#28: Careful Listening: Design Guided By Curiosity and Empathy: Matt Goodrich
July 27, 2021
Jeremy Wells: Hey, Matt. Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re really excited to have you on the podcast.
Matt Goodrich: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be with you.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. We’ve been kind of secretly following you guys at Goodrich for a long time now. We admire your work and are inspired by your work and you guys are doing amazing stuff in the hospitality space. So we were really excited to have you on the podcast today and kind of learn more about what Goodrich is, what you guys do, the journey thus far, and just kind of learn from your experience. So I know that Dustin and I are really excited to have you on today.
Matt Goodrich: Well, great. I’m excited to talk to you about hospitality and what we’re doing and looking forward to the conversation.
Jeremy Wells: Awesome. Well, like always, for anybody that’s listening that might not be familiar with you and your company, maybe just tell us a little bit about yourself, about Goodrich and a little bit about your background.
Matt Goodrich: Sure. So Goodrich is a branding and interior design studio. We’ve been working on primarily hospitality projects for the last several years. In addition to this hospitality expertise and experience, one of the things about us is we love pushing the boundaries of sort of where hospitality goes and how hospitality thinking can inform projects. So we work on hotels and restaurants, and you may have seen some of that work and know it, both from the brand side and from sort of the independent side. But also, we love to take on projects we know very little about or learn about in the process.
So for example, one of our biggest projects right now is a big new arena that’s being built at Belmont Park. That will be the home of the New York Islanders Hockey Team. And we’ve designed all the premium spaces. We’ve done a lot of environmental graphics. We’ve done interiors, furniture, lighting, and also a lot of marketing for that project. So we love to take our hospitality knowledge and push it out into spaces where hospitality thinking can improve guest experience.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, I love that mindset. Really, if you’re a good designer, there shouldn’t be any stipulations or constraints on how you can use that. So I love seeing kind of your creativity and your eye for just creating spaces and creating experiences and seeing how that’s implemented across different mediums and disciplines.
Matt Goodrich: One of the things that I learned early on in my career, I worked with Rockwell Group for almost eight years. And David Rockwell used to say, “If you never done a project type before, you may be even better prepared to do it than someone that’s done it dozens and dozens of times.” And the idea is that your curiosity and your sort of, I don’t know, zeal and excitement for trying some things for this first time makes you turn over every stone, makes you ask all the questions. You don’t rely on what you’ve done 20 times before or you don’t get clouded by all of the different times you’ve been told no about something before. And so that curious mind, that kind of beginner’s mind is often very, very powerful. And that definitely comes directly from what I learned from David and working with him and that ambition of let’s just keep challenging ourselves because some of our absolute best work can come from not really knowing and leaning into the process, collaborating with our clients and operators to find a new sort of best answer to the design problem.
Also, it’s important to say that just really can’t be done without great expertise, collaborators who know a lot about the project typology and expert consultants and engineers. So we can’t get everywhere by just being sort of unformed and not sort of deeply versed in something. We need to have great collaborators to do that. And also we need to have a very rigorous process. And we have a very strong design process that we go through for every project no matter what the type and we bring our clients along through that process. And that is another piece that sort of allows us to try things for the first time because we know how we’re going to go through the design process. We have some idea about the quality of what we’re going to get and what we want on the other end of it and how to bring all the stakeholders into alignment on that. And so I think that really helps with jumping into arenas that we don’t know that much about.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. I think that’s such an important trait for anybody really that wants to continue to grow and learn. I love the term that you used, a beginner’s mind. And I think early on, like you just mentioned, it’s easy to have beginner’s mind because when you first do something, you are the beginner, but I would imagine, and you kind of alluded to this already, but if you could maybe expound on it a little bit more, how do you continue to cultivate and encourage challenging yourself, having this beginner mindset while still pushing the envelope and like you said guiding your stakeholders through this process and being very collaborative? But what are some other ways that you’ve been able to kind of cultivate that in your team and your work that you guys do?
