Defining Hospitality

Our guest this week is a designer who believes that the best results come from challenging the norm. With over 20 years in the industry, he knows what makes and breaks a project. Joining the show is Chief Brand and Design Officer at Design Environments, Ben Nicholas!

Ben sits down with Host Dan Ryan for a conversation on the importance of building human connections in all elements of the industry. Ben shares how his route as a paperboy inspired his love for hospitality, his philosophy of creating designs that foster genuine and effortless hospitality experiences, and the importance of challenging the norm.

  • Hospitality is about creating connections and ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging and being part of something. It extends beyond physical spaces like hotels and can be experienced in restaurants, bars, and everyday life.
  • Being open to unexpected opportunities and taking leaps of faith can lead to amazing experiences and personal growth. Embracing naivety and excitement allows us to create unique and memorable journeys in life.
  • Maintaining meaningful connections and cherishing the time spent together are valuable lessons. Prioritizing relationships and seizing opportunities can lead to personal and professional growth.
  • Working on projects globally brings challenges that require adaptability and quick learning, such as understanding different markets' expectations and keeping teams motivated to deliver great design.
  • The future is full of exciting opportunities and possibilities, especially when it comes to establishing and growing a service design team. Embracing the potential and putting in the necessary work can lead to exciting outcomes and personal fulfillment.
  • The most cherished memories from working on projects are not about the physical outcomes, but rather the people and experiences that were shared. These memories serve as a reminder of the joy and bonds formed during the collaborative process.
  • In design and project planning, having a well-defined process and being open to exploration are crucial. Renovation presents greater challenges than new builds, requiring creativity to enhance the space within constraints.

Quote of the Show:
  •  “I like the term tour guide. I don't like the word boss.” - Ben Nicholas


Shout Outs:

Ways to Tune In: 

What is Defining Hospitality?

Welcome to Defining Hospitality, the podcast focused on highlighting the most influential figures in the hospitality industry. In each episode we provide 1 on 1, in depth interviews with experts in the industry to learn what hospitality means to them. We feature expert advice on working in the industry, behind the scenes looks at some of your favorite brands, and in depth explorations of unique hospitality projects.

Defining Hospitality is hosted by Founder and CEO of Agency 967, Dan Ryan. With over 30 years of experience in hospitality, Dan brings his expertise and passion to each episode as he delves into the latest trends and challenges facing the industry.

Episodes are released every week on Wednesday mornings.

To listen to episodes, visit or subscribe to Defining Hospitality wherever you get your podcasts.

Dan Ryan: today's guest is a published and award winning designer. He's a designer who believes that the best results come from challenging the norm. He has an expanse of experience and has a global portfolio of projects he has contributed to. And with over 20 years in the industry, he knows what makes and breaks a project.

He's the chief. Brand and Design Officer at Design Environments. Ladies and gentlemen, Ben Nicholas. Welcome Ben.

Ben Nicholas: Hello, Dan. How's it going?

Dan Ryan: It's going really well, you know, new year, more in 24. Um, I got to come up with a lot more, um,

Ben Nicholas: you, did you, did you mean that to rhyme intentionally?

Dan Ryan: uh, more in 24. Yeah, I'm ripping it off from a friend of mine. I just heard it a lot and I feel like that's the hashtag we should all live by this year.

Ben Nicholas: I like it.

Dan Ryan: so before we get into your definition of hospitality, I just want to share one of the many things that I love and appreciate about you is it seems to me throughout, and it doesn't look like you've had 20 years of experience because you look so young and amazing, but it just seems that, um, whenever opportunities have come up, no matter where they are around the world.

You're always seeming to be one of the first persons, or one of the first people to like, raise their hand and say, yeah, I'll give it a go. I just get the feeling that you're always open for a new experience and a new challenge. Um, so I just want to share that with everyone first. And that's why I really want you, wanted you to be on this so you could share your experience because I think we all find that saying yes, leads to a lot of really cool things.

So thank you for showing me and like, and inspiring me to say yes more often. So thank you.

Ben Nicholas: Oh, my goodness. It also can be a little scary sometimes too, right?

Dan Ryan: A hundred. Yes, a hundred percent. It's, it's all growth and you don't grow without getting uncomfortable. I'm like, I'm a real believer in that.

Ben Nicholas: I agree.

Dan Ryan: So before we get into all of that and your varied experience and your journey, um, What does hospitality mean to you? And why have you stuck with this for 20 years, 20, more than 20 years?

Ben Nicholas: Well, I think hospitality, you have to take a step back first and look at people, right? Cause that's what hospitality is for. And I think ultimately people want to connect. They want to feel part of a space. They want to feel like they belong and the experiences created are those hospitality experiences.

And I don't think hospitality is limited to a hotel, right? I think hospitality is something that transcends, physical spaces, but also can happen in a variety of experiences. So it could be the new restaurant or the hole in the wall bar. hospitality can also come at that airport kiosk when all flights are canceled because there's been a big storm. Either way, it's always effortless and it's genuine and people see, feel seen, heard, and part of something.

Dan Ryan: And I love the effortless part because as effortless as it is for that connection to happen, it's incredible how much effort goes in to the built environment to make sure that it can be an effortless exchange while you're, when, when you're snowed in. And I feel like one of the reasons why this. As far as hospitality design as a podcast has gotten such popularity is because people never really think like the layperson, not you and I, and the people that we all know, people don't really think about all the work that goes into hospitality design.

