Indispensable within the hospitality world and sought after by discriminating designers across the globe, New Yorker Stacy Garcia marries artistry, foresight, and business acumen at her eponymous company
as well as the textile company LebaTex
(which she named for her great-grandmother, Leba). She received her education from Syracuse University
and Central St. Martins
in London, and began her career at Ralph Lauren Home
and Richloom Contract Fabrics
before striking out on her own. Top manufacturers and hospitality brands have come to covet Garcia’s artistry—textiles, wall coverings, carpeting, and, more recently, lighting and furnishings—and love her futuristic weaves, elegant embossing, and rich, sophisticated color palette. Here, she opens up about hospitality musts, trend tracking, and the virtues of having a fantastic tribe. Interior Design: Hospitality projects are often considered the brass ring for interior design and architecture firms. How have you shaped your work to bring something indispensable to the market?
Stacy Garcia: Hospitality design is about a lifestyle concept, and with hotels you take risks. Our collections and product really work with that mindset, and we work collaboratively, including a lot of custom work. Interior designers and hotel owners have come to trust that our products have staying power and will remain valid for a long time. As both a designer and the head of my firm, I have to balance inspiration with business. We incorporate trend forecasting into everything we do. ID: And what is your approach to forecasting?
SG: We look at variables—economy, art, music, entertainment, social media. Forecasting is all about getting into the mind of the consumer and making relevant decisions on their behalf. These factors can be distilled into categories, even a color palate. What’s the public’s visceral response to color and lighting? By looking at all of this, we create an image of what people are into. ID: What would you say the hospitality world is looking for these days?
SG: When I started in the business, hotels were doing coverlets that were quilted to the floor, and you absolutely could not sell a hotel owner a white bed. Think of Las Vegas, fifteen years ago—it was all about the “themed property” like New York, New York and Treasure Island and Circus, Circus. I think the Bellagio was the first to change that concept in Vegas, saying, “You just need to have a beautiful hotel.” Now you have hotels like the Wynn, bringing a real luxury experience. From then on it’s been about beautiful, great design. ID: What does "luxury" mean in the hotel industry today, and what does it say about the shifting priorities of hospitality companies and business owners?
SG: Design—although very important—is only one element of the luxury experience. Well-edited and well-selected pieces set the stage, but it’s not about gold toilets anymore. It’s about having an experience. To achieve and maintain a five-star rating, a hotel has to focus on the level of service—a staff that anticipates your needs and addresses you by name. I also find that technology has to be well integrated into a guest experience. It has to be intuitive or it becomes a burden. ID: How has your business risen to meet the new needs?
SG: We’re seeing a more aesthetically conscious material selection process, and therefore we spend a lot of time focusing on technique. We’ll take a year to work on a wall covering, making to engrave deeply and incorporate elements like iridescent inks and innovative ways of printing. We want to bring in a “special effect.” Our new collection for LebaTex uses lots of metallic yarns, a novelty that adds real value. It’s about science—looking at things at a molecular level. With new yarns and technology, we can use light colors with less worry about staining. This is huge in terms of hotel bedding and carpeting. ID: You work with a diverse cross-section of hoteliers. What’s their take on the state of the industry?
SG: It’s interesting to hear the challenges of hotel owners. How does the five-star property stand out, when good design is available to the masses? The white bed is standard at Holiday Inn and flat-screen TVs are expected at two- and three-star properties. I see a bit more of an eclectic, curated design at the five-star level now. Embellishments are starting to hit the market again—detailed carvings, and a generally new approach to traditionalism. I recently saw a room that had a beautiful, cream-colored bed. It was so nice to see some color back on the bed, in a really sophisticated way. It looked buttery and rich—just what that market needs. ID: What are some of the most satisfying endeavors on your plate right now?
SG: We’re actually getting into 3D product design—a collaboration with Loewenstein. The initial reaction was really good at BD West in San Diego. We’ll be developing a fuller collection in time for NeoCon—lighting pieces, case goods, all the pieces that would go into a hospitality and interior space. I feel like I’m at the beginning of my career again. We’re known as a two-dimensional design firm, and to see some of our ideas come to life is really exciting. As for textiles, we’re always about absolute quality. We’ve partnered with three different companies, and we want our design to be accessible to every level. We work with Brintons Axminster and love their true, five-star-level of quality. We also love our work with Durkan and Lexmark. We provide tons of product for two-, three-, and four-star level hotels, and these partnerships let us offer our aesthetic and color palette to the entire industry. ID: Have you noticed a renewed interest in the business since the economy slowed a few years back?
SG: We were really lucky to continue to produce design throughout the recession. It came in handy to be a forecaster, because we were actually able to grow. I do see that new construction is happening again, and there’s tons of renovation in the pipeline. Hoteliers had held back, sitting on some capital. A lot of projects that were put on hold in 2008 are coming back to life. In terms of the big picture, I think the recession offered an evening out. There was a healthy realignment to bring things where they probably should have been. What we have now is a more sustainable market. ID: How do you instigate creative exploration among your team?
SG: We do inspiration days once a quarter—ideally more often—when we go see a show, or walk around the city and take pictures, or go to a community garden. I feel like a lucky boss, because I have a great team, every member of which brings their A-game to the office every day. I tell my people I subscribe to an “abundance mentality.” When you are willing to share ideas and resources, you get so much more. Now, I’m not a socialist—I believe in free market and room to be prosperous—but I find that a lot of my joy comes from people who are into building each other up to the next level.
What’s great about my team, too, is that they live that concept of giving back. So many of them participate in charity walks for MS or breast cancer. As a company, we’ve also partnered with different organizations—a factor that helps make work feel less like work, I think. We’ve partnered locally with a food bank, and have been donating to CARE (care.org) since the company started. CARE provides microloans to women in impoverished countries to empower them to start their own business. Every dollar is counted, and it empowers women to create change. ID: From where do you get your greatest design inspiration—mentors? Heroes? Study? Travel?
SG: The people I surround myself with… I call them my tribe. I’m blessed to be around the best of the best—great energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. I feel lucky that I’m part of such an exciting design community, to live in a great place, and work in an inspiring environment. I complain every winter, saying, “Why do I live in New York?” But I can’t imagine living anywhere else. There’s always something going on… a new exhibit, a new friend. And I’ll say this: While I’ve seen the greatest buildings and monuments and temples made by man, Mother Nature is the ultimate creator. My family has a home in Vermont, and when I need to escape, that’s where I go. It always comes back to nature.