Matt Goodrich: Well, there’s a couple of ways. I think first and foremost, we love to learn in the process sort of at every level. And so one way that we’ve tried to challenge ourselves and building the projects that we’re doing is to work in different cities, in different countries, in different parts of the world, often places that we may have been before, but don’t know well or some part of our team has had a past there, like they grew up in a place, so they live somewhere, but throwing ourselves into really learning about that context. So getting up to speed as to what’s happening in that market, what’s the culture like and what are things that are important, but also trying to uncover as much history and as many layers of past history in those places that may not be known.
And that’s a big part of our design process is to weave that into what we call the design foundation that is sort of the conceptual basis on which we’re developing the designs. So part of it is staying curious and staying in this place where we’re constantly bringing what we know in our background to bear, but trying as much as we possibly can to learn about the places we can and that involves research, reading, immersion, all of that, which is great.
Another thing I think is to really, really listen to our partners at the table. So when we’re working on restaurants to try to go beyond what we already know about how service could happen or how the kitchen could run or how things are going to work operationally and really listen and be open to it. So rather than sort of saying, “Well, we do the interior design or we do the visual parts of the design,” whatever that is, we really want to be students of the businesses that we’re working with and listen to chefs and listen to general managers and listen to sort of the philosophy that is behind in the case of a restaurant, how the operation works and be learning so that we don’t rely on what we’ve done, I don’t know, waiter stations like this forever or we’ve designed bars this way or this is sort of an old idea of how quickly service can turn around X, Y, and Z. But to try to really put ourselves in a very open-minded place to learn about those operations.
We have done our best as we’ve begun breaching out from the very beginning to start the studio, to align ourselves with clients, operators, brands that are working on the very edge of what they’re doing. And a big part of that is to sort of set yourself up with people who don’t exactly know everything aren’t working from road, aren’t trying to crank out the same thing over and over again, but are really sort of pushing the edge themselves.
Sometimes that would be counterintuitive. They’d say, “Well, you don’t know what you’re doing and we’re not quite sure what we’re doing. How is this going to turn out?” But actually, usually it’s a much better place because everyone’s in an experimental mode and everyone is willing to see sort of how we blur these lines and how we come up with a solution that is new and different than maybe what’s been done before.
Dustin Myers: Yeah. I think that very thoughtful, inquisitive kind of research and immersion leading to the design decisions is definitely the way it should be done. Unfortunately, not always the way it is done. But I can definitely tell from the outcomes that you guys come to that there’s a very seasoned process in place that helps you get to those. I’m curious. You mentioned your time working under David Rockwell and your experience at Africa. Kind of how did you get started and what led you to starting Goodrich?
Matt Goodrich: So I began working in design. I originally studied fine art and worked in galleries and museums and work directly for fine artists for many years, working as a studio assistant. And I actually pursued design to get a degree in museum exhibition design and sort of had to go through a full immersion interior design at Pratt, which is where I got my master’s degree to get that concentration in museum exhibition design and in the process really fell in love with interior design, actually.
So again, keeping that open mind about how you’re going to go through a process, I worked first sort of in branding and kind of commercial interiors and then moved to Rockwell where I learned really to be a generalist and how to work on hospitality, but also all types of projects before going to AvroKO. And at AvroKO, I really learned a very, very deep, deeply felt approach to both design and hospitality and really kind of focused in on an approach and a process and a methodology that was very focused on a kind of synergy between operations and design.
I eventually decided to start my own studio, not so much for any other reason than I wanted to be able to focus on a much smaller group of projects than I was able to as chief creative officer at AvroKO, and to just work on a handful of things that I could be very involved in from beginning to end. And so what I didn’t realize was how much work it would take to set up a design studio and a practice and build a team in order to do that, but it was, in a way, a bit of the goal was to say, “What if I only had to think about six or seven or eight projects at once rather than dozens?” Which is sort of the scope of what we’re working on at AvroKO.
In the end, what that’s allowed us to do as a studio, as Goodrich is to focus very, very much on a handful of things on a few projects at a time, and really nurture those in a way that I sort of never been able to do in a larger studio before now.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, that’s really cool. So how long have you been doing Goodrich?
