Melba Santos is a Senior Associate and MONOGRAM at BBGM Lead Interior Designer in Scottsdale, Arizona with more than 24 years of experience in all facets of interior design, including concept design, design development, contract documentation, FF&E and the planning and programming stages of a project.
Melba has an extensive background in hospitality, retail/mixed-use, convention centers, education and corporate sectors. She has a clear understanding of the administrative functionality of a hotel and the overall vision of how the pieces come together. Melba’s depth of experience, creative and collaborative nature and her strong sense of dedication to her clients’ needs will make her an asset on any project. Modelo spent some time learning about Melba's journey through her career and about her current role.
On becoming a designer
As the daughter of a talented man who worked in the architectural field, art and design have always been a part of my life. My father introduced me to architecture growing up in Puerto Rico. I remember sitting by his drafting table and watching him use all of his drafting tools, which were so fascinating to me. It was the old way of developing design, the non-computerized approach, which I believe is still the best way to achieve unique, creative solutions today.
Over the years, my love of design grew and led me to the College of Architecture at the University of Florida, where I discovered the study of Interior Design. This field of study drew me in because it involved creating a balance of the macro level of the designed environment with the micro level which involves the details. I remember speaking to friends not in the field and realizing that I was embracing a very different way of thinking about the environment you live in and/or are surrounded by.
Pasea Resort & Spa (Photographs courtesy of MONOGRAM and BBGM)
On discovering her voice as a designer
After graduating, I worked in the International Retail/ Restaurant Mixed-Use field and was lucky enough to be provided opportunities to explore creative problem solving in a team environment. It was this exchange of ideas that led me to pursue a collaborative environment that included continual mentorship from colleagues in Architecture and Interior Design.
From my broad exposure to design came a focus on the Hospitality and Restaurant industry, which I consider the time when I discovered my voice. I was hired by MONOGRAM (BBGM) because of my ability to “tell a story” through design and every story is different which keeps me challenged and energized. I understand that Hospitality and Restaurant design requires an all-encompassing approach as well as balance of technical and creative solutions to achieve a homogenous end result that can be appreciated by any given Brand, Client or Visitor.
Being a painter, the discovery of things beyond physical grasp has always intrigued me. I try to imagine who a guest will be before he/she leaves their home and what the experience will be like for them when they enter a space I have collaborated on.
As a designer, I find influence in anything that inspires me. Fashion for instance has been one, specifically Carolina Herrera. It’s inspiring to me how she not only uses an architectural approach to sculpting shape and form but also marries that with her sensitivity pattern, texture and color to create something elegant or playful.
On specific principles she strives to adhere to
Every single project has its own goal, but all have the same interest of getting to know the client and the environmental/cultural influence. Being a curious person by nature is part of what drives me to painting and knowing my subject. I use that curiosity to first explore the programming aspect of a project and producing a spatial diagram that will develop into a master plan. Planning is always the catalyst to what is to come and how the visitor will experience the space, ultimately creating a backdrop for the journey to come.
My passion is in the storytelling that captures the audience and makes the visitor relate to that story through the design. Clients are always looking for the next big idea and this continually brings opportunities for exploration and discovery of new technologies in design that weave through the story. The focal point that anchors my concept is pivotal when developing the design and it immediately introduces the story and creates a sense of place.
Creating custom details is essential to the design. They bring forward the cultural influence but must also be efficient, functional and balance with the aesthetic. You must get into the users mind and try to anticipate how that individual will be using the environment to direct some of this without making them feel limited. The outcome can be completely different by a simple 1” decision or less in a detail. You must know your subject and understand what it takes for that specific piece of the puzzle to be successful. The visitor today has so many tools available that they depend on that we are designing real lifestyles and every corner of the hotel or restaurant environment must reflect this.
Toro Latin Restaurant and Rum Bar (Photographs courtesy of MONOGRAM and BBGM)
On her role at MONOGRAM at BBGM
As Design Director I provide the direction for the design and work closely with the team to assure that the design principles are carried through. It is my focus to not only influence the designs we are working on today but also influence the continual growth on design quality and innovative approaches for MONOGRAM.
Clients are always stating how the team at MONOGRAM is such a unit, easy to work with and this is so very true. We listen to our clients, making design and the client’s goal the key to our success. We work on projects that sometimes involve other firms and it is important that we bring forward the best design with a team approach to influence the projects in an unexpected and successful way.
On specific projects that represent the firm's unique approach
PASEA RESORT & SPA
On her design toolkit
Like many companies, digital resources are part of how we work today; Revit, AutoCAD, Photoshop, InDesign, Bluebeam, etc. But I still believe in also using hand sketching to communicate with your clients. It is important to be able to be interactive and get the client involved.
As a firm we have learned through the years what works and the digital tools are an aid to examine, understand and visualize the design. But our experience in hospitality and past built projects are used to understand truly what the outcome will be and whether it will be successful. We continually work closely with manufacturers to learn the new technology, materials and innovative tools available that can influence the design and bring it to the future in hospitality. With the hotel brands and branded residences continually evolving, it is important to know the latest trends and what the future in technology is before it is even available in the market.
On the state of design software today
One of the ways we do communicate is with realistic renderings, this is a very successful tool to sell the design. We once had a client so surprised that he asked if we had built the space. We do have clients that prefer the hand sketch type renderings and we have also gone this route, It is always what best fits the project. Our toolkit is adaptable and it is the process and strategy that we follow that best fits the specific project.
Marriott Spectrum (Photographs courtesy of MONOGRAM and BBGM)
On the future of architecture in the next 5-10 years
As we see brands evolving and introducing desired solutions for incorporating technology into the design environment, there is a place for continued innovation in creating the built environment. Technology influence not only where we plug in but the textiles we use or the materials we create with. Technology based Form and function are very much linked in the hospitality design industry.
Hospitality is truly connected to how people live their daily lives. Our designs are a direct reflection of that individual’s lifestyle, which is directly correlated to how he/she will use the hotel or residential amenities. We already see brands evolving into this technology driven environment that accommodates the user but we will continue to see even further development in lifestyle; creating balance through the influence of health/fitness and social connection in the environment we design.
On the future of the firm in the next 5-10 years
Our design approach is continually evolving, design is not a static field, and it is influenced by so many environmental factors. We will continue to understand our user and how the hospitality environment becomes an extension of our lives. Design of Spaces are becoming more complex and we create environments that balance the need for the new, such as technology, but feel warm and comfortable for the user.
On advice she would give herself
Collaboration is so critical to your growth, this is a field that gathers so many disciplines. Always surround yourself with knowledgeable and experienced individuals that will influence and challenge you to grow and further your design abilities.
I am a great believer in mentorship and how it can influence every aspect of your life. In design, mentorship can influence the path you choose in your career, whether it is in a business aspect, design growth exploration or whatever field in Architecture you decide to pursue. It is so important to gather information from experienced colleagues and gain knowledge and perspective of the goals you want to achieve.
Pursue the field that you enjoy and excel in, but understand and be well rounded in all other aspects of that field.