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An Interview with Billy Quimby of BAMO on His Redesign of the Ritz-Carlton Chicago

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Principal at BAMO, Billy Quimby brings 20 years of interior and architectural design experience to his project designs. A New York native with a bachelor of architecture (B.Arch.) degree from Cornell University, Billy received his California architecture license in 2008. As Lead Designer on many high-profile BAMO projects, Billy works closely with his project teams, generating inspired design concepts and directing the team in their development and documentation. His projects have been featured in Architectural Digest, Boutique Design, Interior Design, Modern Luxury Interiors, Town & Country, Wallpaper, Michigan Avenue Magazine, and Hospitality Design Magazine. Billy has also been honored with a Boutique 18 Award.

The recently completed revamp of the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is a wonderful example of Billy and BAMO’s stunning work. Partnering with Littman Brands Contract Lighting to create elaborate custom pieces throughout the whole hotel that connect to Chicago’s strong history of Modernist design, Billy Quimby and BAMO nailed it, as is easily evidenced in the shots by Dave Burk in this post, the reviews in the press, and the gorgeous imagery found on the hotel’s Instagram. We had the chance to talk with Quimby about the highly touted project, his inspiration, his process, and his design goals.

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As a Principal at one of the most reputable firms in the country, you are regularly tasked with projects of major size, scope, and prestige. The Ritz-Carlton Chicago is no exception. How do you approach a redesign of this magnitude?

With any project we start by exploring the location and the site, and understanding the client’s goals for the project. In this case, we had the honor of renovating and refashioning the public spaces of the hotel for the first time in their entirety since the hotel opened in 1976. The hotel already has a rich history from the more-than-30 years it had been open that includes many fond memories of weddings and special events throughout the years. It was not something we took lightly as we approached the redesign. My first site visits were spent walking the hotel and sitting in various locations observing and listening. Projects have a way of telling you what they want to be. Observing which things were working well and which were not, together with listening to guests, listening to the staff (the beloved caretakers of the property) and various players in the game, you start to formulate a vision of what the transformation needs to accomplish and set about pulling inspirations to build that vision. In this case, it was a vision of creating a connection to the vibrant city of Chicago and the iconic building that the hotel resides in.

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Can you share a bit about your overarching inspiration for the Ritz-Carlton Chicago redesign? There were historic elements you wanted to capture, is that right?

The creative redesign takes inspiration from the city, unveiling a true sense of place. Throughout the entire property we wanted to connect design elements of the building's historic exterior and bring the inspiration and energy of Chicago inside. The goal was to create a modern experience in the middle of the skyline that celebrates the skyscrapers, the incredible location, and the stunning views.

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The furnishings and light fixtures throughout the property we selected or designed to celebrate Modernism through many eras and Chicago’s rich history with forward-thinking design. The art collection, which includes some pop art, is also a way to connect the hotel to Chicago’s strong contemporary art scene.

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The hotel commands so many spectacular views with huge expanses of windows, so the palettes were inspired by the colors of the city, the skyline and skyscrapers, as well as the colors of the sky and waves of Lake Michigan.

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How did the lighting fit into this plan? Do you have a favorite luminaire?

The entire package of light fixtures from Littman Brands Contract Lighting was custom designed from our visions and inspirations for the project with the exception of the sconces in the Ritz-Carlton Ballroom. A custom family of fixtures in the restaurant recall Italian Modernism while the bar echoes another era of Modernism in its 49 individually-hung light components.

The ground-floor-arrivals chandelier contains a subtle nod to Art Deco in its alabaster spheres as well as one to Chicago’s industrial ingenuity in the helix canopy.

I could go on but I’m incredibly proud of the collaboration as a whole.

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What is your best piece of advice for aspiring designers and architects?

Be patient and actively cultivate your design skills / vocabulary. Step away from the computer and sketch by hand, turn everything upside down, look up, and follow everything around the corners.

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