While Kat Kim admits she took an unconventional career path, it was one that ultimately led her to Dream Hotel Group, which was acquired by Hyatt earlier this year. Kim earned an undergraduate degree in architecture from Columbia University and a master’s from Princeton, then started her career working on residential projects. She was also the assistant design critic to Bjarke Ingels of BIG and architect Stan Allen at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. “My nontraditional path grants me a more holistic connection between the distinctive disciplines,” the New Jersey native says. “It finally makes sense to me now.”
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
Kat Kim: During my freshman year in college, I took an introductory architecture class. I felt that I discovered my true calling. As I ventured into teaching, I concurrently dove into the world of high-end private residential projects. What fascinated me was how each person lived so uniquely and how great design could improve their daily lives. After some time, however, I wanted to expand the boundaries of design and create impactful experiences for a broader and more diverse audience.
What are your early memories of hospitality?
KK: Traveling to South Korea in my teens shifted my perspective on a type of hospitality I hadn’t experienced before. The level of thoughtfulness, consideration, and detail of design and service was different and more noticeable in every sector—be it hotel, restaurant, or retail—than anything I had experienced in the U.S.
What was your first design-related job?
KK: My first architecture job was working for Stan Allen, the former dean at Princeton’s School of Architecture. Stan by nature is an educator. Working for him was more akin to being in a design studio workshopping ideas and ways of representation. This taught me the importance of how we communicate design concepts through visual storytelling and how to collaborate and champion my team and their ideas as a leader.
How did you end up where you are today?
KK: From studying at both undergrad and grad schools, working, and teaching in architecture, I inadvertently started my own design studio when a friend asked me to design their new apartment. As the full-scale residential renovations rolled in, I was also immersed in branding projects catering to indie music bands, emerging fashion icons, and cultural institutions. Not wanting to be responsible for the livelihood of others, I made the choice to leave the studio behind and pursue a job at a firm specializing in high-end residential and hospitality projects. I then explored a role with a small interactive branding agency, granting me a glimpse into the intricacies of branding. My professional journey, while unconventional, has been nothing short of interesting.
What do you love most about your current role?
KK: I love that as a small team (and currently all women), we are extremely versatile, and we have the opportunity to work on projects from a high-level brand perspective down to the nitty gritty on each piece of collateral. In February, Hyatt acquired Dream Hotel Group. It’s been amazing to have the Hyatt engine behind our lifestyle brands.
Favorite place to travel?
KK: Living in Brooklyn, New York, I’m less interested in cities when I vacation and more attracted to quaint, off-the-beaten-path towns (bonus if no one speaks English). I’ve recently been reminiscing about São Lourenço do Barrocal, a restored family farm estate in eastern Portugal. It checks off all the boxes: good architecture, interior design, food, and service in a gorgeous, serene landscape of olive trees and orange groves away from the fray. Contrary to this, however, I never tire of going to Tokyo and Seoul. The whole culture of design, hospitality, and energy is next level.
KK: A beautiful (non-sweet) cocktail in a coupe glass with friends and binge watching a great TV series or trashy reality show.
Favorite way to unwind?
KK: I love going to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where there was no professional interior designer involved. I can just enjoy the food and not be distracted by all the amazing details and FF&E.