Defining Hospitality

Checking in for today’s episode of Defining Hospitality is a passionate member of the hospitality space who sees design through a unique lens. She’s a design maven who flawlessly utilizes her skills for business development. Joining us today is Associate, and Director of Business Development at Looney Associates, Molly McDonald. Molly joins host Dan Ryan to share her journey from Designer to Director, explore hospitality as a sense of community, and explain why you’re never stuck in one bucket in the industry.  

  • For Molly, her definition of hospitality has changed with her career. When she started, hospitality was a space she designed within. As her career progressed, hospitality began to evolve into a feeling of community, highlighting the importance of collaboration. 
  • As a young designer you may feel worried about getting stuck in one place for too long. You’re not limited to one path, but a change doesn’t need to come externally. If you vocalize your wants to your company, you can find a fulfilling change internally. 
  • Every client facing business relies on strong customer relationships, and hospitality is no different. In the hospitality design industry, client relationships can last up to 5 years, and you need to be prepared to work with that client for a long time frame. 
  • If you’re looking to get into business development, having a strong design background is crucial. To effectively sell, you need to know what you’re selling, and be able to speak to nuances in schedules, processes, vendors, and more. 
  • While there are many talented driven designers out there, there are only a handful of lead designer roles at firms. For designers looking for other high caliber roles, business development allows you to both utilize your design skills, and drive growth for your firm. 
  • While Revit and BIM may feel like overkill on some projects, they provide value in communicating ideas to clients. 3d renders give a better sense of the project to decision makers who aren’t familiar with reading floor plans. 
  • Hospitality design has gotten more and more intricate. More frequently, designers are interacting with architects at early stages, and providing the lens of hospitality to non-traditional projects like senior living facilities and social clubs. 

Quote of the Show:
  • “I've always loved getting to know everybody and I didn't realize that I could turn that into my job.” - Molly McDonald


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Creators & Guests

Dan Ryan
Host of Defining Hospitality

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 passionate member of the

hospitality space. She sees design through a very unique lens. She's highly skilled at interior design. She's an associate and the director of Business Development at Loony

Associates. Ladies and gentlemen, Molly McDonald. Welcome, Molly.

Molly McDonald: Thanks, Dan. Thrilled to be here.

Dan Ryan: it's so good to have you on it.

And I know, um, we had Jim

on who's just. Been in the industry forever and ever and ever. And

one of the reasons why I really

wanted to talk to you because we get so much

feedback from, um, people who are

just starting out their career journey. And you've been at Looney for 13 years now,

and I

think what's super interesting about you in particular is, you, I think you've been at every office.

So like you've gone

from. Chicago to Dallas, to Hawaii and

back to Dallas, correct.

Molly McDonald: And you missed a second stint in Chicago as well?

Dan Ryan: Oh, and back to Chicago. Always back to Chicago. All roads lead to Chicago. So Molly, how do you define hospitality?

Molly McDonald: I had no idea you were gonna ask me this, Dan.

Dan Ryan: I knew you knew. You knew I was gonna ask you, cuz I ask everyone.

Molly McDonald: Um, I've been thinking about this a lot since we started talking about this and, um, What's interesting to me is cuz in tandem of thinking about this and thinking about my career, my definition of hospitality would've changed depending on when we, had this conversation. And, um, in the beginning, hospitality wasn't, uh, a verb.

Right? It wasn't a thing you did. It was a space that I designed within. And so the idea of starting a career in hospitality design was really about all the cool things I get to do with design. Really nothing to do with the hospitality industry, per se as I know it now. And then as I've gone through my career and moved through different, um, design communities within the country, I've really come to. Think of hospitality as community and, um, I think a lot of that has to do with my time in Hawaii and how, uh, important it is to, work together and how we help each other and, how deep and supportive this industry is across the board. Um, whether it's, you know, just looking at it from a loony level, working out of all three offices, how. Community based, my company is, versus our industry versus outside of the design hospitality industry. Um, it's just wonderful to just see everybody come together. So, um, I know there's a whole other side to hospitality, but to me how I define hospitality is, community.

Dan Ryan: I love it. Thank you for sharing.

