AHEAD Americas 2021


2021 Awards

THE 2021 AHEAD AMERICAS winners were announced during a virtual ceremony broadcast live on 12 November.

You can now view on demand by clicking on the links below.



Mari Balestrazzi

Director of Operations, Environments Design - Airbnb

Mari Balestrazzi is Director of Operations for the Environments team at Airbnb. Prior to her role at Airbnb, Mari was Vice President of Americas Design Services for Hyatt Hotels where she oversaw design for Hyatt's portfolio of full service brands. Previously, Mari was Senior Vice President of Design at Morgans Hotel Group where she was responsible for overseeing all design for the company and Director of Design for St. Regis Hotels at Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Prior to her in-house roles, Mari was Studio Director for Aero Studios Limited in New York City where she oversaw new construction and renovation projects for both private residences and commercial projects, including 60 Thompson and Giorgio Armani’s private residence in New York.

Gray Davis

Principal - Meyer Davis

Gray Davis is co-founder of Meyer Davis, an award-winning interior design studio that has been globally-recognized for its work in hospitality, commercial, and luxury residential design.

With offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Dubai, Meyer Davis’ public projects boast a welcoming, residential quality, and the studio’s residential projects offer a generous warmth and comfort that only seasoned hospitality designers could fashion. It is this harmonious marriage of seemingly disparate elements – public and private, old and new, uptown and downtown – that is quintessentially Meyer Davis.

The studio has completed projects worldwide for unrivaled luxury brands such as 1Hotel, Crown Hotels, Four Seasons and Auberge Resorts, in addition to restaurants and retail projects for the likes of Jean Georges, and Oscar de la Renta, and private residences for luminaries like Jenna Lyons and Jorge Perez. In 2018, Meyer David was honoured with induction into the Hospitality Design Platinum Circle, and has been recognized by AHEAD Awards for its work on Mauna Lani in Hawaii.

In 2020, Gray and co-founder Will Meyer debuted their eponymous product company, William Gray.

Gary Dollens (Chair)

Global Head, Design/Product & Brand Development - Hyatt Hotels Corporation

Gary Dollens was appointed Global Head of Design/Product and Brand Development for Hyatt’s Global Operations Centre in October 2014. He is responsible for the direction and execution of Hyatt’s global design, overseeing Design Service offices in Chicago, Zurich, Dubai and Hong Kong.

Most recently, Dollens served as Senior Vice President of Product and Brand Development focusing on Global Product Strategy. He has also held the role of Global Head - Franchise and Select Brands which included responsibility for Hyatt Place and Hyatt House, as well as Franchise and Owners Relations. Prior to that, he served as Senior Vice President of North America Operations, with oversight of Corporate Operations (Rooms, Food & Beverage, Engineering, and Spa), as well as Architecture & Design.

Gary began his career with Hyatt in Oak Brook, IL. In 1988, after holding a variety of management positionsat Hyatt properties including Dearborn, Columbus, Lake Tahoe, Memphis, San Francisco, and Waikiki. He was appointed hotel manager of Hyatt Regency Atlanta. In 1989, he was named General Manager of Hyatt Regency St.Louis, and later served in the same role at Grand Hyatt New York and Hyatt Regency Washington Capitol Hill. Following histenure as Vice President and Managing Director for Grand Hyatt.

New York, Gary joined Hyatt’s corporate office in Chicago as Vice President North America Operations in 2004. He attended Western Illinois University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts Studies.

Sara Duffy

Principal - 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.

Sara's 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.

Leo Eskenazi

Vice President, Architecture & Design - Hilton Worldwide

Leo Eskenazi is an architect with 30 years of experience in architecture, construction and Interior design leading hospitality, gaming and mixed-use projects in the US and internationally.

In his role of Vice President of Architecture and Design at Hilton Worldwide, Leo manages the design process of all new development, conversion and renovation projects in Latin American and Caribbean including Luxury, Full service, focused service, lifestyle hotels and resorts. Leo is also responsible for the development of Brand prototypes and global Design initiatives.