So how did you first find your way? And when did hospitality design first get its hooks into you?

Ben Nicholas: Um, it actually was in college and my first internship

Dan Ryan: At Iowa State, not University of Iowa. I'm sorry. I always confuse the two.

Ben Nicholas: am a Hawkeye fan, but I am an Iowa State alum. Um, it started in college. Uh, we had a project, you know, that was based in Italy and I would actually a few years down the road in college would actually study in Italy. Um, but that's what opened the door and that intriguing.

It was a guest room in Venice. And that led to kind of knocking on the door and an internship trying to test the waters of hospitality, uh, with the Getty's group companies, and that ended up working out. And it ended up to a 20 year career, uh, with them before kind of a next chapter. And I think hospitality never got old, right?

When I started my career, I thought like, okay, I'll do this for three or four years and then see what's next, right? Maybe I do healthcare or maybe I do corporate, or maybe I do residential. And hospitality never became redundant. There was always a new challenge, a new manufacturer, fabrication technique, a new trend technology.

So I never got bored. I'm still not bored. Um, cause I love change and I think hospitality is always changing. Oh

Dan Ryan: So again, I love that a guest room in Venice. It sounds like an Agatha Christie. novel or a Thomas Mann. What did he write? Death in Venice or something like that? But it's like, it's a good, it's a good tee up. It's very mysterious and intriguing. A guest room, a guest room in Venice. Ben Nicholas.


Ben Nicholas: if you would have seen the model that we had to build by hand and cut out with the exacto knives and paint, I don't know if you would have been as impressed, but oh my goodness. He's holding up an exacto knife. Why do you have an exacto knife in your home office?

Dan Ryan: Oh, because I started this, uh, photography course and I'm supposed to like, uh, it's like a free online photography course through Discord. I'm like getting in with the young people. It's pretty cool. And. There's this journal and I have to take photos and cut it out and then scan them kind of analog, so it's kind of fun.

So I have a little cutout thing. Next to a little pad, a little ruler,

Ben Nicholas: there you go.

Dan Ryan: knife. It's

Ben Nicholas: Do you have the, do you have the cork back on the roller so it doesn't slide and there's no accidents? Oh, good, good,

Dan Ryan: No, no bloody fingers here. Safety first. Um, but yeah, I, okay. So, the guest room in Venice, then you have this experience, um, and an opportunity to work with Gettys. But then, when I look back on the 20 years, I think I saw you in Hong Kong. I saw you in Southern California. I saw you in Chicago. I saw you everywhere.

And it just seemed, were you in the Philippines too? I mean, I feel like you, you

Ben Nicholas: Miami,

Dan Ryan: oh, and Miami. Oh my God.

Ben Nicholas: and the Philippines, Miami and the Philippines also.

Dan Ryan: So, and again, not many people are that open to adventure and new experience. So what drove you to always say yes and have these new experiences?

Ben Nicholas: don't think it was intentionally planned. Right. I mean, I, I kind of, you know, look back and I've had all these amazing experiences and have lived in different places and that was never the plan after college when I moved to Chicago. Um, but that's where. My life and my journey went and as opportunities presented themselves, they seemed to make sense at that time.

And then, yes, let's, let's do it. Um, and I think that idea of being open to it, it worked with my life at that time. And, you know, I think there was a year there when I was living in, uh, Southern California. That I was doing halftime Hong Kong, like month on month off, like, you know, basically you have two different lives and you were jet lagged for a year, but it was amazing.

I look back at that time. I'm thinking there's no way I could do that today. But at that time I was naive enough or excited enough or, you know, boom, yeah, let's do it. Why not? Um, and it was amazing experience. Um, but I think being a little naive always makes it easier to take those leaps of faith.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, and I wonder what it is about that naivete because it comes up quite a bit on many of these conversations where whether you're someone in senior management or an owner or an entrepreneur. Or you're just starting out, the naivete for the person doing the action or going all over the earth to do this stuff, or the owner, founder, principal, manager, who appreciates that naivete or fresh perspective or rookie knowledge that like we become so calcified in things that we do, it always brings a nice new, fresh perspective.

And I wonder if that's what makes you not feel. Bored and open to new experiences, or did that keep you from getting bored?

Ben Nicholas: You know, I don't know. Hindsight's 20 20, right? Um, but I think that idea of staying humble, right? Always wanting to learn more, always wanting to grow, having that curiosity of never, never just settling. Um, you know, one of my mentors, Ari, always said, you know, hospitality is the You know, old wise person business because it's always changing, right?

I think the minute you become too comfortable, um, or think, you know, at all, or you there's no room to grow. I think that's probably when it's game over. Um, I think that's probably when it's time to take, take a step aside and let someone else do it.

Dan Ryan: That's a really interesting concept of always being open, excited for the challenge, but then also knowing when it's time to try something new. So like as a, you mentioned already a mentor, but as you think about the people that you've impacted in a positive way, um, sometimes you can sense when someone. be at their cul de sac, if you will, and they might have lost interest, but there's, there are ways to redirect. So with you as a manager and leader of people, um, And you don't have to be specific about the person, but have there ever been any instances where you've taken that like zest for life and always trying to find the new and exciting thing, but recognizing someone else that, okay, they might be in that cul de sac.

