In this episode of the Hotel Design Podcast we welcome the founder of TAL Studio, Todd-Avery Lenahan. Based in Las Vegas, TAL Studio has been an integral part in designing huge projects for many major companies, including Disney and Wynn. In fact, since we recorded this show in late spring, TAL is merging with Wynn entirely. So there’s been a little change in the company’s structure, but not its ethos.
Todd has always loved hotels. From his earliest days traveling with family and staying in brands like Holiday Inn and Howard Johnsons, his passion for hotels was always there. Little did he know that he’d be designing them one day. Todd shares how he started working at hotels when he was 15 years old, which provided him with an operational background that most hotel designers do not have. Part of the conversation focuses on discussing how his operational background meshes with his love of design to significantly inform him of creating functional properties that also look great.
“It’s not just the physical quality of the building being some extraordinary opulent environment. What we do is we create a canvas upon which service delivery can be rolled out in the most anticipatory seamless way,” says Lenahan.
This is essential to how he approaches hotel design. Too many resorts, for example, have infrastructural shortcomings even if they look gorgeous. Todd shares his philosophy on creating a structure that first and foremost serves the property’s operation, which helps owners save money in the long run while simultaneously increasing customer service. He also provides some strategies for designers to increase back of house functionality in the design phase.
An important aspect of the conversation regards creating memorable guest experiences. For Todd, that means focusing on great storytelling at the property. His approach, which is an important lesson that he learned while working with Disney, is to look at the property’s story like a screenplay. He says he approaches this part of the job in a cinematic way. This helps create what he sees as a consensus around ideas while giving all stakeholders and construction people a framework for all design work to follow. He also shares how storytelling is critical to creating memorable spaces, managing owner and developer expectations, and more. Todd mentions that some Disney projects were used as case studies – including the Boardwalk Hotel, where he served as an Imagineer.
Todd also brings up a Four Seasons project in Lanai, which opens the conversation up to the challenges of turning an aging building that is not built to today’s customer expectations into something that resonates with guests today at the luxury level. There is a struggle with making it feel authentic, which is a challenge on an island with less than 100 years of human history associated with it. He shares how they examined the greater Polynesian region for inspiration.
They wrap up the conversation by discussing designing for companies like Viceroy and how the property in Chicago is very different than one of their hotels in Mexico, for example. Todd also shares details about creating memorable guest experiences that also drive owner profitability at the same time.