Matt Goodrich: So we started in 2017. So that’s about 20 years. Right? No. It just feels like it. We’ve moved through kind of growth pretty quickly. We have 14 people in our team now and a lot of people have been on the team for about three years. So we actually have a great, very kind of connected, very mature studio team now. We’re primarily interior designers, a few architects. We have an industrial designer, Hines Fischer, who works on furniture and lighting. I have an incredibly talented design director, Rosie Rainbow, who helps and oversees all of the creative that we do. And we’ve recently really built up the branding division, led by Chris Rizzo, and have been able to sort of expand what we do.
So we’re able to work from sort of a multidisciplinary perspective and at our best or sort of the projects that we love the most, we’re working on the branding, the strategy and the positioning of that project, the design of it, all the way down to sort of custom details and then helping to launch it with a really solid operational foundation.
Dustin Myers: That’s awesome. So compared with your original vision for what you wanted Goodrich to be now four years later, post-pandemic, how has the reality aligning? Is there anything different or better or worse? Or how do you feel about that?
Matt Goodrich: I would say, and I have to be careful when I say this because I could jinx all of it, but I would say where we are far exceeds where I was expecting we could get in this period of time. And so we’re able to work on incredibly high-quality projects with people who have been my heroes before working in design and in working in design and really, really kind of pushing the envelope. So I would say in short, I felt like it would take a much longer time to build up to both the place that we are and to the level of quality of work that we are doing. That has to do primarily with the incredible people that work with me and who sort of joined very early on to help build the vision. And I’m really, really fortunate to have an outstanding team.
It also I think comes from a piece of advice that one of my former clients gave me, Ron Shaich, who’s the CEO of Panera said to me as I was setting up the company, “You have to be very careful about who you let through the door.” And he meant that from both the perspective of the team and personnel and people I hire, but also from clients and collaborators. And we’ve been incredibly careful and scrutinized very carefully who we’ve hired and brought into the team in terms of their fit into our culture, their personality, their creative process, and sort of how they work. So we have a very collegial, very sort of flat hierarchy, highly collaborative creative culture, which I think is super important to be able to do your best work.
We also have been able to work with just outstanding clients. We’re working right now with Danny Meyer on a new restaurant design and branding for another restaurant who’s been one of my all-time heroes, kind of at the top of my pyramid of inspiration in hospitality. I have been working on projects with Standard Hotels, which is again a brand I’ve admired since the first time I stayed at Standard West Hollywood, working with Amar Lalvani and Verena Hollar on a mix of projects of master planning and sort of positioning of properties as well as Standard Maldives, which was our first project we opened with them.
So by being very, very careful and very, very selective about who we collaborate with, we’ve been able to basically start, in my opinion, sort of at the top, in terms of the level of projects. And I didn’t know that that would be possible. So I thanked Ron very much for that advice and I’m glad we kind of stuck to it. I know not everyone would necessarily be in a position to do that. So I’m not patting myself on the back, but a big part of it was just saying no to anything that seemed like it would sort of tie us up in knots and wouldn’t be a great project. That’s a scary thing to do, especially as a fledgling studio, but it’s paid back sort of everything we turned down made an opportunity for something a little better, a little more appropriate or a little more suited to what we’re trying to do.
Jeremy Wells: I love that, that thinking, and I think it’s 100% spot on. I think as you mentioned, as a studio just starting out or someone’s just starting out, starting a business, it feels impossible to do that sometimes.
Matt Goodrich: Yes.
Jeremy Wells: Because you oftentimes feel like you have to take anything that’s coming through the door and it does take courage to say no to opportunities that might seem good and might pay well. But if it’s not a good fit, and I love the advice that Ron gave you, being careful not only from an employee perspective but from a client perspective. I think that’s really cool to hear how intentional you guys been and how courageous you guys have been in that regard. So awesome. We’re kind of shifting gears a little bit, I’d like to hear a little bit more about, you kind of alluded to this earlier about your methodology and your process and your approach, I’d like to hear just from your own words, how would you describe your methodology? I know in your website you guys used the terminology of like creating transformative experiences, storytelling, things like that. So what is the process like for say a hotel or a restaurant or a hospitality brand that you work with going through that process? What does it look like from a stakeholder’s perspective, from your team’s perspective and all of the above?