Alessia Genova

Managing Partner - Tihany Design

As co-lead of esteemed NYC atelier Tihany Design, Alessia embraces the mission of an ever-evolving industry, to elevate the luxury hospitality and leisure lifestyle with sensational custom interiors.

She has helmed projects for a variety of prestige hotels, resorts, restaurants, cruise, private clubs and estates, from the modern to the iconic. Her international body of work ranges from Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul, and Four Seasons Dubai DIFC, to Seabourn Cruise Lines and Hungary’s Sauska Winery in Tokaj; and she has collaborated with renowned chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Richard Ekkebus.

A graduate of Italy’s Politecnico di Milano, Alessia began her career at Tihany Design’s Rome office in 2007, earning successive promotions for her talent, expertise, leadership and mentorship, culminating with her appointment to Studio Director 10 years later.  In 2020, Founder & Principal Adam D. Tihany appointed Alessia as the first Managing Partner, ushering in a new chapter in the firm’s 43-year history.

Conde Nast Traveller named Alessia one of '12 People to Watch in 2022,' in recognition of her passion and international impact as a visionary force in custom design.

Ari Heckman

Co-Founder & CEO - ASH NYC

Ari Heckman is Chief Executive Officer and co-founding partner of ASH NYC - the internationally renowned design and development firm with a mission of transforming spaces into into multi-sensory, one-of-a-kind experiences.

Ari is responsible for the leading the company’s vertically integrated team of experts spanning design, development, finance, property management, acquisitions, marketing and branding.

ASH NYC is most recognised for its collection of boutique hotels, celebrated for their ability to reinvigorate historic properties into immersive story-telling narratives, that include The Dean (Providence, RI), The Siren (Detroit, MI), Hotel Peter & Paul (New Orleans) and a forthcoming hotel in Baltimore. The firm’s home furnishing and staging division, ASH Staging, is equally notable for its growing success in New York and and Los Angeles.

Under Ari’s leadership, ASH NYC has been recognised by New York Times, Forbes, Fast Company, Conde Nast Traveler, Surface, TIME Magazine and Wallpaper, and is named one of Architectural Digest’s AD100 firms, which recognises the word’s leading design teams.

A native of Providence, Ari graduated with honours from the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University. Heckman currently splits his time between Manhattan, Los Angeles and Sag Harbor, NY.

Verena Haller

Chief Design Officer - Standard Hotels

Verena Haller joined Standard International from Equinox Hotels, where she informed the creation of the Brand, Design Vision and Guest Experience for its new concept. She began her hospitality career with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, refining & honing her hospitality and design knowledge. For over a decade, Verena has worked with leading brands, designing for The W, Four Seasons, and James hotels. Verena went on to join Ian Schrager as EVP of Architecture and Design, working on and opening a variety of Edition Hotels and The Public Chicago. She later partnered with Morgans Hotel Group as SVP of Design, defining the brand’s next steps. She opened properties in London, Las Vegas, Istanbul etc., utilizing her expertise to help create the brand as it is today.

Currently Chief Design Officer for Standard International, she is helping to expand The Standard label and brand worldwide, with their first international property opening in London later this year. Verena’s unique innovative vision and refined eye for detail has greatly contributed to the overall success in the expansion and evolution of The Standard.

Aliya Khan

Vice President of Design Strategies - Marriott International

Aliya Khan is Vice President of Design Strategies at Marriott International. Focusing on AC Hotels, Aloft, Element and Moxy projects, she drives the efforts to define the design strategy for these brands and positions each with a distinct personality. Prior to joining Marriott International, Khan worked in numerous roles with Starwood Hotels & Resorts. She holds degrees in both architecture and industrial design.

She was responsible for several award-winning projects, including the opening of the W Montreal, renovations at the W Mexico City, and the Le Meridien properties in French Polynesia. She also lead the renovation of the iconic St. Regis New York and oversaw the design partnership efforts between St. Regis Hotels and Bentley Motors.

Most recently, before joining Marriot, Khan took a break from the hotel industry to lead Design and Development for NeueHouse, and was responsible for the opening of their award‐winning Hollywood location.

