PHOTOGRAPHY BY BETH GARRABRANT
As a child, Lauren Rottet had an affinity for Lincoln Logs, and she spent most of her time outside, building houses for the horned lizards on the gravel and rock driveway of her family home in Waco, Texas. “I was very excited when I built one well enough that it housed the [lizard] for the night,” she says. But it was at age 6, while visiting a classmate’s home, that she became enamored of structures built for people. “It was very contemporary glass, metal, and wood, and the structure spanned a creek,” she recalls. “I fell in love with it immediately and never forgot.”
Fast-forward to 2020, and Rottet is one of the world’s most celebrated interior architects, as well as a designer and art curator with an award-winning furniture line. The honors and accolades she has won are too numerous to list, but to start: She is the only woman in history to be elevated to Fellow status by both the American Institute of Architects and the International Interior Design Association, and her eponymous studio, which has offices in Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, is consistently ranked among the corporate and hospitality Top 100 Giants by Interior Design magazine.
Rottet’s contemporary aesthetic is steeped in luxury, with a certain elegant restraint. It’s sleek and sinuous and airy (Rottet is claustrophobic, so a sense of freedom is paramount to her), often grounded with earthly elements such as marble, gilt, and leather. “My signature design ethos is minimalist architecture based on Light and Space art,” she says, calling out artists such as James Turrell and Robert Irwin as influences. “I also think of design like creating a musical score. There are moments of calm that lead up to visual interest, detail, and intrigue, so everything you put into a space is purposefully there, and your eye has been manipulated to focus on it, instead of having a tremendous amount of visual clutter.”
Born to a doctor father and nurse mother, Rottet began college with a dual major in premed and art, but the latter soon took precedence. On the advice of her boyfriend (and later, husband), she turned to architecture. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Rottet interned with the San Francisco firm Fisher Friedman Associates, doing advanced contemporary residential work, before moving to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in Chicago and Houston. “The timing could not have been better, as it was the boom days in Texas,” she recalls. “Before the age of 30, I was senior designer for two high-rise buildings in Dallas. Then the bottom fell out of the market and building stopped in Texas. SOM asked me to work in interiors, and my career as an interior architect and designer began.”
Since its 2008 founding, Rottet Studio has created offices for Fortune 100 companies such as Goldman Sachs, Disney, and General Electric; renovated the New York Stock Exchange; and designed interiors for properties including Houston’s Hotel Alessandra, Anguilla’s Belmond Cap Juluca, and, most recently, the Conrad Washington DC (with Herzog & de Meuron). Her 70-person office, she says, “has about 100 very different projects going on at any given time.”
Rottet is also responsible for the individual offices of some of the world’s wealthiest executives, including Lloyd Blankfein, Jeffrey Sprecher, and Bill Gates. “They were truly interested in the design of their office space,” she says. “Not in an extravagant way, but in a very thoughtful way, wanting to make sure they gave people what they needed, expressed the correct attitude, and created an environment that was welcoming and comfortable for their guests—almost more so than for themselves.”
Among Rottet’s recent projects is the renovation of a 16th-century convent and an 1850s government building in Cartagena, Colombia, which together now form the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa. Currently underway is one of her most ambitious commissions yet: New York City’s Central Park Tower, which, at 131 floors, will be the tallest residential building in the world (it’s also home to the Big Apple’s first Nordstrom flagship store).
“When I started in this business, clients said you couldn’t do hotels because you do offices, or you can’t do interiors because you do buildings,” Rottet says. “I wanted to do product, but I wasn’t an industrial designer. Then we did product for a law firm. We started buying artwork for The Surrey hotel in New York, so I got into the art consultation business. Then we started doing branding. Now we have seven lines of business, and for me to play in all of those arenas is probably my biggest achievement.” She pauses. “Actually, I would love to get my hands on the city of Houston. As soon as we start doing master planning for cities, that will be my greatest achievement.”