Let's see what I could do to help as a mentor, leader, manager, whatever you want to call yourself or coach, um, charge them up and redirect them or, or maybe open up a new door. Like how, how do you take that? How often does that come up? And like, give us an example of like when that's happened.

Ben Nicholas: Yeah. I, um, anyone who's worked with me, they'll, they'll, they'll know. I say this, I like the term tour guide. I don't like the word boss. I'm kind of a tour guide. I'm here to show you some things. Hopefully, hopefully you'll learn some things along the way. Um, and I don't think I ever got caught in that cul de sac of losing interest, and I don't think the people I'm going to reference ever got caught in that cul de sac, but it's an opportunity presented itself.

Something came that wasn't something they were necessarily looking for, but something came to them, and, um, I'll use someone we both know, um, Allie Bacon, uh, is

Dan Ryan: hashtag Allie.

Ben Nicholas: hashtag Allie Bacon, if you're listening. She's amazing. I, I, I love her personally. I love her professionally. I have so much respect for her and she had an amazing opportunity come her way.

And you know, I told her selfishly, I want you to stay, right? I love working with you. I think you're so talented, but I also want you to be happy. And this sounds like an amazing opportunity, so go for it. And, you know, what can I do to help you, you know, in the future? Reach out whenever. And I think when you have connections with people like that, you know, those are true and stand the test of time.

I mean, last spring or when, when was California getting like the worst rain that's gotten in years and it

Dan Ryan: Oh yeah, I think it was almost a year ago. Yeah, it was like, end of days

Ben Nicholas: So I was there, uh, for a long weekend and I got to meet up with Allie on Saturday and actually cleared up a little bit. That day. And we got to spend the entire day together.

I got to hear about what she's doing and traveling the world and all of these amazing things she's doing. And I just was so happy for her. Right. But I also really appreciated that time we got together again, because I think that's one thing, you know, we all say, don't, don't take time for granted, but we do, right.

And, you know, things change, you know, when you're working with someone day in, day out and traveling, and then, you know, their life goes a different way. The connection's not lost, but did you really appreciate when you had them in your day, daily life?

Dan Ryan: mm And did they appreciate you?

Ben Nicholas: I don't know. I

Dan Ryan: She, she must have, if she met up with she, the part, the clouds parted and she came down from the sky and she spent time with you. So she must look at you as a wonderful tour guide,

Ben Nicholas: she came down from the palisades and, you know, showed me around and it was an amazing day. I mean, we literally just spent the day like laughing and Uh, reminiscing, but also talking about like what we're both doing. And, um, I mean, you know, her, if you don't know her, hopefully you get someday to meet her, but she's just an amazing person.

Dan Ryan: I, I second that motion. Um, so let's, you've, you've had this experience. Working all over the world and now you're onto a new opportunity with design environments and having been up to your office, having seen, and you're like a real doer as well. Like I remember seeing you right after you opened up your office there and you literally put everything together and walked everything up the stairs.

And I was just like awestruck at your, and you still look so fresh and like energized and ready to take on the day. But what's, what's exciting you most about this new journey that you're on?

Ben Nicholas: I think one of the exciting things about this new opportunity was. Really creating something from the beginning. How do you bring three, uh, historical brands into one new brand, create that, you know, brand story, brand identity, message, culture. Um, you know, six different locations across the country. Like all of these things felt like everything I've been doing, um, to date had led me to be prepared for this.

I still haven't learned a lot in the last year and a half. Um, but it also was, you know, again, I wasn't in that cul de sac that, that had lost interest. I was perfectly happy. Right. I wasn't, wasn't even looking, you know, I think when they, when the first call came and, you know, chatted, I don't know, maybe kind of, I don't know, you know, we had a second call and, you know, they're like, well, can, can you send us your resume?

And I just said, like, I don't have one. I think I'll have to put that together. Um, but all of it led to where I'm at now and it's been amazing. I've got to, you know, work in so many different markets. I mean, design environments, we, you know, we do hospitality, you know, full service and select service, but. We also work in multi family, student housing, single family model homes, senior living, institutional.

So, we're in all of these different markets that I'm getting to be a part of and, you know, sharing my experiences in hospitality and see how it can influence those markets. But I think in that spirit of you can never know everything, being open and learning from these different markets. And, you know, see how that might influence the other markets.

So I think that's, you know, connecting those people and those experiences is a really fun part of the job.

Dan Ryan: And with all the varied offices and disciplines from multifamily, um, to select service to office, to all the things that you just named. Um, does design environments, like, did, did they? Look at you as a, as a leader of hospitality to help inform and influence, because I personally believe hospitality touches everything, but like, how are you brought in on those projects that maybe are not in the silo that you're used to?

How do you bring, going back to that idea of like, fresh perspective, rookie, like, rookie smarts or, um. Just, uh, a fresh perspective, I guess, is the best way.

Ben Nicholas: Um, I guess the way I've looked at working at sort of the different markets, like I'm really lucky cause, uh, we have really great directors and leaders and all these different markets that run those studios. Right. And the way I look at it is how can I help? So. Some markets it may be a project and they might be talking about design, other markets it may be more about process and strategy, a different market may be about sourcing and how do we get through this kind of challenge of a schedule.

So, I just kind of look at like based on everything I know, and have experience like how can I help them, but I think the idea of weaving in hospitality is how people are treated, right, how do we treat people internally whether you're, you know, my goal would be. You know, any location you're in, you know, you have that same vibe, that same energy, you know, that idea of like collaboration and you sense that, right.

