Meet the 2024 HD Women in Design Award Recipients

Meet the 2024 HD Women in Design Award Recipients

Hospitality Design’s Women in Design Awards breakfast returns to HD Expo + Conference this year in Las Vegas. Honoring five industry leaders for their inspirational achievements, the signature event is presented in partnership with NEWH. We caught up with the 2024 recipients to see what’s currently top of mind, the achievements they’re most proud of, and more.


Meridith Zimmerman
Vice President of Design, RLJ Lodging Trust

As the vice president of design and construction at RLJ Lodging Trust, the Washington, DC-based Meridith Zimmerman oversees annual capital project budgets, due diligence processes, renovation and conversion projects, and contract compliance. In her 15 years with RLJ, she has raised the firm’s reputation of quality lodging through strategies, technology, and the latest industry standards. Prior to RLJ, Zimmerman held roles in the architecture and construction division of Marriott International and the interior development department at the Library of Congress.

What’s your design origin story?
My earliest design memory began in childhood when, much to the dismay of my parents, I would constantly rearrange not only my bedroom furniture, but also other rooms in the house. I even remember a time in the 5th grade when I rearranged the desks and storage units in my classroom while everyone was out at recess. My teacher must have recognized my design future as he was pleased and satisfied with the move. However, it was as an undergrad in interior design, a graduate student in architecture, and an intern with a small hospitality ownership group where I realized how much of a career I could make of my love of all things design.

What advice would you give your younger self as you embarked on this career?
Continue to study the ins and outs of the industry and try to align yourself with the major players to absorb as much relevant experience and know-how as possible. Also, engage with a mentor who can guide you through not only hospitality design, but also [how to] navigate through corporate America and your role in it as much as possible.

A rendering of the lobby at the Pierside hotel in Santa Monica, a conversion in partnership with Design360 Unlimited

Is there anyone you want to elevate in the industry?
Most recently, I’ve been impressed by the superstars at //3877, Studio Partnership, Monogram at BBGM, AK Design Group, HVS, F.A. Hunter, and a host of others who are true assets to our industry.

How can the industry better support women?
There is always more that can be done. That starts with being leaders in the corporate field by encouraging and celebrating diversity in our arena. Additionally, the strength of women is evident in the majority of hospitality projects and should be brought to the forefront with recognition and awards.

What’s next for RLJ?
One project on the books that I’m excited about is the Knickerbocker in New York. With the historical landmark nature of the hotel and its Leading Hotels of the World designation, we are looking forward to refreshing the property, bringing back the elegance it has been known for, as well as bringing in new F&B opportunities.


Gulla Jónsdóttir
Owner + Principal, Atelier Gulla Jónsdóttir

Prior to launching her studio 15 years ago, Iceland-born Gulla Jónsdóttir studied math and biology before moving to Los Angeles to get her degree in architecture at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, followed by roles with Richard Meier & Partners, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Dodd Mitchell Design. Since 2009, she has spearheaded projects including China’s Macau Roosevelt hotel and Hollywood’s Chinese Theater renovation. Known for sensual, dynamic designs that integrate with their surroundings, the West Hollywood, California-based Jónsdóttir creates unique spatial experiences at the intersection of organic beauty and function.

Tell us about your company.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of Atelier Gulla Jónsdóttir. Throughout our journey, we have been propelled by our passion for the artistry, craftsmanship, and progression inherent in architecture and interior design. Our dedication finds expression in our penchant for fashioning contemporary organic designs that seamlessly marry practicality with the grace of nature. Fueled by the collective talents of our international team, we infuse each endeavor with a cosmopolitan sensibility, intertwining myriad cultural influences and pioneering methodologies in the tapestry of our creations.

When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
[My earliest memory] was when I was 4. I started drawing alongside my grandfather, an artist from Reykjavik. However, it was my enchanting encounter with Florence, which I visited with my mother at the age of 12, that left an indelible mark upon my soul. Entranced by the city’s resplendent beauty and architectural grandeur, I found myself wholly captivated, forever transformed by its allure.

What advice would you give to your former self?
Mistakes are rather delicious [as there’s] so much to learn from them. And keep learning—perhaps in a field you aren’t so comfortable in.

The lobby of the Sandbourne Santa Monica set to open this year in California, shown in a rendering

How can the industry better support women?
We have a woman-heavy studio. Even in our small world, we have found that offering remote work options and flexible hours helps accommodate women’s diverse needs, particularly those balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. [The industry could further advance by] cultivating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture that celebrates diversity and fosters a sense of belonging.