Molly McDonald: Of course. Thank you for asking.

Dan Ryan: I think what I wanted to tap into this conversation with you is you're never stuck in a bucket,

Molly McDonald: Yes.

Dan Ryan: right?

So I'm really curious how you went from studying design, practicing design, and then wound up on the business development side, because I think it's a pretty unique journey and I think it could help give others experience about like how they navigate, what their next

steps might be.

Molly McDonald: Absolutely. Um, so when I graduated college I was supposed to graduate oh nine, which

was not a great time for designers

to find a job, especially in hospitality. Um, and so I took a

little bit of a victory lap and stayed till 2010 and, um, After I graduated, did not have a job and I thought, well, I could, you know, move back home and do the whole at home

thing, whatever.

Or I could go to

Chicago, work at a bar and try to

find a job in Chicago. There's a little bit more hospitality there than there was in Detroit, you know, 13 years ago. And I got very lucky and fortunate and, uh, landed my job at Looney Dallas. And, um, I was one of the few in my graduating class who had got a job at a design firm right away.

And so my goal was to dig my roots in as deep in that company as I could so that it would be very hard for them, uh, to let me go. And, uh, 13 years later, my roots are really deep and it would be, um, hard to extricate myself. But, you know, it was what kind of led me. Down my path, like you mentioned, of going from Chicago to Dallas and uh, back to Chicago and trying new things and developing my design and working with all the different, very talented designers we've had at the company over these past 13 years.

Um, and then finding my interest when I lived in Hawaii in business development and brand growth, um, which has led me to do this globally.

Dan Ryan: Cool. And then. So when you were in high school or at MIC or at Michigan State, uh, at what point did you know that design was a career that you wanted to travel down?

Molly McDonald: So when I was younger, this is very odd, um, my parents would get Southern Living Mi, Southern Living magazines and uh, they always had those speck home plans in them. And every time we got a new issue, I would take it to the basement and I would get out my Legos. And I would like build this, not build it from the exterior, but really more of the interior layouts and the

interior plan of that house with my Legos.

Um, And my parents thought it was such an odd thing

for me to do And so my dad started talking to me about architecture and introducing me to the profession of architecture. Um, and so I thought that's what I wanted to do when I graduated high school and I had taken some classes, I was fortunate in high school that they had some gifted and talented programs where you could, uh, sort of follow your


And so I Did a little bit of interior design and architecture in high school. Um, and so then that really transitioned into,

you know, alright, let's figure out what I'm doing in my. You know what I'm getting a degree in. Um, I thought it was gonna be architecture. I learned very quickly that that was not the route for me.

Um, and pivoted to interior design and I'm very thankful for that

Dan Ryan: Wow.

Molly McDonald: decision

Dan Ryan: I love Southern Living Mag. Wait, where did you grow up?

Molly McDonald: in Detroit?

Dan Ryan: Okay. So what, what's up with the Southern Living Magazines in Detroit? I knew you were from Michigan. Okay.

Molly McDonald: I don't know what, uh, prompted my parents to have that subscription. Um, but I'm thankful for it. It was fun,

Dan Ryan: Wow. That's, that's super, super awesome. Okay, so, so then you're, you're studying, you get your degree, you, you're lucky enough to get a job, um, on the heels of the big, of the great financial crisis. Right.

Um, So then you're, you're going around and you're, you're working in, in all the various offices and working on some great projects.

Give us like some of your, your top two or three favorite projects that you worked on.

Molly McDonald: Um, well, my favorite one, the first one was Grand Height, New York. The suites there,

Dan Ryan: right next to Grand Central.

Molly McDonald: next to Grand Central. It was my first project right out of college. I get my

job. And,

I'm working with Heather O. Sullivan at that time. And, um, that was my, and it was a joint job between the Chicago and the Dallas


And, um, it was so cool to

be, you know, 23 years old traveling to Manhattan. Um, there was

very, there's a great budget on that project. Um, and

so we were able to do some really

awesome things in those suites and I just sort of felt. I mean, how cool, right? Like you, you've spent the

past, how many years studying this and you're lucky enough to get a

job when you graduate. Not only am I making a paycheck, but I'm

getting sent to Manhattan and I get to hang out at like

this iconic property with, you know, no budget almost on this project. It was like pinch me constantly.