Whether you're walking into Greensboro or Chicago or Atlanta, like that vibe is really important from a brand perspective to make sure we can achieve. Great work.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. I think it's just important to always be checking in with the hospitality side and the hospitality lens and, and how that informs, because ultimately, you know, going back to that idea of just creating these places where people can and want to effortlessly connect. Um, I think it's, I'm just very intrigued at like how to, um, I'm not institutionalized, but like, how do you, um, create a process or a check in with the hospitality perspective?

Ben Nicholas: I think if you look at the hospitality, and I'll use a lobby since you and I both know lobbies and lobby bars and all that fun stuff, um, that hospitality experience is set around a certain kind of psychographic depending on the brand, right? And what's that kind of, uh, guest is looking for. But what's interesting is you design those experiences for what, two, three nights?

Right? Like you might be in that space two or three nights, but then how do you look at, how do you create those hospitality experiences and, you know, multifamily amenity spaces where this is where someone lives,

Dan Ryan: Yeah.

Ben Nicholas: right? They are going to be here 365, and I think, again, it goes back to, you know, understanding people and what they're looking for and how they want to connect and how do you design those connections.

They have to be different, right? They have to be different from a two night, three night experience versus this is a 365, an extension of my home. Thank you very much. Um, but they still need to have that, that ability for people to connect to it and have that kind of hospitality experience because it makes you feel elevated, right?

You know, hospitality makes you feel good. Um, so I think that's how, you know, how you weave that in is, you know, the art and it's not a sign.

Dan Ryan: it is an art, but I'm, I'm wondering if there's a way of how to make it more scientific, but I guess if psychographics and demographics and building technologies are always changing, you know, it has to remain. More on the artistic side of the spectrum, because, um, You just have to constantly be adapting.

Ben Nicholas: Yeah, I mean, I think you have to have a process. Right. I mean, but you have to be open. Right. Um, you know, whenever I start a project, you know, sometimes, uh, a client will say, so what are you, what, what, what, what, what are you thinking? What's it going to look like? And I often say to them, I don't know. Right.

Like I, I need to go through the research component. I need to go through all of these things and really let the story come to life. And then I can start thinking about what this space wants to be. Right. And you know, um, everyone has their own opinion, like whether renovation or new builds more challenging.

Um, I think renovation is more challenging than I love it. Um, because there are constraints. You can't just do whatever you want, right? You just can't like make rooms bigger and smaller. I mean, you have to figure out how are you going to create the experiences, bring that story to life in the space. With, you know, the hand you were dealt, right?

With that existing physical space.

Dan Ryan: I love the idea of constraints, because so many good things come from constraints. And I know one of the things I wanted to dig in with you is, you know, having worked in, in Asia, Philippines and Hong Kong, and then also in North America. My perspective, having been to Asia, a gajillion times is, I feel like there's a lot less constraints out there for like the big luxury properties than there would be here. And I'm not 100 percent certain as to why, um, but you having lived there and experienced it, what, what are the biggest differences between working on a luxury project in Asia versus North America?

Ben Nicholas: Simply put, cost of materials and cost of labor.

Dan Ryan: Hmm.

Ben Nicholas: So, budgets, I think, can go much further there. Um, but also, you know, depending on how close you look at some of the detailing, some of the quality may not be as strong as it is domestically. Um, but I think when you're in those markets, um, the budget is able to stretch much further.

So you're able to, you know, really push that envelope much larger.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, I just know from all the luxury properties that I've stayed out there, it's just from the millwork side, there's just so much more detail and like little, little fun things that happen in the rooms

Ben Nicholas: Well, the, the, the rooms are millwork. They aren't typical case goods. I mean, the rooms are completely custom built in millwork and, you know, everything, even at a, you know, a mid level hotel has the Operating all the window treatments and the buttons. And you're trying to figure that out, you know, in the middle of the night, jet lagged, I mean, it's, it's all at a much higher level.

Um, but I think it just goes back to the, you know, the cost of, you know, whether it's materials or labor or even the technology is cheaper so they can push it further.

Dan Ryan: And then from your global experience of working on projects all over the place, what was like, what was one of the biggest challenges you've ever encountered on a project?

Ben Nicholas: Um, I think the biggest, oh goodness, I don't know. Um,

Dan Ryan: Everything's easy for you. There's no challenges.

Ben Nicholas: no, no, no, no. I'm thinking of when I started working initially with our Hong Kong team, and I definitely had a really big learning curve that I like learned quickly. Is how that market works, right? From the idea of concept domestically and what you need to achieve in four weeks versus, you know, concept internationally, 28 fully rendered, you know, renderings of the hotel, like you've designed it, right?

We got to do it in four weeks or even just the approval process of, you know, thinking everything's approved and then, you know, the chair. Person nodding and smiling and saying yes and yes. And you thought it all went well. And then, you know, the next day you get a call. I'm like, yeah, they weren't, they, they weren't really looking for that.

Exactly. They were hoping we could do something more. Right. So I think learning all of that had happened really quickly, um, to really be able to perform in those markets. And also how do you keep teams motivated? Um, so they can, you know, deliver great design because if, you know, people don't feel appreciated.

Right? And they're not motivated. I think that comes through in work.

