The Simple Joy of an Interior Designer
Miyuki Yamaguchi in Hospitality, Hotels, San Francisco

While waiting for a photographer to finish our photo shoot, I gazed at the people walking by me, conversing with one another over cocktails or lounging by the fireplace in the corner of the lobby. It was clear that they were enjoying themselves in the space we had created and in my brief period of reflection, I felt more than just happiness—I was overjoyed. 

The Fairmont Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania opened three months ago and proved to be a very challenging project. Catering to business executives, convention travelers, nearby theater goers, and local weddings and banquets, the hotel is located in a new construction building along with offices and residential units. As an interior designer for the hotel portion of the project, I started working on it three and a half years ago. Though I worked on the project for a long time, I enjoyed every minute of it: my creativity began to truly emerge and I was excited to help make a luxurious yet sustainable urban hotel. At the same time, there were moments I felt so frustrated, depressed and discouraged; the pressure to make multiple deadlines and budget constraints along with a lack of team manpower, miscommunication, and friction among the teams took a toll on my everyday happiness. Through it all, I learned to be more patient and to endure through these challenges. I grew as a person as well, even at this middle age (which I will respectfully leave to the readers' imagination). But of course, what kept me going was the hunger to complete what I had started three challenging years ago and see the end result after all the obstacles and tears my team and I endured.

At the core of it all, I truly enjoyed the cohesive collaboration among the team members: the owner, the hotel operator, project management, the LEED consultant, the lighting consultant, ADA consultant, the art consultant, the purchasing agent, the furniture dealer, contractors and the local specialty glass lighting consultant. On this particular project, there was an archeological specialist to work on excavating artifacts found at the project site. Going to the archeologist's studio with the team was like a fun field trip reminiscent of my school days. I can just remember the excitement I felt learning something new. Many consultants were from out of state, but when we gathered for meetings, we were like one unit, creating something wonderful together—a LEED certified luxury hotel with a genuine sensitivity to the city's character.

Still waiting for the end of the photo shoot, I couldn't help but admire the design of the lobby. It felt grand with its high ceiling and the back painted glass, velvet upholstered wall panels, polished marble stone floor with stainless steel accent strips and the asymmetric grand staircase presented a sleek modern and sophistication to the space. The amber colored glass chandelier crafted by a local glass artist, a giant wood sculpture, a glass enclosed fireplace and rich warm furnishings added just the right amount of whimsical touch and artistic expression which is unconventional yet not too trendy for the sensible hotel guests. The space I saw before me was grand with real "wow" factors, grounded, comfortable, timeless and luxurious all at the same time. That's what we were asked to design and that is what I truly saw as I waited for our photographer to wrap up. Thus I was very content with the end result, so much so that I remembered a hotel in my home town that I just loved visiting because of the special experience it gave me every time I visited there; each visit made me felt so good inside simply because of the hotel's design. I think the Fairmont Pittsburgh does just that to other people who visit there too. And that is the pure joy of being an interior designer. The people I saw in the hotel lobby enjoy a pleasant and hopefully memorable space that I helped design. That mere thought gives me, quite simply, pure joy.

Miyuki Yamaguchi is an interior designer in Gensler’s San Francisco office. From the initial conceptual design phase to space planning, budget analysis and FF&E specifications, she is fully involved and responsible for the entire design process. Her recent hospitality focus includes upscale and sustainable new construction projects in the U.S. and abroad, including the design of a new 200-guestroom, city hotel with ballroom, meeting rooms, lounge, three meal restaurant, bar and spa/fitness center. She can be reached at
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