Dan Ryan: And working with Heather.

Molly McDonald: And working with Heather, who is fantastic and um, so it was such an awesome, uh, mold for me as I started my design career.

Dan Ryan: Okay, so that's, so that's your favorite. And then I, like, you've worked on so many really great projects, but as far as when you're working on the projects, you're designing them, you're, you're in your creative space. How did you. Tried it. H how did you start seeing that you, you didn't have to live in this one bucket and you could do other things.

I think you mentioned that, uh, that, that happened in Hawaii, but like, walk us through that. Like, okay, so you're on a road, but you're not stuck on a road. There's not, there's never a path you can't get off. So how, how did you navigate that?

Molly McDonald: Yeah. Um, so I, I really have to attribute that mostly to, to Jim Looney and John Nelson. You know, they have been. Um, the biggest, not the biggest, but I mean huge supports of my career. If I told them I wanted to do something, they were like, okay, how do we make you, how do we make this happen? Um, part of that was, uh, you know, I was ready for a change after two and a half years of working in the Chicago office.

Um, I think that most. Young designers or newly careered designers feel that itch, right? Like, okay, I've been doing this for a little bit of time. Let me see something else. Um, and so I, I voiced that or vocalized that, uh, that need, and they were like,

okay, well why don't you just come to Dallas then, right?

So it's not going looking outwards. It's how can we, um, help

you internally fulfill that, that goal of yours. Um, and so every time I kind of, I think initiated that.

that itch or that. That conversation of like, okay, I'm kind of looking for something a little bit different, or I'm really

enjoying this. Um, they've always been so receptive to, okay, how can we

make that work? Like, let's figure this out. Um, the only one I did not ask for was Hawaii. That was a weird one. Uh, I had expressed interest earlier. We were doing some international work. Uh, I was young, I was single. Uh, it was

Dan Ryan: The good old days.

Molly McDonald: the good old days.

Um, and I told 'em, I was like, you know, if you're looking for somebody who needs to be in China every thir 90 days or something, like, I'd be

interested in learning more about that opportunity. and they were like okay, we'll keep that in mind. And then, um, about six months later, Jim called me and I was 20. Six, I think at the time. So that was still a big deal, right? To have Jim Looney calling you personally, right? Like,

um, and I

answered the phone and he goes, so I wanna talk

to you, would you be interested

in moving to Hawaii?

And I said To do what? Like what does one do in Hawaii? Um, and they explained, we have this fan fantastic repositioning of the Marriott wa Lea, with our client, um, Sunstone.

And the, uh, was it.

Pretty extensive renovation and repositioning of the resort, spanning a couple

years, and they were looking for somebody to be local and, uh,

because I'd expressed interest previously and having a little adventure, I guess they thought, you know, Molly might be the right person for this.

Um, so I did it. We did it. My husband went with me at the time, and, um, we ended up being there for three years. Originally it was a two year commitment,

uh, added on another year. It was just me initially in a two bedroom

apartment with a bunch of samples. Uh, it grew to, uh, five designers and I

found us an office space and, um,

Nobody really knew who Luan Associates was out there unless they had worked on the mainland or really were familiar with some of our work.

We had done a couple projects out there before, um, but uh, I really got to know the community there and the hospitality space there and the design space there. Um, and it was fantastic. It was really a great opportunity.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, I feel like from the times that I saw you out there, uh, I don't want to misuse. The Hawaiian language, but like I feel like you really became part of or created an ohana, is that ohana like it's

Molly McDonald: family,

Yes. Um, Hawaii is so wonderful about that. You know, it, I was, I was immediately kind of enveloped in, uh, into that community and there were some people there who were just so, I. Great at folding me into that hospitality space and guiding, right? Like, oh, if you don't know this person, you need to know them, or you need to be involved with this organization, or you need to be involved with this organization.