Greg Keffer

Partner / Studio Leader - Rockwell Group

Greg Keffer is a Partner and Studio Leader at Rockwell Group, where he oversees a wide variety of project types, including hospitality, retail, residential, and workplace environments. Greg's combined strengths in architecture, interiors, graphics, and branding allow him to develop innovative and holistic design solutions for a global roster of clients.

Current projects include Moxy Chelsea in New York, Nobu Hotel Barcelona, 15 Hudson Yards in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Warner Music Group Headquarters in Los Angeles, W Nashville, and the Kempinski Hotel Chengdu. Greg also has extensive luxury residential experience, including 111 Murray in New York, Sky in New York, and Station House in Washington, D.C. Other notable projects include the iconic New York restaurants Nobu Downtown and Union Square Cafe, NeueHouse in New York and Los Angeles, Chefs Club in New York, The Time hotel in New York, Hotel EMC2 in Chicago, the MGM Cotai, the Doheny Room and Nightingale Plaza in Los Angeles, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Quebec City and Five50 Pizza Bar at the Aria in Las Vegas.

Little Wing Lee

Design Director - Atelier Ace

Over the past fifteen years, her sharp eye for color, texture and materiality along with her thoughtful and narrative-driven approach brought her to work with some of the most renownedand inventivedesign firms including SOM, Rockwell Group, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, APPARATUS and Ace Hotel Group/Atelier Ace–where she currently holds the position of Design Director. In 2019, she started her own interior design studio, Studio & Projects, she also publicly launched Black Folks in Design, an organization whose mission is to bring awareness to and promote thecultural contributions, excellence, and importance of Black designers.



Eileen Madigan

Senior Vice President of Global Interior Design - Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Leads "Design Excellence" vision for the brand’s luxury integrated Mixed Use Resorts. Manages over 4.5+ Billion in Cap-X projects. Oversees the global design team 30+ in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Las Vegas. Prior to this role Eileen was the Vice President for Creative Four Seasons Hotels and Rosewood Hotels.

Lisa Pasternack

Senior Director, Design & Innovation - Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

Lisa provides design oversight for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts across all new builds and capital projects and is responsible for guiding and supporting the Global Design & Innovation teams based in Toronto, Dubai and Singapore.

In conjunction with Four Seasons internal teams and project consultants, Lisa works with the team to establish the appropriate design language for each project, focused on conveying the Four Seasons commitment to quality and luxury. With a keen eye for design and details, Lisa is also constantly on the lookout for new and emerging design talents who can help bring these projects to life.

Over Lisa’s 24 years with Four Seasons, she has led the design and construction of several properties, gaining valuable insight into the world of new builds and renovations, and has been instrumental in keeping the Design Standards current for over a decade. Lisa managed the design and construction of the Four Seasons R&D Studio based in Toronto, is involved in several new initiatives both within the Design + Innovation department and company-wide and has advanced improvements to our Fitness Facilities. Her knowledge of luxury hospitality and her attention to detail are valuable assets in her drive towards product excellence.

Anne Wilkinson

Principal - BAMO

With 25 years of experience in luxury hotel and residential design, Anne Wilkinson brings an unparalleled amount of knowledge to each new project.

A New York native, Anne earned her Design degree from Cornell University, alongside interests in theatrical lighting, classical and modern dance. Named Principal of BAMO in 2017, she has contributed to the growth and success of the firm since its inception.

Working around the globe in vibrant urban or resort destinations, including some of the most pristine and sensitive environments, Anne has the ability to create settings that not only speak to the destination but also respect the people and place. Her strong understanding of the complexities of hotel design allow her to develop creative and innovative solutions that improve the overall guest experience and add to the client’s success. Anne infuses a marked sense of style and place into her elegant and cohesive designs.



We encourage attendees to take public transport if possible. Weylin is located off the Williamsburg Bridge at 175 Broadway – a 5 minute walk from Marcy Avenue subway station.


We recommend the new Moxy Williamsburg – a 4-minute walk from Weylin.

For 2024 bookings you can benefit from a special rate, use code L27 at checkout, or use this direct link.