Gabriele Lawrence was quite literally born into the hospitality industry. A self-described “hotel brat” raised on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui and Kauai, she found herself drawn at a young age to her father’s work as the general manager of several resort properties. “Growing up in Hawaii, you are literally surrounded by hospitality 365 days a year,” Lawrence says.
After graduating from the University of Nevada Las Vegas with a bachelor’s degree in hotel management, she was hired by ITT Sheraton and seemingly destined to follow her father’s footsteps into general management. But when a project manager position serendipitously opened up before the latest slate of renovations were complete, the company turned to Lawrence, who was completing the corporate training program at the Sheraton Denver Airport Hotel at the time. Only halfway done with her 12-month studies, she took the leap.
“I was 22,” Lawrence recalls. “So, of course, I was going to take the job. After six months of it, project management was in my blood. I love being part of creating wonderful new spaces for guests to enjoy while also controlling $2 million to $100 million budgets. It allowed for me to meld both sides of my personality—creative and analytical.” Having an MBA from Pepperdine University doesn’t hurt either.
And 20 years later, Lawrence is still doing just that as director of project management, design, and construction at Chatham Lodging Trust, a self-advised hotel real estate investment trust focused mainly on upscale, extended-stay hotels and premium-branded, select-service hotels. Nearly seven years in, she finds it to be the perfect convergence of so many different areas of hotel development.
“You get involved with design [and architecture],” Lawrence says, adding that structural mechanical and electrical issues are inevitable, leading to conversations with a myriad of professionals. “You have to be analytical and financially savvy as every project comes down to hitting budget and schedule. In this line of work, you will never get bored as you never do the same thing twice.”
Lawrence’s latest project with Chatham was the recently completed renovation of the Westin Governor Morristown and the Blue Morel, a high-end, farm-to-table restaurant and wine bar inside the Westin, tucked away in historic Morristown, New Jersey. Early on, Lawrence and Designer Joanne Lee of J Lee Interiors made a case for a higher degree of creative freedom than usual, as to respect the rich history and distinct environment of the area.
“We were storytellers at this hotel,” Lawrence says, recognizing that while she and Lee managed to respect Westin’s brand standards, they also sought to create a standalone vision that would highlight the uniqueness of this property within not just Chatham’s portfolio but also Westin’s other properties.
For instance, the interior design embodies a merging of Morristown’s past and present, the stately and the whimsical. Color patterns reveal blue-gray hues tinged with plum, as to represent the winter mornings experienced by George Washington and his soldiers when they famously headquartered in the community throughout the late 18th century. Conversely, playful modern art from the Kalisher Art Lab imbues the space with a sense of warmth. Connecting it all is the common thread of people gathering for refuge and merriment—community being the phenomena that transcends eras.
“Being part of creating a wonderful new space for guests to enjoy . . . allowed for me to meld both sides of my personality—creative and analytical.”
Lee and Lawrence also embraced a biophilic design—biophilia being humans’ inherent inclination to associate with nature. This feels especially on-brand given the environs of Morristown, a place that’s always been surrounded by wooded landscapes and rolling terrain. At Blue Morel, it’s as if the sylvan beauty has subtly made its way into the physical space, with pockets of natural light, views opening up into the natural world outside, and murals of forests with hazy sunshine pouring through the trees. These details create the fabric of Lawrence’s passion for the role.
And now, history repeats itself within this director’s own family. Her son Tristan has developed a lifelong fascination with the hospitality industry, just as Lawrence did through watching her father. Ever since Tristan was little, he’s accompanied her to build sites, visiting multiple projects with Lawrence in 2020 alone. One picture from when he was eight years old shows him sitting on the curb in a hard hat, as if on lunch break in the middle of a hard day’s work. “Tristan is my inspiration every day,” Lawrence describes. “He faces his day with enthusiasm and a positive outlook that I try to mirror in my own life.”
She finds similarity between parenting and bringing projects to fruition, both of which require teamwork—Tristan is on the autism spectrum and works with speech, behavioral, physical, and occupational therapists. “My son’s team, just like my project team, could not work in isolation but works in a cross-disciplinary functional way to maximize the positive outcomes for [him.] I am thankful every day for the wonderful people who impact my son’s life . . . [as well as] the wonderful cross-functional team members I get to work with every day.”
This exposure has allowed Tristan to thrive as a team member himself. “He has amazing focus and attention to detail that made him feel like a great helper, and he learned the value of work and what mom did for a living at an early age as well,” Lawrence explains, adding that while his skill set is sometimes associated with traits of his autism diagnosis, that’s not the case with Tristan. “He got them from me. They’re traits that just come from being a good project management professional.”
When asked what he enjoys most in life, the first thing Tristan mentions is tagging along on the site visits. “I like going on trips with my mom,” he says before describing the joys of exploring hotels (both completed and under constriction) and mapping out new travel routes. “I like how successful she is and how she is happy at work.” And now at 21, Tristan prepares to carry on his family legacy and bring that same excitement to hospitality.
Editor’s Note: At time of press, the Westin Governor Morristown has transferred to the portfolio of Highgate Hospitality.