And I think that that is really just the, the way of Hawaii, right? Like they want it to be, it's all about connection. It's all about people. It's all about supporting other people, um, lifting everybody up, uh, enveloping them, making them part of, like you said, that you're ohana your community

there. It's great.

Dan Ryan: okay, So most people when they go to Hawaii, or if they have the, if they're lucky enough to have lived in Hawaii for a couple years, it's oftentimes very hard to get them off any of the islands to come back to the mainland.

So like how did you then carry onto your journey from still like opening an office, designing projects and now you're like, okay, I'm making my, my way back to the mainland.

Molly McDonald: Um, it was hard. Hawaii's fantastic. Um, it's a beautiful place to be. Uh, we were very fortunate. We had great friends and a great community there. Uh, My husband and I are both originally from Michigan, as I mentioned earlier, and, um,

with, you know, the immediate, everybody listening to this is probably thinking, oh my God, Hawaii.

That's such a wonderful, amazing, beautiful place. How do you leave? Like

you just asked. Um, there are some hurdles and challenges with living there

that until you're experiencing it you don't realize that they exist. Um, it's six

hours certain times of the year between

Hawaiian time and Eastern, uh, where most of our family is. So if I didn't talk

to my mom by two or three o'clock in the afternoon, you know, you're not

necessarily talking to them that day. Um, it's far to go anywhere. You know, every, any

flight within five hours is another island

or beach vacation, which. After a time, they start to kind of look

a little similar.

Um, so it started to be like, okay, it would be nice to, you know, go away for a weekend for a ski trip or a mountain vacation or, you know, something like that. Um, and, you

know, there is a expense with living in Hawaii that, um, we just weren't necessarily prepared to commit to for the rest of our life or for considerable.

Uh, continuation of our life. So we thought it's kinda time to get back to reality and, you know, live, live somewhere with less picturesque, uh, circumstance, I guess.

Dan Ryan: then, okay, so then, so then you're like, okay, I gotta talk to mom more. It's hard to go and do other things, but I love it. Here you come back. And then where are you?

Molly McDonald: Um, we could go anywhere. We could go to, uh, Jim was totally open. Like I said, he's always been so supportive and encouraging.


Dan Ryan: But where, where did you go? Did you go to Chicago

Molly McDonald: we came to




Dan Ryan: Okay. So then you're in Dallas. and then were you, you were working on projects, and then how did the change come to do, uh, get into business development?

Molly McDonald: Yeah, so I was already doing it in

Hawaii, um, to grow the brand out there, uh, pretty significantly and to win jobs and, you know, there was expectations of if that office was

to continue, uh, you know, I

had to do what I needed

to do to help make that happen. Um, And I enjoyed it I liked, I liked that sense of community.

I really like

people. I enjoy getting to know people and making connections and partnering with people. You know, um,

hospitality jobs last so long that when you work with a client,

it's really you, you have to understand that you're taking on a partnership, um, and want to work with that person for the next 2, 3, 4, 5.

However long years. Um, and so developing

those relationships and those partnerships were, um, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it immensely. And so Jim and I

talked about it. Um, he was happy with the work I was doing out there, and he said, you know, I'd like to see you do this in a capacity globally for the company.

Um, and so when I came back, we'd never had, he's never employed a business development person in any

of his studios.

Dan Ryan: okay, so that's super interesting because there are a lot of firms, well, most larger firms have some business development, um, capacity, right. and, and and indivi individuals or a team doing it. Um, what do you think like as being, I guess it's like Earning your stripes, so to speak, as a designer, like what advantages does that give you or someone else that may be considering? Do I switch into something that's more, uh, client focused? Bus on the business development side, like, as a designer, how how, how does that help you when you're trying to, uh, find clients and, secure projects and and keep the, the machine running?

Molly McDonald: I mean,

frankly, I don't know how anybody who, and I know there are people and they just are amazing at their jobs, but I don't know how anybody who doesn't have a design or architecture background could sell architecture or design. To the level that, you know, I think I need to, uh, my understanding of schedules, deliverables, model, room, process, uh, Interaction with purchasing agents, vendors, different consultants, um, how new construction works, how our technology around BIM and uh, 3D and what we're doing internally is driving, uh, scheduled and deliverables, uh, expectations from brand.