Matt Goodrich: So I think it’s such a challenge to create a design that can hold together a bunch of different goals. And so obviously, as designers, we think about the aesthetic parts of things as operators and owners. We think about the value, the return, sort of an asset, stakeholders in a community, think about how does this engage people or how does it build a community and kind of serve the place that it is in. So one thing that we’ve done is kind of created a concept process that allows us to hear all of those different stakeholders or as many as they’re sort of able to sort of come together in a process and to share what the vision of the project is and what it could be. And then we have a kind of this design foundation process where we integrate those values and those ideas into direct inspiration.
And the way we try to create a design, I hope we’re successful, time will tell, when we do this is to say that if our design is encapsulating the aspirations and goals of the owner, and it’s very well referenced to the place that it is, which doesn’t mean it has to fully blend into the place as it is, but that it makes sense that our design and the experience we’re creating is related to the place then it can sort of stand the test of time. The last thing we want to do is bring design ideas from another place and other time and other culture that have no relevance to where they’re going. And the last thing we want to do as designers is show up and say, “Here we are with our style and we’re going to paint this all over your project.”
So a big part of what we are trying to do is start by experience and start by thinking what do we want our guests in a hotel or in a restaurant to feel and what do we want to enable them to do here. And then find our ways to build a design foundation that’s related to this place so that even as design trends change and as history and culture around this project evolve, the project has the best chance of sort of standing the test of time because it’s referenced to where it is and the design is unique and sort of ownable by this property and reflects the values and aspirations both of the time of its creation, but also has some sort of room to grow and some life to live.
So we’re kind of giving birth to an organism in the case of a hospitality project, a hotel or restaurant that not only has sort of a lot of history and past and aspiration embedded in it, but also is going to grow and change over time as it’s operated and as guests come in and inhabit it. I think what’s unique about or one of the great things about us is that we use empathy and really careful listening in our process to not sort of come with a preconceived idea of what this should be, but to really listen to our client and listen to the audiences that we’ll use the project to understand what they want and need. And then like from a very practical place, I think it’s the tendency of designers who were trained as sort of visual thinkers and were trained to create beautiful visual environments, we have to really put ourselves in the shoes of the guests and think through their steps of how they’re going to use the space and make sure that we’re not designing visual things just for the sake of the visuals, but that we’re designing and using the resources of a project to make a great experience.
So maybe a good example of this, we worked on Standard Maldives, which was a renovation of an existing resort in the Maldives and both for sort of budget reasons and also hugely logistical reasons, being that it’s a very, very difficult to get things to the middle of the ocean, we had to be as judicious and sort of economical with our design as possible to transform this resort that was built as like a couples only resort or the idea that you go there for your honeymoon and you spend time with one other person that you’ve come with into a social experience that was more focused on groups and the kind of amazing social culture that Standard is known for.
So we tried to figure out with these smaller moves throughout the property how do we do that, how do we sort of turn the existing bones inside out and make sure that people are connecting with each other, that you could go there alone or with a group of friends and meet other people and spend time with them. So one of the things we did with our sort of limited art budget is instead of putting art on the walls in the guest rooms, we sourced all this snorkel equipment that would allow and arrange there on the wall and it took us a while to find a white life preserver and white goggles and white flippers and all this. We arranged this display on the wall that sort of took the place of art, but what it also meant was every guest was sort of not only inspired, but actually invited to put on all this gear, walk the two steps down the ladder outside of their room in their overwater villa and go out to the reef that surrounded the property.