Dan Ryan: I, I, I think culturally that the communication part is really interesting because even if you're speaking the same language and like my Mandarin is terrible and my Vietnamese is terrible, um, but most everyone speaks English, but it's also about the, um, how to say things without really saying them and like getting.

a result without sometimes being a hundred percent direct, but also trying to ask all these questions around the direction you want to go to make sure that everyone understands because some people don't want to be direct.

Ben Nicholas: No, and you've known me for quite some time, so I am direct. So culturally, that was also something like, you know, how do you, you know, lead people to the solution versus letting them know what you think the solution might

Dan Ryan: Hmm.

Ben Nicholas: Um,

Dan Ryan: Yeah. And then if you, from your time in Asia, did you have a favorite project when you were out there? No matter how big or small.

Ben Nicholas: I don't know, like when I like look back on that time in Asia, like It really comes, really the memories that pop to the top are the people I got to work with. The people I was traveling with, or, you know, the parts of the world that I got to see that I never thought I would see, right, or was never the plan to see it.

So for me, like, the memories aren't the projects per se, but the memories are the people and those memories we created doing those projects. Whether it's like the late nights in the office or, you know, the Ordering whatever takeout at midnight because you know, something had to change. And at the moment, you know, it was, you know, hard.

And then you look back and you laugh and you smile like, Oh my gosh, that was so great. Right. Do you remember that time? So I feel like that's what I've taken as far as that time. They're not, not necessarily the physical projects as things changed so quickly over there, as you know. Like they build the, they build the hotel and four years later, boom, it's renovated.

Or, you know, it's just, or you're only hired through design and someone else is going to do the documents and someone else is doing the FFE and maybe the installation didn't really show what the design was intended because so many things, other hands touched it and it evolved. Um, so I don't know if I had a favorite project.

Dan Ryan: Well, you're being very consistent because through all the conversations that we've had leading up to this and just having known you for ever, um, it's really about the people and the connection and the people between, which is, you know, what your definition of hospitality is.

Ben Nicholas: You are very good at what you do, Dan.

Dan Ryan: Well, I try. I just listen. Well, I also, I love people. I, you know, moving up to Connecticut, I realized that I love nature. Don't get me wrong. It fills me with energy, but I, I get a lot of energy from people and, you know, I wish every day I could live where I live, but roll out of bed and run down the West side highway.

Right. It's just, it's, you know, a little farther, but like, I, I get energy from people, people, uh, fill my buckets. Or bucket. Do we have more than one bucket?

Ben Nicholas: Oh yeah. I mean, I, I think we all have more than one bucket. I think. I think for me, it's like people also kind of shape who you are if you're open to it, right? And as different people come and go in and out of your lives, I mean, they're shaping who you are if you allow them to, um,

Dan Ryan: you allow them to.

Ben Nicholas: yeah, if you allow them to, like, I mean, When I look back, you know, it's like, you know, with who I am today.

You know, yes, my parents had a direct impact on who I am today. Now, when I told my parents I was going to major in interior design, you know, the one response I got at that time was, can you get a job with that? Right. And, you know, these people who didn't understand what design was at that time had a major impact on me as a hospitality designer and my work ethic and how I look at things and appreciate things.

But then, you know, You know, you go through college, you go through coworkers and mentors. Like all of these people, I feel like have contributed to, I guess, who I am today, but who I am today is probably not who I will be in 10 years. Right, because I'll be open to kind of learn and you know,

Dan Ryan: I think you would definitely will not be who you are right now in 10 years.

Ben Nicholas: I don't want to

Dan Ryan: certainty. I know, I know,

Ben Nicholas: I don't want

Dan Ryan: there's no, because that's where you would get into the I'm, I'm in a cul de sac situation. You're always, and I don't know, we always align ourselves and surround ourselves with people, um, who are similar in a way, and it's that whole Or not, maybe not similar, but have a similar outlook on where they want to go and who they want to be around and what the next adventure is.

And again, that comes back to my impression of you always saying, well, not always, but many oftentimes saying yes, raising your hand and saying yes. Oh, I'll try that. That's cool.

Ben Nicholas: You know, I'm with you on that but raising my hand makes it sound like I was a hundred percent confident when I went into it Right, so the idea of when I left Chicago initially to like go help open the Miami office I mean, yes, I put my you know name into the ring and yes, I was open to it and You know, but it's also like can I do this?

Dan Ryan: Oh, yeah.

Ben Nicholas: Right? You know, like, okay, what did I just get myself into? Right? But you just have to, like, kind of put that out of it. You know, I think I'm definitely known for, you know, getting things done, right? Like when you talk about even in our downtown studio here, you know, um, a lot of my team members that I've worked with, like they'll laugh if they hear this, but I always just say I'm TCBing, right?

I'm just

Dan Ryan: care of us

Ben Nicholas: taking care of business, right? You know, just TCBing.

Dan Ryan: and he needed a lightning bolt through that. Oh,

Ben Nicholas: know, so our, our good friend Katie actually helped me with my, uh, Insta handle, which is Ben underscore TCBN, right?

Dan Ryan: that's what it is.

Ben Nicholas: She, she, I was with her. In New York, for fun, I was, you know, this is how long ago it was, I was starting my Instagram and I'm like, Oh my goodness, actually I did it, and she was like, she threw that out. I'm like, well, that's totally it.

Dan Ryan: Elvis was still alive.

Ben Nicholas: Yeah, there you go.

