Shawn Sullivan has designed the world’s greatest nightclubs, hotels, and social spaces. In February, his recent creation, Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace, opened in Las Vegas, marking the entry of the culinary mecca into the hospitality world. With Robert De Niro, co-founder of Nobu, providing creative direction, Sullivan went to work redeveloping the restaurant’s aesthetic into hotel form. Piqued by the challenge and end product, we got Sullivan talking about his Nobu Hotel design experience, his favorite spaces, and the perks of the job.
Why Vegas for the first Nobu hotel outpost?
Similar to Nobu’s playful lifestyle, Las Vegas is the place to see and be seen. Caesar’s is legendary, the epitome of Las Vegas. It’s also known as the city’s epicenter of food and entertainment, so it seemed appropriate that Nobu be located at the heart of the legendary resort.
How did you evolve the Nobu concept into hotel form?
The question was how to design a standout luxury hotel experience embodying the complete Nobu lifestyle. The hotel needed to reflect Nobu’s history and story. Stories are one of the most powerful ways to communicate a coherent design and idea. The story here was not about materials, but about the philosophy of Nobu, which is authenticity. Ultimately, we created an experience that is fun and energized, curated and hancrafted, which is very much an extension of the restaurants.
What was Robert De Niro’s involvement in the Nobu Las Vegas hotel project?
Robert DeNiro has been involved as a key shareholder since the brand’s inception in 1994. As a core principal of the group, he continues to co-fund and provide creative direction for Nobu restaurants around the world and will continue to do so for Nobu Hotels.
When you imagined the hotel, what sort of revelry did you imagine it for? High scale leisure or off-the-wall Vegas debauchery?
Nobu and his team wow the senses with amazing dishes. So the hotel adapts this sense of wonderment and crafts it into a simple yet tailored guest experience from the exclusive hotel amenities to the attention to handcrafted and natural materials throughout the space.
What are the perks of your job?
Traveling. I get to see some really cool stuff all over the world. Also, collaborating. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to work with really talented designers and clients on a wide range of hospitality projects.
What’s your favorite space?
I love the lobby at PuLi Hotel in Shanghai and the lounge of the Tazmania Ballroom in Hong Kong.
What does research for your job look like?
The design process begins with a brainstorming session with the team. We then dive into extensive R&D, identifying the needs of the client and really looking into the background and history of the project.
How do you maintain originality?
Collaboration is really important at Rockwell Group. My studio is constantly brainstorming together to keep ideas fresh and innovative. All these different talents and interests mesh together to create unexpected solutions for each project we take on. It’s about pushing the boundaries and being open to new juxtapositions and inspirations.
What is your design fantasy?
To be on a project team from start to finish where I’m involved in the initial planning stages to carrying out operations at the end, not only the design aspect.
What’s been the most memorable concept you’ve used to design a property?
The pool deck at Belvedere Hotel is actually one of my favorite designs. We created a setting that transforms, so the area is always perceived in a fresh way at different times of the day. In the morning, sunbathers can relax on lounge chairs by the pool, and in the evening, these transform into furnishings for a lounge and night club. At dinnertime, pool cabanas also transform into dining spaces for the hotel’s two restaurants: the Belvedere Hotel Restaurant and Bar and Matsuhisa.
How do you know when you have a hit club?
When you’re able to offer guests an escape and immerse them into a totally new environment. For Marquee at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, we wanted to completely redefine the club experience. Aside from the large-scale stage and dance floor, the club also has multiple rooms that allow for a self-selected experience. We designed different spaces that really speak to different moods, eras, and music. Guests can enjoy hip-hop music in the Boom Box Room or hang out in the Library, which has more of a residential feel.
What will the hotels and nightclubs of the future look like?
When it comes to the future of hotels, I think there will be more attention on public spaces that are communal and transformable. At Rockwell Group, we like to call this an “urban living room,” where guests can relax during the day and socialize at night. This concept also aligns with the notion of the hotel as a destination. Hotels are increasingly becoming destinations in their own right. There needs to be opportunities for authentic connections evocative of the local landscape.
What person, artist, or designer are you most envious of?
I really admire artist James Turrell and his extraordinary sense of detail and precision. He’s constantly exploring and creating new inventions.