A master of high-impact brand experiences, Toronto-born architect and designer Vincent Celano cut his teeth with the Rockwell Group , Jeffrey Beers International , and ICRAVE before launching his eponymous firm in New York in 2013. Celano and his team specialize in design, architecture, branding and graphics for high-profile hospitality projects—including Las Vegas concepts within the Venetian and Red Rock, and projects for brands such as W Hotels , Mercadito Hospitality , and Rosa Mexicana. Here, he shares what’s kept him and his bright team moving ever forward, and why his anthropology course has come in handy.
Interior Design: The hospitality world is often tricky territory to tread. How do you keep yourself and your team at-the-ready for the new requests of your clients—and what might some of those requests be?
Vincent Celano: We try to stay ahead of the curve, sometimes looking beyond and outside the design industry. For example, we try and stay up to date on how old cities evolve and also look out for those that are up-and-coming. We look at the bigger picture, but then we zoom in so it’s specific to our concepts. Our designs are often a response to the ever-changing urban fabric. Knowing it and understanding its culture, economics, and energy is very important. As far as some of the requests, it’s always, “I want it to be something for everyone.” We’re creating an experience anyone can immerse themselves in. They can escape to something very different or be part of something considered the norm.
ID: You’ve done a number of very brand-true projects throughout Las Vegas. Why do you think you’ve carved out such a niche along the Sunset Strip, and what are some of the fun advantages of creating within a space such at the Venetian or Red Rock?
VC: Well, everyone goes to Vegas for the “wow” experience. These spaces allow us to push creativity and create very high-energy immersive experiences. The experience at any given time feels like a main event, which is what Vegas is known for and keeps people coming back. Celano Design Studio has been fortunate to consult through some of the most talented local architects, allowing us to fully choreograph concepts with them that bring new and fresh experiences. Vegas is known for re-inventing itself. It’s also ground zero for entertainment and hospitality; the best of the best come to Las Vegas. It’s exciting to be a part of it and be influential to the evolution over so many years. I look forward to many more as Las Vegas expands to new and greater levels. The best is yet to come and when it does… Look out, because it will be epic.
ID: What are some of the “brass tacks” considerations you take to heart when starting a high-traffic project such as America Eats at Tyson’s Corner, a One Group venue, or a W hotel?
VC: The most important consideration is understanding who is the audience. It’s not just about creating cool spaces, it’s making sure the space brings forward a vibe that is relevant to that specific audience. Sometimes the audience is broad based, so the space must have a balance that suits many needs. Also important is flexibility. This is always good for operation, but flexibility, as far as the concept is concerned, is also important. Today the guest likes to feel that the design, much like the menu, is constantly being reinvented so it feels new and fresh.
ID: A lot of brand-savvy and innate understanding of people and societal behavior are evident within your hospitality work… How does this kind of “anthropology” serve the projects worked on by your team?
VC: Funny enough I took anthropology in architecture school as an elective… I never thought it would be so relevant. It’s very important to know the people and culture. For example, designing a space in Minneapolis is very different then a space in Miami, but let’s say it’s the same concept… We try and adjust by understanding the people to see how we can make the space comfortable and bring forward significance to its location while still giving balance to a brand that may be in multiple cities. Brand consistency is important but understanding the local people is just as important.
ID: How do you identify an ideal new employee?
VC: We are a small office of fifteen, so the right fit is very important. I encourage teamwork within the studio and continuous creative collaboration, and we have a great mix of talent that brings high energy and the love for design. Our studio includes a diverse culture of designers from around the country and the world. It’s interesting to me to see them work creatively together, and how everyone learns from one another.
ID: How do you encourage creative conversations among your team, and communicate those ideas to clients?
VC: Start by telling a good story, always. It’s important to speak of experiences and inspiration. I like to encourage conversation with the team that brings forward who they are and where they come from. Try being authentic and not always having the answers… It’s essential that everyone feels comfortable and can express themselves within the team. When communicating those to the client, I would say the same. Authenticity is very important but then we must be ready to have the answers.
ID: What are some great projects on your plate that are adding new dimension to the practice?
VC: We are currently working on an exciting luxury brand hotel project in Vancouver along with several casino restaurants that are part of a large development project. Working with the development team and the hotel brand definitely is adding tremendous dimension and excitement. We’re part of creating a new brand and concept, so it’s a high level of design and collaboration. We’re also working at Duke University on its new dining hall in collaboration with Grimshaw Architects… We’re responsible for all the branding and interior F&B design concepts. We are without a doubt taking the higher-education dining experience to new levels, both with the design and the food concepts. Last but not least we have some great projects in Miami, a city just like Vegas—a mecca for entertainment and hospitality that’s constantly reinventing itself. We are in collaboration with a major water front redevelopment project in Coconut Grove where we’re branding and designing multiple restaurant concepts. It’s exciting to be part of a major revitalization of an area with such amazing history and culture. It’s also exciting to be working with a brand that’s known for defining the architectural landscape of Miami as we know it today.
ID: How involved do you like your clients to be in terms of contributions throughout a design-build process, and how do you like to handle that communication?
VC: Most of the time, this is up to the client. We need to remember as designers we are in a service-driven industry. Our clients do the same, whether it’s a restaurant or a hotel, so we open the door and really try and make it a collaborative process. The client can’t always communicate what they want, so it’s our job to create a process that helps extract and bring focus to the vision on what the concept can be. The design process is an evolution that starts with defining an experience. It’s important to me that we define this together with the client, as it’s something they take very personally… especially since they will live with the design after we have completed the project and moved onto others.
ID: What opportunities and responsibilities exist for people working within the design world today?
VC: We are very much a part of the evolution of how people live and interact. The design industry has a great influence on culture, people, food, entertainment, and so on. I don’t know of any other profession one can participate in all these aspects while still having lots of fun doing it.
ID: What inspires you today, versus in earlier years?
VC: My three young children—Sophia, Isabella, and Lianna—continuously inspire me. Watching them find their passion is inspiring because I started painting and drawing when I was about eight. I had a passion for architecture at a very young age. I think everyone needs to go through that. For me it was design, especially since I couldn’t play piano or the guitar very well. In the industry I always look back to the great architects of our time. I think it’s important to understand the evolution and its influences; many designers borrow without understanding the process. Once you understand it, only then can you have ownership—and at that point it could become original.