Dan Ryan: Elvis is still alive. Um, on a, on a side note, this whole Elvis thing, you know, people have, I find that like, I have this weird theory in life that, and this worked 90s or early 2000s. I'd say, you know, 5 percent of the population. that Elvis is still alive, right? And those, that 5 percent was the crazy people, right?

On either side of the spectrum. Somehow, I think if, if we were back in that time or like, if Elvis were a little bit younger and may have died 20 years ago, um, I feel like we're in a place now where maybe 13%. Of the population would think that Elvis is alive on both sides. And that's, that's my, I think we need to get back to a place where 5 percent thought Elvis was still alive, because I think the 13%, um, it's, it's, it's made it kind of a bit of a, of a wacky show.

Ben Nicholas: Okay. So have you ever seen the Netflix documentary Social Dilemma?

Dan Ryan: Uh, oh, yeah, is that the social media one? Yeah,

Ben Nicholas: So 200%, 5%, 13%, you know, it gets into algorithms. They're telling you what you think you want to hear when you're, when you're doing your Google search. So, you know, if your algorithm says, Dan thinks he's alive. That's, that's, you know, that's what Google is going to tell you. So I think you have to be careful about where you're getting your news and where you do your research.

Dan Ryan: I would also say that even without searching, I think the phone is listening

Ben Nicholas: Oh, totally.

Dan Ryan: and now we all put all those, like, Amazon Alexas and Google Homes and all these things. And I think they're just always listening. Uh, but anyway, we do it voluntarily. And now we're getting fed a whole bunch of hoopla. Let's just say, um, okay, shifting gears to the future. Um, let's go back to that hashtag more in 24 and you don't have to be, you don't have to be limited to 2024, but I'm going to ask you an open ended question. About your state in the world and your view of the world and our, our world shared together, like, what's exciting you most about 24 or the future?

What's exciting you most about the future?

Ben Nicholas: I think the most exciting thing about the future is just the idea of opportunity and possibility, right? Especially as you know, we're, you know, we kind of established, you know, our full service design team, you know, last April and that idea of, you know, building it and getting it known and kind of taking it to the market and all of that kind of opportunity and possibility is super exciting.

Um, I also, because of my different experiences that I have, I also know it's going to be a lot of work. Um, but I also find that super exciting. So I think the idea of possibility and opportunity, I think is the exciting part.

Dan Ryan: thanks to Katie Daly, your TCBM

Ben Nicholas: She's gonna, she's gonna die when she hears this. Yes. Just taking care of business over here. Just doing it.

Dan Ryan: in a flash. Uh, awesome. And then let's go back to Iowa State. When you and when you started at Iowa State, did you know? You wanted to get into interior design or like, what was your decision or thought process to give that a whirl?

Ben Nicholas: Um, so I was supposed to be a doctor or something like that. I mean, I, I did all the, um, advanced physics and bio and calc too, which was a nightmare all for AP in high school, got all those credits and whatnot. And, um, you know, really like my junior year in high school, you know, one of the things I did, gosh, I was. Looking back, was I a nerd? Maybe. Um, you know, had a paper route, and I always loved the Sunday edition because they always had a feature house and a floor plan, and I just loved it. I mean, I literally, inside my locker, had just like different floor plans of like different houses I thought were cool, right?


Dan Ryan: Just like everyone else on your locker, on your row of lockers, right?

Ben Nicholas: just like everyone else. I was not a nerd. Um, Shocking, I did not make Homecoming Court, uh, but I think my junior year, something was coming about and I was just thinking like, I think this could be something. Like, is this something I want to do? And like, you know, so looking into, you know, whether architecture and interior design and kind of researching all of that, you know, came to the idea of You know, I'm going to go to school and going to go into interior design.

And, um, because I wanted to kind of shape experiences even then, and how, like at the initial point is like how the homes flow, right? That circulation or whatnot. Like I never wanted to build the building, right? Like the wheat poles and all of the masonry, like that was never my thing. I was always meant to be interiors.

Dan Ryan: How big was your paper wrap?

Ben Nicholas: Uh, it was down Picardy lane, one block. Sunday was, you know, obviously at that time, you know, you had your weekly. I guess, what would you call it? Your weekly route, which had certain individuals. And then you had, you know, more participants, I guess, on a Sunday. That was like the big thick paper.

Dan Ryan: Oh yeah, because everyone wants the, the funnies or the crossword puzzle on the weekends.

Ben Nicholas: Yeah. The ads, the ads. Right. And then of course, of course I wanted the home section. Um, what would patrons, I guess, is that the word I'm looking for? Like if you subscribe to a paper, like, are you a subscriber? There you go.

Dan Ryan: Oh, we found it. But at Christmas time or around the holidays, they were your patrons because they'd leave you nice tips in the envelope in their mailbox or something. Yeah.

Ben Nicholas: Some of them. Yes. I mean, those were the favorites, right?

Dan Ryan: Yeah. Um, okay. So the paper route and then like, I'm just, I always love hearing about paper route stories. I don't know why it's like a thing.

I, this is the 1st 1 that's come up on, um, um, this podcast, but how many houses did you deliver to? Did you have a bag? Were you on a bike? Were you driven? Did you have a good toss? Like what was your, what was a perfect, um, delivery for you? Was it like on the doormat? Was it on the front lawn? Did you like walk me through it

Ben Nicholas: so you can't believe what you see in the movie. So my route, um, like during the week, literally on the bike with the bag on the side, and it was either in the mailbox, Or, in the door. And that was, you know, very tricky, Dan, to like, how do you get the storm door open, place the paper in there, and get the storm door shut before the paper falls out or falls apart.