You know, what Marriott expects from us at different levels of phasing. Uh, how to advise clients on, you know, what that takes from our end and what it takes from their end and approvals and. Um, it's a lot. I, I would say that my 10 plus years in design before I stopped designing completely and really dedicated to bd, um, are what make me successful at my job, because I don't know how else I would be able to feel confident and comfortable, um, and honest talking to a lot of our clients and, um, helping to navigate the process for them and how we would work with them.

You know, that's a big, like I said, it's a partnership, so it's talking about. Our strengths and how we wanna work with people and you know, what your experience is when you work with us. And, um, I can speak to that firsthand cuz I've been doing it for Jim for, you know,


Dan Ryan: and you can probably sketch on the back of a napkin a little bit better than I can as well, or a lot better. Um, okay, so let, let's go back to Michigan State and actually beyond just Michigan State. Let's go back to like any design school out there. So it could be Pratt, it could be Michigan State Skad.

Blah, blah, blah. I feel like I'm leaving people out on the west coast. Gimme a couple West Coast ones.

Molly McDonald: Oh, west Coast schools, uh, design schools. We don't recruit a ton from West Coast Design Schools. Um,

We get a lot from Arkansas. We've got a couple interns coming from Mississippi State, Shaad in Hawaii. That's where we recruit from out there.

Dan Ryan: Okay. Well, I'm sorry. West Coast. I'm just having like a, an almost 50.

Molly McDonald: Not that we

Dan Ryan: mental mental issue. No, no. I get it. I didn't, I didn't. I don't wanna leave you guys. I don't wanna leave you guys out on the West Coast, but let's just say any design, if you were to take all those design students and like assemble them in a stadium somewhere, let's say there's a hundred thousand of them currently, how many of them, based on your experience and your peers and even, and even just you would get a degree in design thinking that, oh yeah, I want to

get into business development.

Molly McDonald: Oh yeah. Uh, probably very few. I would imagine. I didn't know I wanted to do this, right? Like

Dan Ryan: So

Molly McDonald: I was about the design, right?

Dan Ryan: yeah, exactly. so that, and that's what I find really, I don't know, just kind of surprising and cool that I just, I'd love to just shed light on for others because, okay, so if there, if there's only those couple of fewer, if. But if you talk to everyone else that was not those one or two people out of the a hundred thousand, like what do you think the best part of your current responsibility and role, um, would be intriguing to those 99,000 and other people? And o obviously not all of them are gonna get into it, but like if you were to like just plant a seed that you could turn on a light in, in their head that says, oh, I want to try that out.

Molly McDonald: Well, I think the thing that has been so awesome to me is, you know, I was preparing for this podcast and kind of reflecting on the last

13 years. Um, I've found strengths within myself that I didn't necessarily know existed, and I was able and encouraged, um, by, you know, Jim and, and John and other colleagues to pursue them.

And I think, uh, if you have a hundred thousand people in a stadium, all being driven by design and you all wanna be a fantastic designer, You, you, you can't all be the best designer, right? You can't all be the leadership, uh, designer for a firm. And how are you finding ways to contribute to leadership and to contribute to your company and to contribute, um, to your colleagues and your peers in helping them grow and supporting their strengths in ways that you find, um, Successful or you know, that really provides you with a sense of

self. And that's the thing that I really love about how, um, I've seen my career evolve over the last 13

years is, um, I've always, you know, enjoyed people. And

like people. And I think, you know, Dan, when you and I met, what, God, 10 years ago, probably when I was living in Chicago,

um, you know, I've always been a relationship person.

I've always loved

getting to know everybody and I didn't realize that I could. Turn that into my job. Um, you know, obviously it's not all just shaken hands

and kissing babies. There

is a lot of, um, strategic thinking And

um, paperwork side of this that, uh,

has, its, you know, it's not all fun in games, but, um, it's still challenging in a

great way And encouraging. And I would just, I would love to encourage young designers to, you know, don't just move

through your career or start your career with one.

