For the past 15 years, Lisa Pope-Westerman, Gensler, Houston, has been doing what she has loved doing since she was a child: designing. Her varied career has included creating retail spaces, restaurants, and other hospitality spaces for some of the industry's best— Wilson Associates and Rockwell Group—and for herself, when she launched Pope Design and then O4D Office for Design. Most recently, she decided to go back in-house, joining the hospitality and retail studio of Gensler's Houston office as design director, allowing her to bring her urban sensibility to a more global audience. In between working on projects still too confidential to talk about, she sounds off on hospitality as a way of life, a supportive mother, and the importance of staying true to yourself.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I always knew that I wanted to do something creative. I was not exactly sure what. I spent my childhood constantly rearranging my room and redesigning my house. Luckily, my mother was very supportive and did not freak out when she came home and the floral wallpaper was torn off the walls in the kitchen.
What are some of your first memories of design?
Seeing large-scale modern art pieces at museums in Manhattan when I was a child.
How did you end up where you are today?
By asking lots of questions. I asked my undergraduate professor at [the University of Texas at Austin] if he knew anyone that I could intern with in New York for the summer. Trish Wilson, president and CEO of Wilson Associates, had been a student of his in the interior design program. He connected me with her New York office. I had an interview and was given the opportunity to work there.
What brought you to Gensler?
The majority of my Houston work has been for restaurants and boutiques in the region. Gensler has offered me the opportunity to focus on exactly what I love to do, but to branch out more globally. Gensler is involved in some amazing projects around the world, and combines specialized expertise in restaurant design with a wide breadth of knowledge across a range of industries. It is also great to be part of an organization that has long been committed to creating sustainable, economical, and responsible design.
Why hospitality? What do you love about it, especially restaurants?
In our specialized industry, hospitality is a way of life. It's not just a job. You do what you love and you love what you do. It's 24/7. I especially enjoy working with chefs and entrepreneurs. They tend to be very passionate and creative. I love to collaborate with them to realize their dreams.
Motto to live by?
Be yourself. I know that is a bit cliché but I have always been a little different and I have pretty much stayed that way.
What was your big break?
I suppose getting two finalist awards from Hospitality Design magazine in 2008 for hospitality debut and casual restaurant for REEF and 3RD Bar. It was very special to be surrounded by so many of my peers when I received them [at the event in New York].
What restaurant do you love for its design that you didn't design?
I think the answer would be different depending on the time of year that you asked me. I love Jean-Georges' Dune in the Bahamas. I love the context of the restaurant in relation to its surroundings inside and out. It's a great summer experience.
What are the keys to a successful restaurant?
Knowing where to spend the money. I think that spaces can be overdesigned very easily and the challenge is to know where to make the impact.
How do you constantly find inspiration?
New experiences. If they don't find their way into my calendar naturally, I make them happen.
What cities are you watching in terms of development and design?
Not necessarily a certain city, but I am looking to other fields that are going to influence the way in which we think about the future of design.
What are the biggest challenges in hospitality today?
That's a really difficult question. I could say the economy or the oil spill or...just that we have to be flexible, adapt, move forward, and problem solve along the way.