What do you like most about your job?
The genesis of each project holds a profound allure—the initial creative sparks igniting as I immerse myself in a site’s surroundings, absorbing the essence of nature that will infuse our design. It’s a cherished ritual, those early moments of contemplation and sketching in my beloved sketchbook, where ideas and possibilities take shape. Equally enchanting are the visits to job sites during construction, where the raw potential of our vision begins to manifest. And then, as if by magic, comes the culmination—the final details coalesce, each element harmonizing to perfection as the project reaches its crescendo with the grand opening. In that moment, I’m reminded of the transformative power of design and its profound impact on those who experience it.


My Nguyen
Director of Interior Design, Holland America Line + Seabourn

Settling in Seattle as a Vietnamese refugee, Nguyen began her 22-year design career as an intern for Holland America Line followed by nearly nine years at NB Design Group. Now, Nguyen leads the interior design and interior asset management teams for Holland America Line and Seabourn fleets. With diversified design achievements in both land and sea hospitality, she is an active leader in the design community, serving on several industry advisory boards and as a BrandED ambassador for NEWH.

What is your favorite part of the job?
I love collaborating with a diverse group of people from different cultures who work in the office and on ships. My business trips are to locations that cruise ships go—exotic and luxurious. We get to design floating cities that circle the globe. There is never a dull moment, and I love the energy and the element of surprise that each day brings.

What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to seek a mentor in the beginning phases of my career. Gaining wisdom from a leader that you admire will help lay a stronger foundation for your career path. Pick a good mentor who has your back, will call you out if you are out of line, and will help you build a strong core confidence. Seek a mentor without having an ulterior motive to get promoted. In fact, they could be outside of your industry. A good mentor opens your perspective and provides guidance—like a therapist, tough-love parent, and your biggest cheerleader, all in one.

What are your proudest recent accomplishments?
Spearheading sustainability pilot projects. We are focused on specifying products with vendors that have the same sustainability values, take-back programs, and circular ecosystem [philosophies] that keep waste out of landfills. We as designers have the power to shape trends and create environments that communities mimic. We have the leverage to guide vendors where to focus their R&D. Imagine if all designers made decisions with sustainability in mind.

A rendering of Morimoto by Sea restaurant on the Nieuw Amsterdam, designed in-house

Are there any women in the industry you’d like to elevate?
Linh Nguyen, Willie Traeger, and Cassidy Butler on my team. They are smart, kind, confident, and collaborative. We learn from each other every day. It is a pleasure to work with these ladies.

What are the ways the industry could better support women?
If people approached others from a mindset of curiosity rather than judgment, the working world would be a much more diverse place. At work, we have an organization called Women Warriors that started with a handful of women who got together to have a safe place to discuss challenges. It has since grown to a network of hundreds of women (and men supporting women) with monthly guest speakers, a book club, and an active community to be vulnerable and learn from each other.

What’s new for Holland America Line?
We designed a new specialty restaurant on the Nieuw Amsterdam—Morimoto by Sea from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who also serves as the cruise line’s Fresh Fish Ambassador. The restaurant launched several months ago and has had rave reviews from our guests. A fun behind-the-scenes fact: The contractor and design/projects teams were made up of 95 percent women. We gutted the space on the ship and installed the restaurant in 12 days at a dry dock. Talk about hospitality on steroids.


Staci Patton
Creative Director, Davidson Hospitality Group

As creative director of Davidson Hospitality Group, Chicago-based Staci Patton works on defining guest experiences through visionary strategies encompassing art direction, branding, and design. Prior to joining Davidson, she founded DLR Group’s hospitality interior design studio (recognized by sister publication Boutique Design as Designer of the Year in 2021) as principal and hospitality director, creating design concepts for new brands, including Spark by Hilton, Sonesta Select by Sonesta Hotels & Resorts, and apartment-style hotel Catbird from Sage Hospitality.

Tell us about your role at Davidson Hospitality Group.
In the newly created role as part of the design and construction team, I collaborate with Davidson owners, investors, consultants, and operations teams to creatively define our hotel and resort guest experiences through design. I feel like I am the glue, providing a connective element and voice for our [stakeholders], pushing design to the forefront, and leveraging it to create meaningful solutions. My creativity also extends to our recently launched branding agency, DH Creative, as well as creating concepts for our Davidson Restaurant Group.

When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
My earliest design memory was helping my mom and dad renovate my childhood home. In a constant quest, [my mom] modernized it room by room and dabbled in faux finishes. Who knew a plastic sheet could be used to create a marble pattern! There is no doubt her home DIY knack gave me an interest in the design field.

I pursued journalism [in college], having developed an obsession with becoming a fashion magazine editor. Later, my friends [suggested] I try interior design as art was my hobby. I applied to the Florida State University interior design program, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Design came naturally, and I began to understand I was born for this.

