David Baker Architects


In Good Company: Piazza Hospitality and David Baker Architects

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Shown in a rendering, the 66-room Hotel Sebastopol will include retail, artist studios, a restaurant and bar, and a wellness center. Image: David Baker Architects

This article by Paula Disbrowe, Katie Noble, and Alissa Ponchione first appeared in the May 2018 issue of Hospitality Design,


Not all designer-client relationships are fruitful, but those that are can turn into lifelong collaborations and even friendships. But it's easier said than done. Longterm partnerships reveal their secrets to success.


In Good Company: Piazza Hospitality and David Baker Architects

For the Sher family, their mini hospitality empire in Healdsburg, California—a Sonoma County town about 15 miles outside Santa Rosa—started simply. "My parents used to do road trips from their home in Marin, and they fell in love with Healdsburg," says Circe Sher, who eventually founded Piazza Hospitality with her father, Merritt, and managing partner Paolo Patrone. "They loved the scale of the walkable town plaza and all the unique, independent retailers. Healdsburg was a place where it was easy to meet the locals and feel part of the small town. It had a special energy."

Hotel Healdsburg

A shopping center developer and retail consultant, Merrilt recognized that the plaza—­though it had numerous shops, galleries, and restaurants—lacked an anchor to bring people to those businesses, so he set out to build one on the plaza's western block. He brought on San Francisco-based David Baker Architects (DBA) to help create the 55-room Hotel Healdsburg, which he financed himself and opened in 2001. "We had this idea of an urban-rural resort, and it turned out to really work," says DBA principal David Baker of the three-story property, which feels like a polished city version of a wine country inn, with two restaurants and a popular bar. To achieve a warm ambiance, light floods through French doors that lead to private balconies overlooking the landscaped gardens from Andrea Cochran Landscape Architects, also out of San Francisco.

At Hotel Healdsburg, a 60-foot-long garden pool is punctuated by olive and fig trees. Image: Cesar Rubio


After the success of the original venture, Circe moved permanently to Healdsburg in 2008, as Piazza Hospitality was developing its second property, h2hotel, geared toward the younger, more tech-savvy demographic starting to travel more frequently to wine country. With DBA back on board (along with interiors by San Francisco firms Marie Fisher Interior Design and Jen Gadiel Design), the look of the small, 36-room LEED Gold hotel drew upon the area's convivial, neighborhood feel, with an open lobby lounge that encourages socializing and a reception desk that doubles as a wine bar. "It's not just a place where people come and visit and the locals work," Baker points out. "It's a really great meeting place for the people who live in town and the guests coming in."

A neutral, cozy ambiance converges in a h2hotel guestroom. Image: Matt Edge

Its environmentally conscious design, including an undulating green roof, has become part of the company ethos, while a glass entryway draws guests into the light-filled lobby lounge. H2's site was previously a gas station, and thus needed some soil remediation, "so we cleaned it up and committed to being environmental stewards for our community on a greater level moving forward," says Circe.

H2hotel boasts light-filled spaces in its lobby, where a colorful seating area looks out on the pool. Image: Matt Edge

Harmon Guest House

Fast-forward to present day, and with the success (and high occupancy rate) of the first two properties, Piazza and DBA are completing their Healdsburg Plaza hotel triple play with the early summer-slated Harmon Guest House, named after the town's founder and original urban planner, where 39 rooms are arranged around a central courtyard and connected via glass-­enclosed bridges. An indoor-outdoor rooftop event space and lounge—the town's first—serves both Harmon and h2, while 50 onsite parking spaces created through puzzle lifts help free up parking in the area to attract people to downtown businesses. A glass entry lobby and green stair welcome guests, while reclaimed redwood sunshades screen the facade.

Hotel Sebastopol

On deck in Sebastopol, a town approximately 20 miles south, Hotel Sebastopol will open in 2020, housing 66 guestrooms (six of them are hostel-type rooms), retail, artist studios, a restaurant and bar, and wellness center. "A downtown site, near the main commercial street and the new Barlow mixed-use maker and retail project, attracted our interest," explains Circe. "The site has just what Piazza looks for when considering a new project—a walkable, lively downtown experience." Adds Baker: "It's become this place where people want to get away for the weekend, and that's changed the town's demographic."

Recognizing development in smaller towns is often a hard pill for residents to swallow, a common thread throughout Piazza's properties has been strong and sustained local engagement. In addition, the Sebastopol buildings are broken up in a smaller scale to match their surroundings. "In our process, it's extremely important to get community input and support," Circe explains. "The process infuses each project with its own unique characteristics that reflect the town and its needs and goals at the time it is being built. Most importantly, it helps the community feel comfortable with a new project and garners support once it's open."