So we sort of turned it into almost like a little bit of a branded experience, but we took all the barriers down. So this is sort of an example of thinking, “What is an experience we want people to have? What is one of the sort of low hanging fruit, one of the best things we can offer here and then how do we build our design to both enable that and enhance that so that it becomes a big part of the experience?” I don’t know if everybody that stays at Standard Maldives does go snorkeling outside of their room, but I would think a very, very high percentage of people do, which I’m not sure would have happened if we hadn’t sort of built that experience both into the design, but also kind of the identity of the property.
Dustin Myers: Yeah. That’s so cool. Yeah. I was looking at that image on your website of that wall and it’s a really creative solution there. I wonder if it looks too cool. I don’t know if I would pick it up. It’s really visually pleasing, but I love it. It encourages people to interact with the place and just have a very memorable experience. That’s awesome.
Matt Goodrich: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting too because when you look at sort of the Instagram and stories and sort of the visual representation of the property, Standard has done all this amazing lifestyle photography. This sort of is an experience of kind of woven through. For example, they sell the float ring, the sort of pink float ring in their Standard store. So I think it is one of those things and we’ve made it easy because there’s icons on the wall and the things come off the hooks quite easily. I think it’s one of those things now these days that when we go to properties, there are certain experiences we anticipate we’ll have. This is I think one of those. I see lots of selfies and lots of photos of people with this equipment. And so it’s interesting how that affects as well, how people anticipate or view a property sort of what they’re expecting to do when they get there.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, that is so cool. I love it. What’s the one project that you were most proud of or that you’re really proud of? Tell us a little bit about that.
Matt Goodrich: I think for me personally, I’m extremely proud of the work that we’re doing in the studio and at Goodrich and I think there’s a bunch of projects, which will be opening in early fall all the way through to Christmas. We have a lot of things that have been in long gestation, including this restaurant for Danny and a great hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and a really fantastic hotel in Coconut Grove. I think those will represent the things that I’m proudest of when they’re complete and open. But since I can’t really tell you that much about them…
Jeremy Wells: It’s a secret.
Matt Goodrich: That could be round two. I will say that I think still a super important project for me that I did when I was at AvroKO is the Arlo brand and the first two Arlo hotels. And I think the reason for that is it sort of represented a breakthrough for me in bringing a combination of this process of this very careful listening as I talked to you about earlier in combination with my own sort of creative inspiration and my own sort of history and love of elements of design. And it represented this moment where all those things connected. And so I felt like I’d been doing a great job of leading and making design through other people’s processes, my great mentors and sort of teachers, both David Rockwell and AvroKO, but something about the Arlo project represented for me a kind of breakthrough where I understood I could bring to bear everything that I had learned and seen and my own inspiration, including Black Mountain College, which has always been a point of huge inspiration, which figures heavily in the design concept for Arlo. And also to really think about the kind of experiences that we could create through hotels.
So if you know that property, both of them actually have a lot of communal space and shared public space and both of them sort of have become fixtures in their neighborhood where hotel guests and non-hotel guests come in and use those spaces, which is obviously a trend that’s been happening for a while in hospitality. I always think of it as the Ace hotel lobby fact. But I think that for me, I was able to sort of see ways that we could help shape a brand experience that enabled that kind of interaction, programming activity that sort of up until that point I hadn’t really been able to imagine.
So for me personally, that project represents probably a shift in the level at which I feel I could work at, the trust in a kind of process that has become really our central process at Goodrich, and also a kind of belief in myself as a designer that I probably struggled to have for many years before that as I was learning. So I think it became a real catalyst for the work that we do in our studio now. I think that happens for everyone, but there’s sort of a project that represents some kind of big shift that opens up a vision. And for me, that I think is what sort of on many levels just ushered in my understanding that we could work in the way we do now.
