D.B. Kim Comes to Daroff Designs
by marni prichard manko
Nattily dressed and sporting a mohawkesque coiffure, world-renowned designer and architect D.B. Kim first appears as an intimidating figure. As does his resume. With a 25-plus-year career as one of the hospitality industry’s most revolutionizing minds, Kim has had a deft hand in creating what we know today as the quintessential luxury hotel experience, characterized by modern simplicity and Eastern influences. But once you talk to him, all notions of intimidation are quickly replaced with a discernible sense of peacefulness brought on by his holistic outlook on life.
“I’m a Buddhist, and I am mindfully aware of calmness,” says the designer who originally hails from South Korea. “I am all about comfort,” he continues. “Whatever I design, I question ergonomics, dimensions, and tactility of the materials. Comfort is where I start, meaning me, my inner self—and then I think outward.”
And it’s his emphasis on sublime comfort that has made him one of the world’s most acclaimed hospitality gurus—and an invaluable addition to Daroff Design. Kim recently joined Karen Daroff’s celebrated Philadelphia design firm as a principal, where he will lead the company’s rapidly expanding luxury hotel and resort hospitality practice. Since opening in 1973, Daroff has grown to a team of more than 50 people, with a second office in Shanghai, and spearheaded all manner of design projects, from a luxury condo on Rittenhouse Square to restaurants like Table 31, plus projects in healthcare, gaming, and beyond.
“Working for Karen is like working with Karen,” says Kim about his newfound professional relationship with Daroff, with whom he has been friends for over a decade. “It’s kind of like, how do two best friends work together? We giggle a lot and raise voices at times. We both value simplicity in our designs and straightforwardness in our communication. There’s a warmth and humanism in our relationship,” he says.
And it’s this mutual appreciation for each other and Daroff’s respect for Kim’s vision that will enable Kim to make his mark. “I’ll probably argue and challenge people, asking ‘why not?’ I’m here to inspire and feed the air and suck out the air.”
After training under such renowned architects as Peter Zumthor and Holly Hunt, Kim’s breakout moment was at Starwood Hotels and Resorts in 2001. “It was my first time working in hospitality,” he explains. “They wanted someone outside of the box, someone who was creative and had architectural training, but [with] some distance from the hospitality world.” And the company’s out-of-the-box thinking worked. Under Kim’s watch as vice president for design, he revitalized the W Hotels and Westin Hotels & Resorts brands to be progressive by instituting what is now ubiquitous in the hospitality world—the concept of a serene hotel experience replete with a focus on rejuvenation.
“I learned a lot and contributed a lot, and it’s close to my heart,” Kim says of those projects. “Even today I still see the influence of the campaigns: certain scents in the hotel, music in the elevators, healthy amenities in the lobby. Those little touches have become like a requirement; something that’s expected.”
After seven years with Starwood, he jetted off to Paris to work for the iconic Pierre-Yves Rochon, Inc., a global luxury hospitality design firm where he worked on projects for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, The Ritz-Carlton, and Sofitel Luxury Hotels, among others, before finally settling at Daroff. Here, he is heading up myriad projects ranging from big global hotel brands like Marriott to smaller hotels and local boutiques. “I’m so excited about the multiple levels of work here in Philly,” he says.
And with that, the jet-setting, meditative designer has found his place here in the City of Brotherly Love. “Philadelphia design and architecture values and references its history and legacy to America,” he says. “It also looks out to neighboring cities like DC, Boston, and New York, and across the ocean to Paris and London, so the city’s design aesthetic is very well aware of what’s going on and what’s going to happen— while also recognizing the past. I think that’s really important in this city. I have fallen in love with it here.”
photography by michael persico; Saarinen Womb chair, made exclusively for Knoll, courtesy of knoll