Thursdays at 2 | Fall 2012 Rambling

(Also see our Fall 2012 Newsletter)

Dear Neighbors,

Most every Thursday from 2 ‘til 6 PM, and sometimes through dinner, I get to gather with an amazing group to tackle “design” projects for QW. We’ve been doing this for years, and it is a blast! I love most every aspect of the role I get to play with this outfit, and leading this perpetual design effort is one of my favorites. Given that many have asked what we are up to when they see this design crew wandering around laughing and arguing good-naturedly, I decided to attempt to answer with this rambling. Doing so will also give me a chance to brag about some of the things we’ve done.

Why do we have a design team?

Most hotel and restaurant companies wait six to ten years after building something or remodeling a place to spend time and money improving it. We don’t: We stay in perpetual design mode. As a result, we are in a near constant mode of investing more effort and money than others on improvements. We are always considering how we can make our places more inviting and comfortable for our guests and colleagues. It is really the way that family-owned hotels and restaurants have done it for eons, but not for most corporate-owned places.

At QW, we believe that our viability is dependent on our guests having great experiences. So, naturally, that is our top priority. Our second priority is to consider our colleagues’ experiences. We believe that if we cause those two groups to respond positively to our restaurants and hotels, then the natural by-product will be a financially sustainable organization. When I was but a pup I ran across a saying: “Money, like prestige, is seldom if ever attained if sought directly but is the by-product of fulfilling a worthwhile objective.” I buy that idea. For us, the worthwhile objective is being of genuine service to our guests and colleagues. With that sort of mindset as a foundation, one would be a hypocrite to wait until some oft-employed business formula said it was time to make improvements.

How does the design team function?

Our design team touches most everything we do, from the original designs of our facilities and menu layouts to custom designs for much of our furniture to selections of coffee cups or spoons. With each restaurant and hotel, we seek a rational and tasteful continuity. As a result, everything that our guests and/or colleagues see, touch, smell, taste or hear is within the design team’s scope!

  • Bradshaw Orrell is the key member. He has great taste and a broad frame of reference. We are so lucky to have him at the center of things. Our idea is that he and I have to agree that whatever we are working on is the optimal solution within the context of the “design intention” for that restaurant or hotel, or we’ll go back to the drawing board. A good summary
    of how this works: I lead the design team, and Bradshaw is the lead designer. Beyond his competence, he is charming and fun!
  • Depending on the project, we add people to this group. Leah Thompson collaborates with us, and she has the tough job of reminding us of our priorities (otherwise Bradshaw and I would be off laughing about something). Leah wears many hats around here, including leading the People Department (what most call Human Resources) and our Sustainable Practices Initiative. Anna Will, a star graduate student at UNCG, helps Leah and the team on resources and implementation.
  • Chip Holton, QW’s Artist-in-Residence, is often a collaborator, as are many other artists and craftspeople. For instance, Jeff Hurr, an amazing metal sculptor and all-around good guy, not only helps us figure things out, but also builds all kinds of things like the wine racks at Print Works and the armillary light fixtures in the eighth-floor guest rooms at the Proximity… just to name a couple. Plus, we call on my wonderful wife and partner, Nancy King Quaintance, when need be. And we always get Will Stevens, President of QW Management and Development, involved when it comes time to apply the “practical” filter.
  • I can’t talk about QW and design without talking about our late, great friend Don Rives. Until Don died in 2008 (boy do we miss him, what a guy!), he was the Minister of Design for this team. (He called me Prime Minister.) We dedicated the cloister garden at the O.Henry to him. The commemorative plaque well describes our feelings: “He gave back as rain what he received as mist; he taught us about beauty and joy and how to turn our dreams into a physical reality. In his memory, we lovingly dedicate this garden.”

Here is how the design team operates:

  • First, we are grounded by the idea I mentioned earlier that everything we do must be of genuine service to our guests, our colleagues… then our owners. We also think of the earth and her people by considering sustainable practices in our physical and social worlds. We’ll leave that for another rambling.
  • Second, we are fiercely loyal to the idea that “process is more important than outcome.” Easy to say. Hard to do. This doesn’t come naturally to me (I don’t think it comes naturally to most). But I’ve come to trust it. We find that we get better outcomes staying focused on process, so we continue to employ this model even though it is more work. I got onto this idea when Chip Holton gave me a copy of Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growthabout 14 years ago. One of its planks says, “Process is more important than outcome.” Mau puts it this way: “When the outcome drives the process, we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome, we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.” (Consider reading his book Massive Change. It is provocative.) Describing the various methods we use to stay process orientedwould take too many words. But the key ingredients are open-mindedness, being sincere about it and being willing to go deeper.

What have we done lately?

  • We converted some extra space adjacent to the Social Lobby at the Proximity into an impressive event venue. We did the same with a smaller space near the entrance to Print Works Bistro.

– We can now annex the 22-foot-high Social Lobby into part of what we call the White Oak Room, which has 11-foot-high ceilings; or the rooms can be separated by a cool movable glass wall. And if our guests want privacy, there is an automatic drape that closes. I know that I am not objective,but these spaces are very nice. They work great for meetings and elegant events. And we can now handle more people than ever for a dinner or cocktail party. The name? We are fanatics about having authentic names. Proximity Manufacturing Company was the first name for Cone Mills. Print Works was their fourth mill built in Greensboro. The White Oak plant (built before Print Works Mill) was named for a huge 200-year-old tree on their property. It became one of thelargest indigo dyeing operations in the world and has been producing denim since 1905. The Weaver Room honors our good friend and partner, Mike Weaver and his family, in particular his grandfather, Edgar Weaver, who was in leadership at the Print Works Mill and served on the Greensboro City Council.
– The Latham Room near the entrance to Print Works Bistro has five nine-foot-tall windows overlooking a lush garden. It is well-suited for meetings and social events. It’s named for J.E. Latham, a prominent Greensboro cotton broker and president of Pomona Cotton Mills. He built the King Cotton Hotel in the 1930s in downtown Greensboro and gave the land for Latham Park, where I love to walk on the greenway. Trivia: My bride, our twins and I live in a portion of the wonderful house that he built in 1912.

  • At the O.Henry, Chip Holton has completed his fifth landscape mural for the English Walled Garden off the Hawkins Brown Room. We’ve also installed huge planters, and we’ll soon add more planters and astereo system. In the Caldwell Room, we added ornate gold leaf mirrors and gave it a general update. The four magnificent Magi Suites and the six Porter Suites have wonderful new furniture that any of us would be pleased to have in our homes. Each of these suites also now has several original pieces of art: watercolor and acrylic paintings.
  • We’ve completed a long list of design projects at our restaurants (the veggie cart at both Lucky’s is one of my favorite examples), and we are working on many more, including reupholstering the Green Valley Grill furniture with leather. As usual, we are using local craftspeople.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. I am honored by your interest. We have fun around here, and it is wonderful to get to share our enthusiasm. As I’ll bet you can tell, this design team is always busy. We are looking forward to improving your experience as our guests in the months and years to come. That is the design team’s raison d’être.

Cheers!   Dennis & Nancy King Quaintance