It was architecture that found Vito Lotta, not the other way around. But if anyone could’ve predicted that the imaginative child would one day become Hilton’s vice president of architecture and design, it was likely Lotta’s father (an inventor with several patents), who encouraged him to use his drawings to experiment with design and problem-solving.
“As a child, I was diligently inventing like a little Wile E. Coyote, at work on my father’s drafting board, fabricating elaborate mischievous devices that would reliably function as safe but spectacularly surprise unsuspecting friends,” the VP recalls.
His first foray into the architecture industry came when Lotta was in high school. At his father’s suggestion, he submitted an entry and won first place in an AIA scholarship design competition. “My first design was of a destination,” he says. “I began by creating a storyboard of an experiential journey for the user.”
A perfectionist, Lotta inquired what made his design the winning selection. “The AIA jurors explained that they appreciated the user journey through the hypothetical landscape, how this built suspense as the guest captures momentary glimpses of the destination . . . The interiors layered zones of experiences, framed views, and played with compression and release of space,” he explains.
These natural instincts would eventually come to form the very design principles the young architect later studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and today employs in his methods when creating spaces for Hilton’s portfolio.
Building a Narrative
Prior to joining Hilton 12 years ago, Lotta amassed experience in healthcare design before finding his niche in hospitality with major firms like the Gettys Group and Gensler. During his work with the former, the design head had the opportunity to work on a conversion of an office building in downtown Chicago to a branded hotel, which involved rewriting the Chicago building code.
Lotta worked with “savvy developer” John Rutledge, president and CEO of Oxford Capital Group, on this project and then, eventually, on the design of one of the hotels from Curio Collection by Hilton in Chicago. This was the historic London House, which sits prominently on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.
Hilton Hotels and Resorts avoids a cookie-cutter design concept and invites travelers to discover authentic, unique experiences in key markets across the world. And while each location is individual, they all harmonize with the overarching Hilton Brand Design Narrative, which Lotta led the team to create from scratch over the course of two years.
To execute an undertaking that would define a legacy that’s existed for more than 100 years, the design VP notes that he considered the “layers of zones, and what might happen in each of these zones, and the quality of what is important for the guests’ needs.” Each narrative is based upon the brand pillars and describes the essence of the guest experience. Hilton strives to be proud, energetic, and empowering—it’s a “host to the world,” offering beautiful accommodations that makes guests feel that wherever they are, they’re in the right place.
Each Curio Collection by Hilton property has its own brand story, which Lotta explains is a “vision that precedes the design.” The emphasis, he says, “is how you create a truly unique, bespoke experience for each individual property.”
The design VP encourages bold, interesting concepts from his collaborators that push the limits. He stresses that they’re not designing “your grandfather’s Hilton.” In fact, he admits that he’d rather them try to scare him with something innovative and unique.
“I look at it like tending a fire,” Lotta explains. “It’s harder to ignite a fire. If you’ve got a fire burning, I can manage it. I can get more oxygen here, burn hotter and brighter here. But there’s got to be that core passion to begin with.
“Sometimes it’s worth trying to fan the flames of their creativity and get them to alter something more ‘out there,’” he continues, adding that this is when he begins to critique the work. “I’m going to fan the flames of your creativity and make you be a better author of a design than you ever imagined you were. But then I need to sort of shift it, and go, ‘OK, but if I’m going to operate the hotel, how do I do this with the right number of staff members and the fluidity and functionality?’”
It’s a demand for balance that Lotta is passionate about achieving. “The essence of design for me has always been about the fantastical user experience, engaging all of the senses—but grounded with my father’s caution that it needs to be practical and exercise common sense.”
The Hoodoo Moab
One of Hilton’s Curio Collection hotels, Hoodoo Moab, was recognized in 2020 by the Gold Key Awards competition when it won “Best Guestroom Upper Midscale.” Situated in Utah just 10 minutes from Arches National Park, with unmatched views of Moab’s red rocks and sandstone buttes, Hoodoo Moab takes inspiration from the surrounding southwestern landscape with a rustic, smoky color palette of toffee, rust, and gold.
Named after natural stone sculptures created by wind, the hotel celebrates Moab’s mining legacy and geological history while immersing guests in the modern luxury of Hilton’s own brand. Visitors can find details such as tree-trunk end tables, sliding wood doors reminiscent of a vintage saloon, and cowboy-like rope installations and horse statues.
The C. Baldwin
Visitors to downtown Houston can take temporary residence in Hilton’s multimillion-dollar C. Baldwin Hotel, named after explorer and builder Charlotte Baldwin, who has been dubbed “the mother of Houston.” Baldwin founded the major Texas city with her own inheritance, but as the 1800s were a time when women could not hold businesses, Baldwin was unable to lay proper claim and sign the document of ownership.
The C. Baldwin Hotel’s logo is an “X” above a dotted line, proudly paying homage to Baldwin’s legacy. “This hotel is a tribute to her,” Lotta explains. As the Baldwins also owned a ranch, the design VP says a ranch metaphor was used when they converted the hotel from a Doubletree by Hilton to a Curio Collection. “It’s built in the southern charm, ‘not my first rodeo,’ the sense of independence of Texas, the true grit of Texas.”
The physical design of the space involved distinctly Texan details like “Howdy” at the reception desk, a dance hall in the lobby, a “watering hole” for the bar, and a restaurant with a “gardens and grub” aspect. There are even function rooms named after famed Texas women, from rock legend Janis Joplin to civil rights politician Barbara Jordan.
Lotta notes that when developing the C. Baldwin’s brand story, the team considered “how city and country come together, the savviness of business—business with a Texas hat—and boots: the integration of leisure travel” to create something that speaks to southern hospitality, Houston’s social scene, and the strong women who defined its history.