Dan Ryan: or the dog comes chasing you?

Ben Nicholas: Correct. Um, so, yeah, I, we weren't throwing. I mean,

Dan Ryan: Oh, you weren't.

Ben Nicholas: no, that could've been a nightmare.

Dan Ryan: Okay. And what kind of bicycle did you have? Was it like a Mongoose or 10 speed?

Ben Nicholas: it was like a huffy, right?

Dan Ryan: Oh, with the banana seat?

Ben Nicholas: oh yeah, that's, that's where it started.

Dan Ryan: Yes, that's so Stranger Things.

Ben Nicholas: CDM, like this is all skincare three step, right, like, this, this is, this is a process. I

Dan Ryan: perfectly preserved. You just dated yourself with the banana seat. Um, oh, that's awesome. And then, um, so you're delivering all these. Do you recall what floor plan you saw really made it work for you? Or was it a, was it like decision by volume?

Ben Nicholas: think it was decision by volume, like one doesn't necessarily stick out, but you know,

Dan Ryan: But it wasn't like, what

Ben Nicholas: but,

Dan Ryan: wanted to say is like, they did a profile on Magnum P. I. 's fake Maui, or like, studio Maui home, and it was that, or like, or like, the Golden Girls. I want some, I want there to be some like, 80s house that did it

Ben Nicholas: my god, the golden girl's one eye. Um, I think what did it for me is like, I mean, I'm looking back and I, I laugh now, I guess, thinking about this. Um, I remember like some weeks being disappointed. Well, I didn't like that plan. Like, I don't, I don't think that worked. Right. And I'm thinking like, I mean, I look back and I'm like, what, like, who were you then?

Right. But I remember that being like some plans I'd be excited about and then others, I think, ugh, kind of disappointed. Right. And then you're like, ugh, well, maybe next Sunday we'll have a better one.

Dan Ryan: Did you ever write, did you ever write letters to the editor?

Ben Nicholas: know, but I always remember, so I grew up in a. A single floor house. So like, I always thought like the two floor houses, like, wow.

Dan Ryan: time.

Ben Nicholas: Right. That is big time. Oh my goodness. Like two stories. Wow. Um,

Dan Ryan: could have actually grown up in a floor plan similar to the Golden Girls house.

Ben Nicholas: you know, we didn't have the swing doors.

Dan Ryan: Oh, those are cool, because it's like you've come, it's like you entered the saloon. Like, like a cowboy, like Wyatt Earp.

Ben Nicholas: I was always impressed. No one got hit more in that show. Right. You know, I mean, obviously it's staged and directors, but the idea of those swing doors, why, why were those ever a thing in residential design, you know, as far as. No, no glass, you know, just solid wood doors, like in between living rooms and like kitchens.

Like, why was that a thing?

Dan Ryan: But as you're saying that, I, I, it's bringing me back to college. I was in L. A. and I went to Some restaurant on La Cienega to have, I was with some friends. We had sushi, we sat at the sushi bar and you know, who was sitting like around the corner for me was Bea Arthur. Like she was like, like right next to me at the corner, we were at the front and she was right next to me.

I think we said hi or something.

Ben Nicholas: Did you say hi?

Dan Ryan: yeah, we did. And then I think she got annoyed cause we started having sake bombs or something like that. And we might've been a little too loud for Bea.

Ben Nicholas: Oh goodness. Did you offer her one?

Dan Ryan: I don't remember. No, I don't think so. I think she may have been wrapping up as we were getting rowdy. So,

Ben Nicholas: Uh, see, I just picture you being, you know, cause you're such that outgoing person. I just picture you like walking up to be author and be like, you know, here's a Jaeger bomb.

Dan Ryan: yeah, I was, I was different. I should have. It was a real missed opportunity. And I haven't thought about that in a really long time. So thanks for helping me walk down memory lane. Um, okay. So I want to go back to you on the Huffy with the paper bag delivering papers. And then the Ben that I'm speaking to right this moment, I want you to appear in front of yourself on the bicycle saying, Hey, slow down, kid.

And you, you give yourself some advice. What advice do you give your younger self?

Ben Nicholas: Be patient. Right. I, I think, um, like even now I know like sometimes I do need to. Slow down, right? Take a moment to step back, reflect. Um, yeah, I think early on in my kind of like career and journey, you know, boom, boom, boom, boom. Like you'd move through the design really fast. I'm like, okay, you got to go to the next deadline.

I think it's always like really important. Like when you're in that design process, like, you know, and I am always telling designers that like, stop, right? Let's just let it be, go do something else. We'll come back tomorrow and we'll see if we still like it. Maybe we'll tweak it. So that idea of just like being patient, um, I think is a quality that's super important.

Um, I, I think, you know, even like, just in life in general, I, I think sometimes we're moving too fast, right? Like, do you really appreciate, you know, the dinner that you're having with that friend, or, you know, are you already thinking about the next dinner or the next meeting, or, you know, like whatever that is.

I, I feel. The pandemic was really interesting. I'm not obviously wanting to go back to the pandemic, but it forced everyone to slow down. Right. I mean, too slow, but that idea of like, it made you really like stop and think and reflect and all of these things and, you know, come up with weird hobbies or whatever everyone did,

Dan Ryan: Photography.

