yet it's very down to earth. The
owner, Sebastian Sas, often hangs out with his guests in the evening,
adding to the friendly and laid-back atmosphere. There is a popular bar
and restaurant, very spacious rooms, and beautiful simple design using
HD: What’s the most unique hotel you have seen?
CS: We have found the most revolutionary hospitality concept on
the planet: Sextantio properties. There just happened to be a hotel in
an abandoned village in Italy, which Daniele Kihlgren bought. He has
already bought 10 villages. He wants to buy 50, and he revitalizes
these villages. He is recreating them to exactly the state they were
when they were abandoned. Some are from 15th century, 16th century. An
Amanresort, as much as I adore Adrian Zecha and think it's the best
hotel group in the world, feels like Mickey Mouse compared to this
stuff. It is really absolutely unbelievable. I believe it should be the
model for tourism, for future tourism and living. There is one project
in Santo Stefano between Pescata and Rome in the mountains. It's very
high up, and there's another project in Matera, in the south of Italy.
There is a rock, which is UNESCO-protected with caves which are like
9,000 years old. There are Neanderthal paintings in there and they
managed to put hotel rooms there. But they didn't touch anything. They
put old-style beds in there, great blankets, and they took the stone
out and put floor heating in. Just unbelievable attention to detail. It
should be a government project but it is a private person. Even if you
have seen everything, you go there and you say wow.
Pictured clockwise from top: Claus Sendlinger; the lobby of the Palazzina Grassi in Venice; two views of the cave guestrooms at Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita in Matera, Italy; a bed made to look like a couture dress and the retail-inspired lobby at the Maison Moschino in Milan; Be Tulum's lobby, which Sendlinger says feels like staying at a private home more than a hotel.