As the creative consultant behind Paris's Montalembert, the Clarence in Dublin, and the Guanahani and Le Toiny resorts on St. Barts, Grace Leo-Andrieu has been responsible for creating and managing some beautiful hotels. After completing her education in hotel administration at Cornell, she was tapped at the tender age of 27 to oversee the expansion of the Hong Kong-based Warwick International Hotels group in the North American and later European markets. Over the next 20 years, she has developed an international reputation for her meticulous attention to detail, her hands-on management style, and her fusion of Eastern and Western design. She now serves as president of GLA International, a management consulting company responsible for the startup and creative design of small luxury hotels. Travel + Leisure caught up with Ms. Leo-Andrieu on the French Riviera, where she was doing what she does best—directing the expansion of yet another hotel.
1. Where are you right now?Why are you in that particular place?Where would you rather be, if anywhere?
I'm currently replying from St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, at the Hotel Royal Riviera. I'm here to see the progress of the 16-room, villa-style extension that we're building on the property to be called l'Orangerie. With the blue skies and a calm blue sea, one instantly feels in a holiday mood here-and work becomes infinitely more agreeable. So I'm happy not to be elsewhere.
2. How often do you travel?Is it usually for business or pleasure?
I travel about once a month, mostly for business, although in France we have all become leisure-driven, with the incredible number of school holidays, long weekends, and the controversial shorter work week of 35 hours. It obliges people to travel more and work less.
3. What is the one item you won't travel without?
I won't travel without my cell phone and my Palm Pilot.
4. Is there any place you would like to visit that you have not yet been to?
I've not yet gone to visit Egypt. It's a country with such a rich cultural heritage and intrigue.
5. Please describe your design style. How is your style influenced by your travels?
I do not have one single design style. I tend to conceptualize a different design theme for each project based on the particular architecture and surroundings of the property. I have a definite preference for a fresh, clean, uncluttered look. Even if the project has a historical connotation, I inject contemporary touches to give a certain lightness and contrast. The ultimate criterion is to have a guest feel well and comfortable within the walls of the hotel.
I find that traveling, seeing new places, and meeting people has a direct influence on my design and management work with hotels. Visiting new shops, hotels, and restaurants in other cities serves as an inspiration for my projects.
6. We know that you consulted a feng shui expert when designing the Hotel Lancaster in France. How do Eastern influences affect your style and creativity?
Even though I live in France, it's obvious that my Chinese upbringing has an influence on my perceptions and creativity. I often assemble pieces of Asian artwork or chinoiserie in the same room as 18th century French furnishings. The result is sometimes astonishing, but nevertheless harmonious when applied in the right measure.
7. Describe the hotel of the future. What elements will become absolutely necessary that aren't considered necessary now?What technologies will become increasingly important?
When I think about hotels of the future, I can't help but imagine the Jetsons—a popular cartoon conceived in the sixties depicting a space-age family. In fact, it's taking mankind much longer to get to that level of sophistication and modern technology. Hotels of the next 10 to 20 years won't be very different than what exists today except that they will offer a greater array of services that may not necessarily be performed by humans. Food and drinks could be dispensed by machines or robots, rooms could be cleaned by built-in vacuum and disinfecting systems, and a quick back-and-foot massage could be provided by a robotic apparatus.
8. What should every hotel room have?
Every hotel room should have an interactive telecommunication screen, so guests can talk to and look at their loved ones back home!
9. What new projects are you working on?
Plenty of new hotel projects are in the pipeline; most likely we will be working on a new extension for one of our Parisian hotels and the creation of an intimate resort in Provence.
10. Tell us the best travel advice someone gave to you.
The best travel advice came from Ernst Scherz, owner of the Gstaad Palace and a renowned hotelier. We were discussing the merit of owning a chalet vis-à-vis staying in hotels. He said: "Grace, don't buy a chalet; it's too much hassle. Stay in good hotels—let someone else worry about stocking toilet paper!" How could I possibly disagree with him?
Interviewed by Karen Blackman