You may not recognize the name Anda Andrei, but her fingerprints are all over the hotel experiences you've had. Together with designer Philippe Starck and renowned hotelier Ian Schrager, Andrei upended the hotel industry by ushering in the age of design quirk, intimate environments and personal touches. In other words, the age of boutique hotels.
But it’s not for that reason we wanted so badly to include her in our newsletter. It was because she left Schrager’s lauded design studio, where she reigned comfortably and successfully for almost 30 years, to push out on her own — at the age of 59.
“The day comes when you think, ‘I’m running out of time, and if you ever want to do anything else, the doors are closing,’ ” she says. “So I guess age was a major factor in deciding that it’s now or never. I can’t keep dreaming.”
But this chapter is in many ways nothing more than the continuation of the dream that began when she first arrived in New York in 1981 as a political refugee from communist Romania. She and her husband were put up with other refugees at the Prince George Welfare Hotel on 28th Street. It almost goes without saying that the Manhattan of 1981 bears not even a fraction of a resemblance to the minted, polished byword for urban chic that it is today, full of the kind of retail environments and hotels that Andrei herself helped manifest.
An architect in her native Romania, she went on one job interview, with the firm Gruzen Samton, and got the gig — the same day a thief made off with all of her possessions at the hotel. When the company was hired to work on Schrager’s Royalton in New York, Schrager quickly hired her away, launching a collaboration that would yield the dreamy Delano in Miami and St. Martins Lane in London, the trifecta that heralded the beginning of a new hotel movement.
“A lot of the visions of the hotels I was definitely on the same page with Ian. But ... it’s one thing to follow your vision and it’s another thing to think in the back of your mind ‘Is this his vision as well?’” she says. “And freedom always comes with more responsibilities. Freedom is hard. That’s what I thought when I came to America. It’s much better but it’s not easier at all, because freedom means you have to make all these decisions and they’re your decisions.”
Never more so than now. Since starting Anda Andrei Design, she’s done a few hotels but has spent the lion’s share of her time on a project that is reimagining Asbury Park, the down-on-its-luck New Jersey beach town. It’s the project that’s demanded the most of her.
“At the end you really know how to do great hotels with the eyes closed,” she says. “You need that 30 percent where you don’t really know what you’re doing and you need to find a way. I don’t know how to do a town, I don’t know how to bring these pieces together.”
Unlike those of us battling career transitions, Andrei is lucky in that hers is an industry that rewards experience. You can only get better with age as a designer. But that doesn’t stop her from actively seeking out the input of the younger generations who work for her.
“I need young people around me. I love teaching young people,” she says. “When they are young they are curious, they are very interested and somehow it feels they give me their spark in the way they think at times.”
ageist sound advice
I wanted to tap into Anda’s long history in the creative space to understand what’s changed now after 60 as well as the lessons she’s learned on collaboration.
lean on experience "Experience does change the way you shortcut through all the shit you normally go through. That’s one thing that’s good about it, that you can get from A to Z in a much shorter time than it used to take when you were young. You don’t have to go in loops, you know how to zoom in to something that’s really a priority; you see the forest, not so much the trees."
charm the brutes "The aspect of design in your office, creating beautiful things, is one part of it. But then there’s the other part where you have to be in these huge meetings who are not necessarily the most polite, and they’re rather rude. And it’s not such a gentle, beautiful woman field. That’s another thing to learn how to deal with all of that, and how to command their respect and for them to listen to you and it sometimes takes twice as long as a woman. And I realized, the way of a woman as opposed to the violent way of the man, you get a lot better results a lot of the time."
take the time to teach "I never realized, but I was told repeatedly, that I am instilling fear. When you collaborate and have young people around, the fear goes away. There might be fear in the first or second meeting, but once you get going they do understand what you’re all about and you understand what they’re all about. I get to hook them to work with me, because I teach them a lot of stuff, and I take the time to teach."