Crafted by Bishop Pass, a new market and retail concept, shown in a rendering, in the Historic Davenport hotel in Spokane, Washington

How can the industry better uplift women?
More women are obtaining key positions across the industry, and it’s exciting. But a conversation in my circles is women ownership. The next frontier is more women taking control of their financial stake in what they are producing for developers and owners, or becoming a developer or owner themselves. [We can] broaden educational opportunities such as workshops, conferences, or networking events with the goal of demystifying the investment world. Let’s create more women owners, create project development funds for women-owned consultants, and more importantly, let’s teach young women students the ropes so they enter the industry ready to close the gap even more. When women succeed, the world is a better place.

Is there a woman you’d like to spotlight?
Brynn Alloway. I call her a baby design bomb. Her talents are incredible, and she has a humble curiosity with a wicked design sense. In my prior role [with DLR Group], I was fortunate to have her on my team, designing brands for major hoteliers and seeing her work on her first hotel project. I look forward to watching her grow and blow up some spaces with amazing design.

What’s in store for Davidson?
I’m excited about the Sunny, a vibrant rebrand of the former Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort in Sunny Isles, Florida; Three Waters Resort & Marina, a consolidation and renovation of two properties in the Florida Keys; Barnsley Resort, a renovation of 39 cottages in Adairsville, just outside of Atlanta; and Asher Adams, the first Autograph Collection hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. This year is also a big birthday for Davidson as we celebrate its 50th anniversary.


Sarah Bonsall
Regional Director, the Americas, Architecture + Design, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas

Beginning her career in hospitality design with Four Seasons, Toronto-based Sarah Bonsall now works with Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas on helping to grow the brand’s expansion in the Americas, including creating visioning documents for projects—which span dense urban centers to remote island destinations. She is also spearheading the technical standards for the groundbreaking Six Senses Place, a club concept driven by wellness that gives guests access to urban locations after they return home from a Six Senses resort. A trained architect, Bonsall brings her 25-plus years of experience and global perspective to projects in Bora Bora, London, the Seychelles, Iceland, rural Brazil, and beyond, infusing global markets with the brand’s wellness- and sustainability-focused ethos.

Was there a moment you knew you wanted to be a designer?
My father built the house I grew up in. There are pictures of me with my own mini hammer and nails, helping him when I was in kindergarten. My favorite way to spend time with him was building, planning our next project, and taking trips to Beaver Lumber. To this day, we still bond over construction projects. One Saturday morning when I was about 11, I remember telling my dad that I was too old to go with him to the lumber yard. I watched him backing out of the driveway and was suddenly overcome with regret. I ran out of the house and jumped in the car. I knew I needed to go with him. Design and construction is my happy place.

Is there anyone you want to elevate in the hospitality industry?
I would like to give a shout out to all the women on my team. They manage to juggle demanding work and personal lives. They do it with humor and integrity, and I am in awe of them.

Six Senses Kyoto luxury hotel blink design group

A rendering of the lobby at Six Senses Kyoto, designed by Blink Design Group, which will debut later this month

What career advice would you give to your younger self?
I am sitting here as a result of all the cumulative life choices I’ve made so this is a tough question. I’d say I wish I had gotten into the business even earlier. I spent my 20s traveling and working my way around the world, and now I am building luxury hotels in many of the same places. I would tell myself to buy real estate everywhere I loved backpacking. On a more serious note, many women suffer from imposter syndrome. We underestimate our abilities and can be afraid to take up space. I don’t suffer from that as much anymore, and that’s a lesson I wish I’d learned earlier.

What’s your most memorable project?
My most memorable projects are often those that are the most challenging. These can be budgetary, brand focused, or because of a tight deadline. They force you to adapt, to think on your feet, and ultimately, to be creative. Most luxury hospitality projects face all of these challenges to differing degrees. One I am involved in now is a 35-key property in the Galápagos Islands. The team and ownership are fantastic, but with 100 percent import duties we are all having to think of unconventional ways to meet Six Senses’ exacting standards and still meet budget.

Proudest recent accomplishment?
Being nominated with these incredible women. On a work front, I have recently been part of the Six Senses team signing deals in several key markets (to be announced shortly).

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love the initial phase where I get to tour sites, hacking my way through the underbrush with a machete, and just imagining what the project can be.

Hear more at HD Expo + Conference:
Women in Design Awards Breakfast
Tuesday, April 30th, 8:30–10:00 a.m.
Location: South Pacific Ballroom

Photos and renderings courtesy of Davidson Hospitality Group, Holland America Line, RLJ Lodging Trust, and Six Senses

The post Meet the 2024 HD Women in Design Award Recipients appeared first on Hospitality Design.