From an early age, Ilan Waisbrod has been making his way through the international design scene. The Israeli-born founder of New York City-based Studio GAZA was already certain of his future when he went to Tel Aviv University to study architecture and interior design. He then segued to Italy, gaining greater insight into lighting, furniture, product/ interior design at the Politecnico di Milano School of Architecture. And before he turned 30, he helped redesign the school's "Casa del Studente," designed complete lines of lighting and furniture for Milan's The Rare Furniture Co and moved to the United States to make his mark. Once in the States, Waisbrod collaborated with a number of design firms, including Adam D, Tihany, before opting to go his own way with Studio GAIA—named for one of his children—in 1996. The Studio's penchant for creating fiber-hip restaurants brought notice and more projects, including hotels, and Waisbrod and his designs are now a fixture in the global design space. HBD caught up with the peripatetic designer long enough to gain his perspective on a variety of subjects. 

What inspired you to be a designer? Was it always part of your DNA?

IW: Always. As a young kid, I loved doodling and sketching interiors and, at the age of 16, had my first internship in an architecture firm in Tel Aviv. 

How has your design philosophy changed over time, particularly in the 17 years since you founded Studio GAIA?

IW: It's matured over the years. Studio GAIA's design style and philosophy is, in a few words: creating a modem yet comfortable and elegant design without being repetitive. Studio GALA initially gained widespread recognition for its restaurant projects.

At what point did hotel design become intriguing? Did you need to shift your thinking?

IW: We got our first shot in hotel design with W Mexico City. It was then that we applied all the knowledge and experiences we acquired before and transformed it into a global hotel design for the W brand. The challenge of this hotel was to create a unique and modern boutique Mexican hotel that still belonged to its roots, location and culture. 

How would you characterize your business style and preferences at Studio GAIA?

IW: Very casual... open floor plan and casual dress... very open-minded; it's all about creativity. 
You've said that it's important not to repeat yourself as a designer.

How do you sustain your kind of creativity, particularly since Studio GAIA addresses a global clientele?

IW: I always try to reinvent myself with every design. Creativity is a fact of life that I am blessed to have. The important [thing] is what I do with it in every project, with its own unique essence and location. 

In 2013, it seems Studio GAIA is more focused on international hotel design, with three projects in Israel and one in Bogota, Colombia. Is the focus going to continue to-ward more projects outside the U.S.?

IW: We are now blessed with international recognition, yet the location does not really matter. The important thing is that we always give our client the best of our creativity and capability and try to make a difference. We will work with any client in any part of the world. Cramim Spa 8 Resort Hotel, Jerusalem Describe one or two of the aforementioned projects.

Why were they appealing?

IW: Designing W Bogota was an exceptional experience. it combines the {area's] roots, culture. local materials and sensitivity of design; all of that to create a unique hotel that belongs to its location and, at the same time, is very innovative and memorable, Thompson Hotel, Toronto
The design was based on the legend of El Dorado, the lost city of gold, with surprises and inspiring spaces one after the other—from the lobby to the bars, restaurant, corridors, rooms and suites—all together to create an unforgettable original experience that strongly connects to its location, 

What is key today in terms of hotel design, particularly in guestroorns and lobbies? 

IW: The key is to create a story, a narrative with-out falling into cliché, thematicism —creating comfortable spaces that have soul and essence. Studio GAIA designs projects with leading brands—Ritz-Carlton, W—as well as independent properties, such as Brooklyn's Williamsburg Hotel.

Are there advantages/challenges inherent in taking on either type of project?

IW: The advantage of working with a team like the W is that they push you to the limit. They get the best out of you and they don't stop until we all achieve the max. Working with individuals that do not have a strong team or philosophy will leave you unsupported in a critical moment. 

How hands-on are you?

IW: All hands-on_ Initial ideas and sketches start at my desk and are then assigned to a team to further develop the design with me. 

Describe your own design preferences?

IW: Simple: Modern and comfortable design that stands the test of time. 

Is there anything the hotel industry is doing designwise that you disagree with?

IW: Yes, designing without an idea of where you want to end up, mixing different styles with no clear direction; usually it will create a mess. 

Is there a dream project or collaboration you would like to accomplish?

IW: Yes, an airport, top-to-bottom interior, with Toyo Ito Architecture. You've said good design is something that evokes emotions in people, which makes them react to an object or to a building.

How do you know you've achieved success with a hotel's design?

IW: From listening to people's reactions and seeing them coming back again and again. 

How do you see yourself and Studio GAIA influencing the future of hotel design?

IW: By continually seeking clients with whom I can explore the possibilities of design while challenging convention and by focusing on our passion and the creative potential of our work, we will continue to thrive as designers and as human beings.