Ultimate target in mind. Be open to, you know,

where your strengths take you and the things that, and be, you know, focused on. What do you really

enjoy in the process?

You know, we've got some designers here who

don't like concept design. They hate it. They don't wanna do it. They love to execute design, they

love matrices and, um, Counts and shop drawings. And you know, some people are like,

oh my God, that sounds terrible. I'd never wanna do that. But others thrive in it. Um, and it's okay to say that, right?

Like, it's okay to say, that's not my, that's not my

jam. I would really rather do this. Um, so don't feel the pressure, I guess, to just feel like you have to be this, there's this singular goal with getting a design degree.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, it's, it's amazing if you look at all of the different, um, roles and responsibilities of designers in design firms, or it actually, it could be just any profession. Um, and if you were to take a blank piece of paper and draw a line down it and be like, these are the things I like on the left side, these are the things I, don't like.

Okay. So you can always try and do more of the things that you like, But the amazing thing that I don't think a lot of people understand is that whole column of the things you don't like, There are people that would fall all over themselves to do that because, you know, they love the detail and getting lost in the puzzle, like you were saying, on, on, on just not the con, not the conceptual, but on the other side. And I, I just think it's a really important, um, idea to keep in mind that it's, and sometimes those things that we don't like that are, that's, it's, I I always say it's like touching a hot stove, right? Sometimes. Yeah. It could be painful at first, but it, that can be more informative. to where your career goes, then the things that you do like, because you're like whoa, I just do not want to go And do that again. And we've all, we've all had that, but just know that there's always someone else that really excels at that.

Molly McDonald: Yes. And that's what makes a really strong team. And it, it shouldn't threaten you or, you know, challenge you.

It's, it's okay, how do I find those

right people to help compliment me so that we can

really make a fantastically strong team

and deliver a. You know, a great project or a

product or you know, recruit a fantastic team of designers, you know, if you're part of the leadership team or how do we find new


You know, there's certain things or certain clients that I work well with, and then there's others that I know, Hey Jim, that's gonna be your, you gotta finesse that relationship, right? Like, and

Dan Ryan: I, I bet there's so many people that just don't like you, Molly.

Molly McDonald: But you know the of Jim Looney is strong,

Dan Ryan: yeah. yeah. No, I'm just joking. I mean, I, but you're right.

It being part of a larger team and having that specialization, you can, it's, it's a team. You can pass it off. Hey, this one's a challenge. You take that Well, I, I like this one. I'll go after that. Um, so I think it's, especially to all the younger folks that are listening folks, I sound like my dad.

Oh my God. But like,

Molly McDonald: I wasn't gonna say anything, but Yes,

Dan Ryan: You know, like the, uh, I some, uh, uh, a woman who's in grad school right now that Shannon Mc, McCurdy, I think her name is Shannon McCurdy, she's at University of Arkansas. She just reached out saying she started listening to this when she started at graduate school. Um, and she's still listening to it.

So like, and I get a lot of feedback from people who are just starting out on their career. And also Jim, and I'm also curious if she found out about it because of the scholarship that Jim has at University of Arkansas.

Molly McDonald: Jim's a Arkansas grad and we pull,

we have a handful of Arkansas grad employees now and um, he has a scholarship there for study


Dan Ryan: but I, so I, in a way, I know like the audience today are all those people who are starting out on, on their career journey, just really thinking about, okay, this is what you're studying, this is what you're doing with. There's so much more that you can do. Um, Molly, I want to go back to, I, I saw you light up a little bit when you started talking about technology a few minutes ago.

Um, as far as like what you're, what you're bringing to clients and what you're seeing and how you've seen it change, um, What are, how do you see the state of technology in, in kind of like, what, what you guys do for your deliverables? Uh, I think you said something about renderings and, and things like that, but like, how have you seen it change over those 13 years and like, what's working well right now and where do you see it going

Molly McDonald: Yeah.

Dan Ryan: and what, and Anne, what are your clients expecting?

Molly McDonald: yeah, well that's a big one. Um. I do have to say this. This is something that's really funny. I graduated from Michigan State and uh, I did a lot of Revit work during my degree and I got my job with Looney and it was really before Revit or BIM had moved into the hospitality space.

