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NXTLVL Experience Design

Episode 31: Sara Duffy

Breathing New Life Into Historic Hotels with Sara Duffy Principal – Stonehill Taylor




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In this episode host David Kepron taks with Sara Duffy a principal at the hospitality focused design firm Stonehill Taylor. They discuss the challenges of reinvigorating classic hotels with strong historic stories into vibrant and relevant destinations re-thought for a contemporary traveller. Changing a historic architectural landmark to meet evolving guest needs is no small task fraught with difficult decisions about how to pay homage to the past while reshaping something for the future.


Sara’s Profile:





Sara Duffy graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and received her Associate of Applied Science in Interior Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. With a background in art history and television, Sara crafts a unique, immersive narrative for each of her projects with a focus on thoughtful, classic design. Her impressive variety of projects includes the Nomad Hotel and Bar in New York and its re-iteration in Las Vegas, the J.W. Marriott Nashville, and the iconic TWA Hotel at JFK Airport’s historic TWA Flight Center. She has worked with renowned hospitality developers such as the Sydell Group, Eleven Madison Park’s Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, Marriott International, Turnberry Associates, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

Show Intro:

The Algonquin Hotel in New York was opened in 1902. Stories abound of the guests that stayed there and the fabled “Round Table” around which literary luminaries met daily to talk about all thing literature.

The TWA terminal designed by the masterful architect Eero Sarinen opened in 1962 and has a history of its own aside from the groundbreaking design that made it an icon of the era.

The Marriott Marquis in Time Square New York was the work of architect John Portman who created monumental interiors in concrete. The hotel’s construction was first disclosed on November 3, 1972, and opened a little over ten years later.


These projects have stood the test of time but been reinvigorated with major renovations in the past couple of years to bring them into a new era of hospitality that caters to an evolving cohort of travelers.

It’s no small thing to take a building and breath new life into it while not diminishing their cultural significance. Making them more effective in meeting the new need of guests while also paying due respect to the architects and histories they have lived has a plethora of challenges.

Consultant teams can be as large as 100 different organizations, each with a specific mandate and areas of work. Building methodologies have changes, codes and regulations are stricter, materials and furniture options have proliferated. All of this adds to the challenge. And, when considering big design changes, board rooms are filled with questions like, “can we actually do that?”, “Should we do that”” “what message are we sending if we do that?”

Sara Duffy is a principal at the hospitality focused design firm of Stonehill Taylor. Sara Duffy graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and received her Associate of Applied Science in Interior Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. With a background in art history and television, Sara crafts a unique, immersive narrative for each of her projects with a focus on thoughtful, classic design.

It is perhaps not so surprising that she was charged with playing a prominent role in leading the Algonquin, TWA, and Marriott Marquis projects through their revitalization bringing their stories from the past to the present.




David Kepron is a multifaceted creative professional with a deep curiosity to understand ‘why’, ‘what’s now’ and ‘what’s next’. He brings together his background as an architect, artist, educator, author, podcast host and builder to the making of meaningful and empathically-focused, community-centric customer connections at brand experience places around the globe.

David is a former VP – Global Design Strategies at Marriott International. While at Marriott, his focus was on the creation of compelling customer experiences within Marriott’s “Premium Distinctive” segment which included: Westin, Renaissance, Le Meridien, Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels and Gaylord hotels.

In 2020 Kepron founded NXTLVL Experience Design, a strategy and design consultancy, where he combines his multidisciplinary approach to the creation of relevant brand engagements with his passion for social and cultural anthropology, neuroscience and emerging digital technologies.

As a frequently requested international speaker at corporate events and international conferences focusing on CX, digital transformation, retail, hospitality, emerging technology, David shares his expertise on subjects ranging from consumer behaviors and trends, brain science and buying behavior, store design and visual merchandising, hotel design and strategy as well as creativity and innovation. In his talks, David shares visionary ideas on how brand strategy, brain science and emerging technologies are changing guest expectations about relationships they want to have with brands and how companies can remain relevant in a digitally enabled marketplace.

David currently brings his creativity and insight on brand experiences to an international audience as a member of VMSD magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board, as a Board Member of the Interactive Customer Experience Association (ICXA) and Sign Research Foundation’s (SRF) Program Committee.

He has held teaching positions at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), the Department of Architecture & Interior Design of Drexel University in Philadelphia, the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising (L.I.M.) in New York, the International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Montreal and he served as the Director of the Visual Merchandising Department at LaSalle International Fashion School (L.I.F.S.) in Singapore.

In 2014 Kepron published his first book titled: “Retail (r)Evolution: Why Creating Right-Brain Stores Will Shape the Future of Shopping in a Digitally Driven World” and he is currently working on his second book to be published soon. David also writes a popular blog called “Brain Food” which is published monthly on

In September of 2020, he launched the “NXTLVL Experience Design” podcast which brings listeners dialogues about “DATA: Design, Architecture, Technology and the Arts.” His guests include thought leaders who are driven by a passion to create the ‘New Possible’ and promote new paradigms of experiences into the mainstream.



MasterClass: ‘Re-Sparkling’ Retail: Using Store Design to Build Trust, Faith and Brand Loyalty

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

Presented by:
Ian Johnston
Founder and Creative Director, Quinine Design

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