Scott Lee-President-SB Architects

An Interview with The Design Society Daily News

Scott Lee, President and Principal of SB Architects, recently sat down with the editors of The Design Society Daily News about design inspiration, direction and trends. Here’s what he had to say:

Design Society:  Tell us a little about your background in design

Scott:  I’ve known since I was 10 that I wanted to practice architecture. It’s a profession, but it’s also a passion. I grew up in the Bay Area, which was growing rapidly when I was young – I saw a lot of construction, a lot of development. I used to collect scraps from buildings sites, and bring them home to craft my own projects. I went to architecture school at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, (Cal Poly). It was one of the best decisions of my life – it’s one of the best architecture programs in the country, a very hands-on, very inspirational atmosphere.

Design Society:  How would you describe your personal design style?

Scott:  I don’t have a personal design style per se, but I definitely have a personal approach to design. The site comes first – the topography, the climate, the history and culture, the people – these are the first influences for every design. We hold our kick-off meetings with our clients on-site whenever possible – this is where we dig deep into his or her goals, program and vision. The point where the needs of the site and the needs of the client come together forms the starting point for our design process. Good design is not about an individual style – it’s driven by an authentic response to the site, and a passion for making the client’s vision a reality. It’s the key to making a project truly original – if it is an authentic response to the site and needs of the client, it simply cannot be recreated in the same way anywhere else.

Design Society: Where does your design inspiration come from?

Scott: I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and love to be able to react to new opportunities – I’m inspired by the multitude of opportunities that continue to present themselves. I love to “wow” the client – working with client to learn about their aspirations and passions, helping them craft their vision and goals, and then exceeding them. Every project presents the opportunity to come up with a new solution – and a “wow” moment. It’s the kind of challenge I live for.

Design Society:  In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?

Scott: Hospitality design is moving toward the contemporary – I think this is good and exciting for our industry – however the best solutions are still grounded in an authentic response to the site. Our design for Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve is highly contemporary, but inspired by the site and historical context – the natural surroundings, ancient indigenous cultures and mid-century architectural precedent all play a role.

Design Society: Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2015 and beyond.


1. Wellness is one of the most important themes in design today.

2. Blending art and architecture – instead of simply hanging art on the wall, the wall becomes an integral part of the artwork.

3. Designing resorts in urban spaces – where art, culture and a sense of community are highly evolved. When you build a resort in an urban core, the city itself becomes the amenity, which greatly affects the design approach.

4. Contemporary, experiential design appeals to this generation of travelers.

5. Don’t design to make a statement – design to create an experience.

Design Society: If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to design, what would it be?

Scott: Don’t be afraid to deviate from the expected.

Design Society: What projects are you currently working on?

Scott: 2014 has been a good year for us – we are incredibly fortunate to have a wealth of exciting projects in design all over the world. We renovated and expanded two iconic properties that have just opened – Farmhouse Inn in the California Wine Country and Malliouhana, An Auberge Resort in Anguilla. Our design for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants first property outside the U.S. – on Grand Cayman in the Caribbean – is under construction. We have two winery resorts in construction in China, resorts on the boards throughout Latin America, in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Brazil, among others. We’re working on the renovation and expansion of three more legacy resorts in the U.S. We’re also working on two incredibly exciting mixed-use retail destinations, Esplanade at Aventura and Palm Court in the Miami Design District, the first phase of which is well into construction.

Design Society: What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?

Scott: Our goal is to remain focused on the projects that have been entrusted to us. We want to encourage new ideas that engender the themes and advice I’ve already given, and perpetuate continuous improvement among all the generations of our design practice.

Design Society: Final thoughts. Tell us a little more about yourself…Your most treasured possession?

Scott: I travel pretty lightly through life. I don’t have an overabundance of stuff – we really just hold onto possessions for a while. It’s my personal and professional relationships that I most treasure.

Design Society: Your favourite holiday destination?

Scott: Home.

Design Society: Your favourite hotel / restaurant / bar?

Scott: A place I can walk to, whether I’m home or away. An effortless journey is key the experience. A perfect example is Molina, a restaurant in the town of Mill Valley, California where I live – it’s beautiful, comfortable, an authentic part of the community, has tremendous local food, and I can walk there from my house.

Design Society: Your favourite book / film / song?
Scott: One of my favorite songs is “Beautiful Day” by U2. It’s uplifting, non-denominational in terms of its genre, and by one of my favorite artists.

Design Society: Your favourite food and drink?

Scott: Seasonal, farm-to-table fare, paired with a Russian River pinot noir.

Design Society: Your favourite way to spend an afternoon?

Scott: A mountain bike ride on Mt. Tamalpais, a walk to the Pelican Inn for a beer with friends, joined by my wife and two girls, an afternoon nap, and a fabulous home-cooked meal. It’s the way I just spent my birthday.

Design Society: If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?

Scott: I’d be a real estate developer. I love making things happen.