Jeremy Wells: That’s really neat, really neat story to hear that. And I agree with you. I think even just looking back in my past and the work that we’ve done at Longitude, there’s definitely pivotal points in these catalysts as you mentioned of projects and clients and relationships where it just kind of opens new opportunities for you. It takes you to the next level. It opens new horizons and allows you to keep challenging yourself and moving to the next level. So that’s really cool to hear those stories, the stories of those projects that have kind of been that for you in the past. As we shift gears from talking about the past and your journey up until now, which has been really, really interesting, the name of the podcast, Future Hospitality, we always like to kind of look ahead to and talk about what’s to come. And I know that you’ve mentioned some projects that are kind of in the works right now, but you can’t really mention. But are there any other things, whether personally or professionally that you would like to accomplish over the next few years? Anything for your business that you’d like to accomplish or do or that are on your horizon?
Matt Goodrich: I think probably the thing I’m excited about in what we’ve been able to do and particularly during this pandemic period, we got really creative about how we wanted to use our time and our energy when things were slow and we did a lot of self-propelled project work and research. So I would say, for us, I think we feel really excited about moving into this sort of next chapter in hospitality to zoom even further out and think about not just a discreet project, like a hotel or even a multifamily project combined with a hotel, but just as we move, creating like a larger community around the projects and being able to think about several different related projects, for example.
So I think not that we only want to work on bigger projects, but I think we see that we could bring a lot to bear on engaging community and in sort of bringing this whole amazing elevated hospitality experience to multiple different sort of related projects. So that’s one piece. I also think in this past year, there’s been a lot of discussion about representation, about centering non-white voices about histories that we’ve been repressing and not sharing. And I think the fact that narrative and storytelling has been such a part of not only our design process, but I think many of the great hospitality design practices.
There’s such an opportunity to center different stories and to go into the context of these projects and to kind of use this hospitality lens as a way to open up what’s being told. And I think Damon at Hospitality is a visionary in this way and has been doing this well before the pandemic and well before George Floyd. He’s somebody that we admire tremendously. And I know there are other people who are doing this, but I think all of us in developing our design and brand projects and our narrative based design, having an easy opportunity to just sort of widen our focus a little. And when we’re going into markets and places to look at histories that might not be sort of right at the top of the list or might not be foregrounded in the communities where they are. And I think that’s just a huge potential for hospitality now coming out of the reflection that we’ve had over the last year and a half.
And finally, I think I’m really excited about the way food and beverage in particular, but also hotels is going to change. I mean, this has been a massive inflection point for our clients, our colleagues, our partners in the industry and that’s been extremely difficult, but I’m starting to see the signs of sort of rebirth and regeneration and innovative, operative, operational thinking, and there’s all these incredibly talented people who’ve had time to think while they’ve sort of been closed or a little bit sidelined due to restrictions. And I think there’s going to be a big renaissance of particularly food and beverage thinking, but I’m sure hotel thinking as well and I’m really excited about that and really hoping that we get to be a part of helping to drive that and think through that and shape this next iteration of restaurants and food and beverage.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, it’s exciting for sure as we kind of rebound and look to the future. I know that we’re excited to watch you guys as you continue to put out quality projects and particularly excited about the ones that you gave us a little glimpse of.
Jeremy Wells: We’ll have to have a round two discussion for that.
Matt Goodrich: Yes.
Dustin Myers: But we just want to thank you for getting on and having a conversation with us. I think there were some really cool insights and just learning more about your process and how you guys do things was really cool to me. How could people find out more about you and stay connected with you guys?
Matt Goodrich: Well, you can sort of visit our website, which is goodrich.nyc. Feel free to reach out and contact me. I’m just firstname.lastname@example.org and look for us on Instagram. We’ll be starting to share more as over the coming months and we look forward to that. I want to thank you both. We’ve been obviously working remotely like everybody else during this period and I’ve been listening to your podcast and it’s been kind of a lifeline to both hear how other people are handling things, but also just to be inspired and to hear all these different voices in the industry that you’ve showcased and brought forward. It’s really an honor to be part of this and to be part of your growing library of episodes. I’m really grateful.
Jeremy Wells: Awesome. Pleasure is ours. Thank you, Matt. Awesome. Well, thanks for being on the podcast. We’ll hopefully chat with you again soon.
Matt Goodrich: I look forward to it. Thank you so much.