Meet the Minds – Patrick SuttonApril 10, 2017
Patrick Sutton, principal at the eponymous Baltimore-based firm Patrick Sutton Associates, has drawn upon a lifetime of travel to inform his elegant designs. A portfolio of both residential and hospitality projects highlights his dedication to clarity and the balance between romance and detail. Here, he discusses his first design memories, traveling the world, and the similarities between crafting a restaurant and a theater.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I learned I had the aptitude for design when I was about 16, and I took an architectural drafting course. My teacher told me I had the gift of being able to visualize things three dimensionally. I then enrolled in a summer Career Discovery program in architecture at Harvard University and was hooked.
What are some of your first memories of design?
I remember rearranging the furniture in our den when I was around 7 or 8 years old. It was after school. I knew my dad was coming home, and I wanted him to feel comfortable and taken care of so I moved the lounge chair to the center of the room and angled it to the window. I placed a small table next the chair, dimmed the lights, put on his favorite record, and put his drink on the table. I patiently waited for him and made him sit in the room and enjoy his drink. It was my very first project reveal.
Did where you grew up influence your career path?
It was more so how I grew up that influenced my career. I was the son of a prolific travel journalist so we traveled the world where I was exposed to the most beautiful and storied properties on the planet. I didn’t know it then but my mind was being filled with images and experiences of the finest interior and architecture of hotels, palaces, gardens, and sights around the globe. It became obvious later that my ability to conjure solutions to design problems came from everything I had been exposed to as a child.
Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned?
I studied architecture and received my bachelors of architecture with honors from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Not wanting to be in my father’s shadow, I skipped New York and started job hunting in DC, and ultimately took a job in Baltimore working in a large corporate firm that I hated and left in about nine months. I then worked designing custom homes for a small firm, which was much more rewarding as a designer. Before I knew it, I had made Baltimore my home.
Why and how did you start your own firm?
I opened my own company in 1994 as an architecture firm. As I continued my work, I realized that I was much more drawn to the interior design aspect of the work as it allowed me to craft and control a complete experience for my clients projects, one in which I could develop a design narrative and see it through to the last detail. In many ways I was following in my father’s footsteps as a storyteller but where he used words to transport his audience, I used design.
Can you discuss some of your recent projects?
We recently completed a 128-key luxury hotel on a pier in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for the new Pendry Hotels brand. It is a design-focused hotel built within a historic 1914 Beaux Arts recreation building in the historic Fells Point district. Built on a pier, the guestrooms float over the water and have been designed to heighten the guest experience almost as if staying in the captain’s quarters of a ship. The public spaces of the hotel reflect Baltimore’s history of gritty luxury with expressed steel girders alongside supple upholstery and warm lighting. One of the interesting features of the hotel is that it sits not 1,000 feet from where the Star Spangled Banner was written. As guests enter the hotel, an entire wall of laser-cut steel features letters that make up the lyrics. The flag reappears at the front desk in the form of an undulating bronze wall, like a flag billowing in the wind.
We also recently completed two restaurants in the Four Seasons Hotel: Loch Bar, which is an oyster bar and Azumi, a Japanese restaurant.
Another project we are working on is the Sagamore Spirits whiskey distillery and restaurant. We are working with Andrew Carmellini and the NoHo Hospitality Group on that project.
Is there a challenging project that you are especially proud of?
The Sagamore Pendry hotel [in Baltimore]. Try designing and building a hotel that is over and bound on three sides by water and the fourth side sits on an historic street. It was like designing a cruise ship while it sits in the water.
What do you find are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
Getting craftsmen to build with pride of excellence is the biggest challenge in commercial work. No matter how clever we are as designers, it is the execution that is presented to the world. The exciting part of the job is seeing how your work positively influences the lives of those it touches, whether it’s the guest, the client, or most importantly the surrounding community. When I see people stop, take in all in, and smile, I know I have done something worthwhile.
How does your approach differ when designing a restaurant compared to a hotel space?
In the hotel space, you are crafting a guest experience that is measured in days wherein a restaurant you are creating a one or two hour opportunity for the patrons to be transported. This means the restaurant tends to be a bit more theater-like in its approach, whereas the hotel is either designed as a series of experiences or spaces that evolve over the day.
What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant, both in terms of branding and interiors??
Thoroughness and consistency of the concept through to the smallest detail. You are taking your guest on a brief vacation when designing a restaurant so any lapse in the transportive illusion is shattered for the guest.
What about for hotels?
It is the same thing for hotels except the story you are telling is much broader. Think of it as if a hotel is a novel and a restaurant is a short story or a chapter. A hotel has many experiences you are creating that tie back to a central ethos. Some experiences are grand and some intimate, and it is the flow in and out that makes a great hotel experience, one in which people are constantly surprised and delighted. But in the end it is the details the make the story believable.
Is there an architect or designer you most admire? Why?
There are many and for different reasons. Axel Vervoordt for his mastery of melding ancient and modern interiors. Sir Edwin Lutyens, who cleverly reinvented vernacular architecture in the late 19th century and constantly teaches me to break rules.
What would be your dream project and why?
Any project where the owner is enlightened, clear of vision, and inspired to create greatness and understands what that entails.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Leonardo DaVinci (and his interpreter).
Where would you eat and what would you be having?
Some corner trattoria in Florence, and I’d be having the time of my life!
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
Likely a musician, though I cannot sing to save my life.