Hospitality Design and Strategic Marketing | Q+A with AB design studio’s Arianna Leopard

Join a conversation with HJL Restaurant Advisor’s Jeremiah Higgins and AB design studio’s Business Development Manager Arianna Leopard.

Arianna Leopard specializes in business development, marketing, commercial real estate development and architectural design. A skilled negotiator, Arianna adds value beyond standard deal points through her experience in tenant representation brokerage, facilities management, and portfolio administration. This combination of expertise allows for a distinctive approach that addresses the needs of clients, combining in-depth market knowledge with strong client advocacy.

Leopard currently serves as the business development manager for AB design studio, a full service architecture, interior design and urban planning studio. In this role, Arianna is responsible for developing innovative partnerships and facilitating new business strategies. Prior to joining AB design studio, Leopard was the Vice President of Corporate Services a Cresa. She is also a wine industry professional and affiliated with Tyler Winery, an award-winning producer based out of Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Leopard is an active member of The Bay Area Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, a former competitive athlete with the United States Cycling Association and American Institute of Architects Committee Member.

JH: Arianna, you have described your life as living it by design…What does this mean to you?

AL: Designing your narratives and practices with intent and purpose, and letting the market dictate what you do. You do not want to live your life behind an eight ball, but you also do not want to just float along downriver.

JH: At what age did you first develop this sense of ‘life by design?’

AL: I have always been intuitive and connected well with people. Architecture and design decides, in many ways, where people go and how they experience space. And this is life by design. I grew up surrounded by architects, artists and entrepreneurs, so you could say I developed a heightened sense of space and design at a young age.

JH: As a wine and design industry professional, how does your approach differ?

AL: As someone who has been in the wine industry from production to marketing and sales, I have a unique understanding of hospitality design. And how to tailor a space to a brand. Design is a platform for selling a product or service, and it is so specific to the brand itself. Just as the color of the foil and label matter for wine, the design of the tasting room must represent the liquid in the bottle. I recently visited a tasting room in Santa Barbara County, the bar countertop was dark oak with a high gloss finish. Coupled with low-drop ceilings and bright walls, I would be hard set to guess the wine would present delicacy and balance. Rather, the tasting room and the wine itself had synergistic palettes. The wine, like the décor, was front loaded and greeted the consumer with a punch of flavor and a piquant aftertaste.

Take Hilliard Bruce, for example. Hilliard Bruce has a minimalistic subtractive approach to what they do. The winery resembles a .com office or an Apple store, but only if you look at it through that lens. It is not at all overt that way. It is north facing, buried in the hills and super discrete. And I think this is the definition of being in pursuit of balanced design. There is continuity between the style of their pinot noir and chardonnay and the built structures on the property. The Lark has remained successful, years later, with almost no modifications to the space or menu. The restaurant provides a casual environment with highly sophisticated food.

JH: How do you approach marketing within the design industry?

AL: It is pretty clear that the design of the carton is not going to change the flavor of the egg. Whether we use red tin or yellow tin, or no tin at all, does not change the flavor profile of the wine. Except, of course, it does. It does because people cannot judge the eggs or wine until it is consumed, but they can judge the packaging in the store or the ambiance of the winery or restaurant. And if they choose someone else’s product, you might not get another chance. Comedian Jim Gaffigan brilliantly stated that packaging was the clothing of food, “Oh, what are you wearing there, cookie?” and “Candy, let me help you with that wrapper. Let’s get you a little more comfortable…” Branching off of his earlier points on food packaging, Gaffigan addresses the connotations of generic cereal. “It comes in a plastic bag, like it is homeless,” he quips before adding, “We should get you a box to live in. Living in a bag on the bottom shelf, that ain’t right.”

The placebo effect creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is why it is so important to understand the worldview of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to intrigue. And why the stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine. Gavin Chanin of Chanin Wines, created a brilliant story beginning with his career as a painter at UCLA. All of his wine labels are digitized versions of his paintings. I heard Gavin retell the same story again and again, and people were engaged every time. It is no longer about the stuff we make or the services we provide, but about the stories you tell. Marketing without design is lifeless, but design without marketing is mute.

JH: What is the difference between “architecting” something and designing it?

AL: While ‘architect’ is not a verb, I rather like using it within that context.

I think architecting something is different from designing it. It is a more precise expression of our responsibility within the industry in which we participate. Design carries with it much baggage related to aesthetics. Something is referred to as well designed if it looks good, but there are powerful designs that are not aesthetically pleasing. I reserve ‘architect’ to describe the intentional organization of elements to produce a set of conditions. Architecture is relentlessly testing ideas that inform assumptions of what could be and should be. It is fine to call something design; just do not forget to do it.

JH: You specialize in business development, marketing, commercial real estate development and architectural design. Which of these specialties do you enjoy the most?

AL: To be successful I do not think you can have one without the other. I think our developer clients appreciate our knowledge of economics. And I think restaurant and wine proprietors appreciate our inside knowledge of hospitality. There are a lot of parallels between the business of wine and the business of architecture, in that both are a balance between art and engineering. Success is not just receiving an AIA award or a 100-point score from Robert Parker. It has to be sustainable. We believe in long-term successful projects, with effective design being an integral component. We are a full service architecture, interior design and urban planning firm because we believe the integration of all three services result in a more successful project.

JH: What advice would you give a business owner now so that they could reevaluate their brand to ensure they are telling their story?

AL: Be mindful of the market and what is appropriate; what are you selling and how are you selling it. For me, one of the most important things in business is creating a cohesive system, something that is insular and mutually supported.


Arianna Leopard | AB design studio

Jeremiah Higgins | HJL Group

C 310.980.8252

P 844.HJL.GROUP (844.455.4768)


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