We had the good fortune of connecting with Sandy Despres Stevens and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sandy, what role has risk played in your life or career?
A sense of risk leads my professional life. While the mere idea of it lights me up and opens multiple paths to venture on, I have been always attentive on controlling every one of my steps, therefore risk itself.
Being an endless prepared explorer
As soon as I graduated from a graduate program in management and finance, I knew that each work experience would lead to new opportunities and discoveries. I could not fathom the idea of having one and only one career. I wanted every task to become a stone to help me build new ones. In my case, it meant a 180 degree turn from finance to design when I moved to the United States at age 40.
I constantly need to learn and challenge what I know how to do, to find ways to blend new knowledge with experience, and to adapt myself to unknown environments. Taking the risk of relentlessly being “the new at” has allowed me to bring together skills that otherwise are separated. This has been the reward of getting constant training along the way and changing course from the corporate financial world to the more creative architectural and design sector.
But taking risks, exploring, and discovering do not mean to jump into the unknown, hoping for the best and fearing for the worse—quite the opposite. My cartesian and rational attitudes have shaped a detail-oriented personality. I work hours on to always be prepared for every professional adventure. I have always tried to advance the needs, the challenges, and alternative routes I could roam on to achieve my goals.
I have applied the same principles in my personal life, and along with my family, we have lived in foreign cities and grown in foreign languages to make them our own. Somehow it feels like an endless hike throughout valleys and peaks, and if there is no designed path to walk on, I will try to create one of my own.
What should our readers know about your business?
Three years ago, I entered a partnership with Studio Jean-Philippe Nuel to open and manage a U.S. based office. Studio Jean-Philippe Nuel is recognized around the world as a leading interior design agency specialized in the hospitality sector. An architect, Jean-Philippe Nuel has pioneered boutique hotel design and has become a market reference in the transformation of landmark buildings. For 25 years, he has designed numerous luxury or lifestyle hotel projects for international brands such as Accor, Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Ascott, or independant owners, Le Ponant cruise ships, as well as high-end corporate offices and luxury residential projects.
Together we have aimed at establishing an effective presence in the US market with a capacity to develop and execute locally with the same standards and quality of services that Studio Jean-Philippe Nuel has been known for in Europe.
The concept seemed simple: let’s reproduce in America what had led to our success overseas. However, I soon realized that our challenge went beyond this pious objective and that to succeed in America, we had to create a local identity and to develop trust.
At the time when Jean-Philippe and I ventured into a partnership, I attended a speech by a hotel magnat. Among other topics, he mentioned the mere idea of working with French professionals. “We love to work with them,” he said. “They have very good taste, but can be difficult to deal with.”
As French designers, we carry a reputation to overcome.
My first objective was to show our American clients that there was no such thing as a French attitude to achieve successful projects in America.
I thus decided to instill values of flexibility and around-the-clock fast-paced work. ‘It is possible’ has been the motto. I then focused on hiring Americans with a strong local expertise to bridge our qualitative work between France and the United States and to bring an impeccable process to our clients.
Formatting our Studio to American standards was a global challenge. Facing the Covid reality has been a temporary one, and yet more difficult because there was no precedent.
Within a year of existence, Studio JPN in the US was awarded the 2019 Gold Key Award, but most of the on-going RFP and deals at early stage were halted. I decided to use this no-man’s-land professional time to give back and to help people by giving time to a New York non-for-profit: the Bowery mission. It was my way to stand strong to the studio’s values and, actually, to help myself accept the lockdown reality.
I also took advantage of this time to read and work on sociological trends. This constant knowledge was necessary for Jean-Philippe and I to rainstorm the future of hotels.
I came out of this Covid-slowed time with a lesson: while it is good to capitalize on your expertise, it is smart to check out how the outside world is doing, to think out of the box and constantly reinvent yourself.
Brand & story of the Studio
Our ambition is to tell a unique story about each project inspired by the soul of the place and an engaged discussion with our client. The building’s legacy and its location give the space meaning beyond its aesthetic ambition. We aim to provide highly-tailored hospitality experiences for our clients and their guests by creating communities, discovering a culture, a lifestyle, commemorating a past but with a contemporary twist.., creating fun, playing with emotions… It is why we never do two similar projects even in the same city or for the same brands. Artwork and culture is always central to our creative process of the story we want to tell. We always work hand in hand with artists to carry out our projects.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite place in the City is Central Park. Walking in the Park even 10 years after being here feels as fresh as it was the first time. A run around the reservoir always feels very special, and I then can sense the beauty of the city’s skyline. This is true as well when I grab a picnic on the great lawn and dance with the skaters on a Sunday afternoon. I am then surrendered by an authentic New York soul.
On the second day, I would take my friends to a Soho tour to admire the cast-iron architecture and mix in the artistic vibes of downtown. I would then head to the East, cross Lafayette Street and enter Nolita for a breathy-and-not-too-sweet cheesecake @ Eileen Cheese Cake along with a Couscous @Cafe gitane. The afternoon would be dedicated to shopping on Elizabeth Street. I would then wrap that day in the Lower east Side visiting an Art gallery and having a drink in one of its trendiest bars.
Day 3 – Destination is the High Line, from the newly developed Hudson Yards neighborhood to the Meatpacking district. Let’s discover how the City has developed since Covid: the little Island, the Vessel, and of course the iconic walk on the high line to admire how the world railroads morphed into a green scenic urban vegetation. This is an opportune place and time to admire new architecture. Upon destination in the Meatpacking district, a lunch at Chelsea Market becomes the occasion to enjoy how diverse the city can be. Let’s follow with a shopping time @ Anthropology and finish the day where it started: Hudson Yards and the Equinox Hotel to share a drink on its breathtaking Terrace and Admire the Sunset through the monumental Jaume Plensa sculpture.
Day 4 – Let’s go across the river: Brooklyn, its hipsters, and the European side of the City. Nothing beats the Woody Allenesque promenade on Brooklyn Heights, its views on Wall Street and Lady Liberty, and the timeless landmark townhouses and antique stores on Atlantic Avenue. Then it will be time to relax in one of the many neighborhood bistros Brooklyn offers, close our eyes and think for one moment at McCourt’s Angela Ashes.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout goes to my immediate families and friends more than someone in particular. There is not a day without acknowledging—and supporting, sometimes challenging—every one of my choices, whether they are professional or personal.
I was lucky to be born in a family encouraging me to study and work to find fulfillment, freedom, and happiness—and that there was no alternative.
It all started with my mother. Instead of imprinting in me an ambition of motherhood and housewife, she showed me the path to knowledge and personal power. Everything was possible if I was armed with a set of keys to success. Personal success would then follow and not lead. Developing a career in banking and then as an interior design and architecture entrepreneur did not prevent me from enjoying a personal and family life. However, it has defined my family life.
My husband and I chose one another because we met at the intersection of independent professional success and mutual love. As husband and wife, our ambitions have been the source of our support and admiration for one another. Our legacy has been transmitting these core values to our two boys as parents.
They have grown up while witnessing their mother’s commitment to work and learning. And when I often doubted my abilities to succeed in my endeavors, my sons were the first to cheer me up and make sure I would not give up.
Learning, working, and succeeding is not an option we women have. It is not even a right. It is a mandate.
Image 1 – Roma @Gilles Trillard Images 2&3 – Lyon @Nicolas Matheus Images 4&5 – La Clef Champs-Elysees @Gilles Trillard Image 6 – Meribel @ Christophe Dugied Image 7 Canopy by Hilton, Paris – Nicolas Matheus & John Athimaritis image 8 – Ponant – Le Champlain