Ben Nicholas: photography, photography, um, but that idea of like, don't be in a rush,

Dan Ryan: Yeah,

Ben Nicholas: be patient, like enjoy it, right?


Dan Ryan: totally. Well, I, um, aside from more hashtag more in 24, um,

Ben Nicholas: that a thing? Are you,

Dan Ryan: I don't know. I heard it from a friend of mine. I'm ripping it off. Stolen. Consider it stolen. Um, but one of my goals this year is to be a lot more intentional. Um,

Ben Nicholas: I like that.

Dan Ryan: and it's, uh, and, and what does that mean? I think what it means is to just kind of like you were saying, slow down.

And I, I was randomly just before break. Uh, someone was talking about, um, I don't know what it is. It's like a kind of therapy. It's called, there's a cognitive behavior therapy and then there's. Dialectical behavior therapy, and I don't know anything. I did a little YouTube search on it. Someone was talking about it, but what it is, and it works a lot for people who, um, maybe have OCD or some other things where, like, they get stuck into something, um, but what resonated with me one of the ways that it helps is it teaches you when you're about to do something or thinking about doing something or um, whether I see that big sleeve of Oreo cookies that I'm about to just devour, it's um, engaging all five senses before you do that thing.

So you could be sitting down for a meeting, you could be sitting down about to eat some Oreo cookies, you could be Whatever, you name it, but I think it's about engaging your sight, your sound, your, your hearing, your smell, your taste, your touch, um, your feel, touch, feel, same thing, but like just before you do it.

So in a way, it helps you just take a pause, take a breather and like kind of ground yourself. So

Ben Nicholas: Okay. So I have

Dan Ryan: you say that. Yeah, I don't know anything about it. I watched one YouTube video.

Ben Nicholas: Well, I'm not going there. I'm going, I'm going with the Oreos, regular, regular stuffed.

Dan Ryan: Regular. Double stuff is just too much of a good thing. It gets gross real quick.

Ben Nicholas: And then are you dipping or dry? Are you dipping in milk or

Dan Ryan: Oh, definitely have to dunk in milk. For sure. Yeah.

Ben Nicholas: I'm always curious how people do their Oreos.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, dip in milk and eat it. Um, I once learned from a friend of mine when I was in high school. Mikey. He used to do

Ben Nicholas: Oh, really?

Dan Ryan: would take the Oreo and submerge it all the way until the bubbles stopped bubbling. So that you knew it was really soaked with milk.

Ben Nicholas: So I've never heard anyone else who did that. So that's what I, I would put like four Oreos. Let them, let them all get in there and then kind of drain the milk out. And then I would eat it with a spoon.

Dan Ryan: Oh, see, that's a little too much for me. I like it just, I like it to have a bit more structure. That's, uh, well, that's That's a new way of doing things. All right, but I, I, I support you and your Oreo isms.

Ben Nicholas: I was doing a melted blizzard before blizzards were a thing. Had I known, had I known,

Dan Ryan: my God, you could have marketed that. You could have just created a new drive thru. It would have been amazing. Um, all right. So listen, this has been amazing and thank you. And again, to an intentional, you know, 24, but also more in 24. Um, thank you for being here. If people wanted to learn more, Ben, about you or design environments, how do they find more

Ben Nicholas: uh, they can find more on LinkedIn, uh, Ben Nicholas or, uh, design environments. com.

Dan Ryan: Perfect. And we'll put all that up in the show notes for everyone. Um, it's been a long journey to get to this point, more than 20 years, Ben. So thank you for being here with me and the listeners.

Ben Nicholas: Oh my goodness. Thanks for having me and more, more, more. That's a song. What, what Broadway song is that? More, more, more, more, more. Nothing's better than more.

Dan Ryan: nothing is better than, I don't know what it is, but we're.

Ben Nicholas: it's Madonna from Dick Tracy. It is Madonna from Dick Tracy, whatever her character was. That is a song in Dick Tracy.

Dan Ryan: solid early. Was that early 90s or late 80s? Early 90s?

Ben Nicholas: I don't know, but it had that cartoon bunny, right?

Dan Ryan: I don't remember.

Ben Nicholas: I think

Dan Ryan: I think you're confusing it with Jessica Rabbit.

Ben Nicholas: I think I am. No, like there's animation in Dick Tracy, isn't

Dan Ryan: Oh my god, I have to watch that because I don't

Ben Nicholas: I'm going to, I will Google this after this and

Dan Ryan: Did Warren Beatty play Dick Tracy?

Ben Nicholas: Yes. And they, and like him and Madonna had that whole little flame.

Dan Ryan: Yes! That's crazy.

Ben Nicholas: You useless knowledge 101 right here, Dan,

Dan Ryan: Well, here's another piece of useless knowledge. When I was an intern at HBA in college, One of my tasks, I had to go through every room at the Regent Beverly Wilshire and measure everything. Lampshades, room dimensions, etc, etc, except one room. And that one room was the room where Warren Beatty lived. And I would see him walk around.

He'd be coming in and out. But anyway, thanks for letting me think about Warren Beatty. And thank you to all the listeners. Um, because without you, we wouldn't be hearing from Ben's taking care of business in a flash life experience. More in 24 and we'll catch you next time.