And I remember somebody, um, I was working with at the time was like, oh, we'll never need that. Don't worry about it. Like, and I have to laugh now because, um, I would say probably 70% of our work right now is new construction. Um, and it's all in BIM and I am so impressed. Um, I have nothing to do with our development in that area.

Uh, I just get to watch the teams that grow it, and I'm so impressed with, um, what we've accomplished as a company. Uh, we work completely in the,

um, Like

BIM space out of the Dallas, out of all three offices actually. And, um, we've brought on a couple of key team members in the past couple of years to develop our 3d.

You know, we're doing a lot of in-house rendering now, um, sketching and, and really studying spaces before we move into the later DD phases, which is fantastic. Um, it's just impressive to see how quickly, you know, clients are expecting things so fast. That's been the biggest challenge that we're. Um, or hurdle

I should say, that we're navigating as a company and, you know, they wanna see what it looks like right away.

Uh, and so moving into that 3D space so quickly has been really valuable for us as

a firm, um, and helped, you know, keep up with that expectation of or that pace expectation I should say. Um, and you know, there's a lot of more, there's a

lot of decision makers these days. Uh, I feel like every time we go to a model room, there's more people in that room, Uh,

contributing to the, to the comments.

Dan Ryan: Yes.

Molly McDonald: and so moving into 3D allows us

to get design in front of the people who need to

see it, um, and visualize it in ways. Cuz you know, not all of

them are trained in design. A lot of these, um, owners or clients are. Maybe finance guys, right, who haven't learned how to read a floor plan

necessarily, um, who don't know what a

section detail is telling them.

So having those

3D views right away really helps us get the design point across quickly and


Dan Ryan: So I, I have a question on, so on the 3D side, like when you're at that initial, like when you're in the concepting

Molly McDonald: Mm-hmm.

Dan Ryan: you're. At, at what point do you provide a rendering actually to your client?

Molly McDonald: Uh, depends on the project.

um, sometimes we do it, uh, in concept, right? Uh, sometimes in concept we'll build it out

Dan Ryan: so let's start there. Let, so if you're doing it in concept, are you, how do you ever have a check or a, a balance on like, okay, here's a con, here's a concept for some big huge lobby space. Uh, big, massive atrium with some kind of interesting feature. Um, when you're at that concept space, are you putting like dollar sign or dollars on any of those larger features so that you can not go too far down the road of like, oh crap, we did this whole thing and now we gotta pull back and it kind of changes everything.

How do, how do you, uh, balance, budget and your vision at a very, very, very early stage?

Molly McDonald: I wanna clarify when we do those really early concept

renderings, they are, they're, they're buildouts, right? So it might be to study the volume of a space or like a, like you said, a very significant feature. Um, so it's not those super developed marketing renderings that you see once we've completed our DD phase.

Um, they do have, you know, enough information in them to start portraying some ideas, but they're not super built out. Um, So when we do that, I mean, this is another thing that I think, um, has been drilled into our teams, especially net lately with VE and covid and supply chain issues. We are very quick to start putting a budget together.

Orlu, uh, we call it a cost estimate. Uh, we don't put budgets together. We put together cost estimates. We love working with purchasing agents, um, getting them on board as quickly as possible and just start doing some square foot. Um, You know, space budgeting. What are we expecting for the lobby? What are we expecting for the pre-function?

So we're, we're looking at those numbers alongside design

from day one.

Dan Ryan: That's, that's awesome. And actually, as you're saying that, um, I'm reminded of a time when you and I. And a couple, and I don't know, there were a couple other people from Hawaii. Some other folks and Ted Carroll were sitting there in Las Vegas, right? I think it was Daniel Ber May Daniel or Aaron Berman.

Maybe Brady was

Molly McDonald: Brady was there. I think Craig Lovett was there with us for a little bit too.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. And totally Craig was there. Oh, wow. Okay. Now I'm, I'm back there. Okay. So then what was interesting about that, and one of the things that I found, And it's not, it's not only you but I think you do a really good job of this from a, from a documentation and um, just overall package of details. It makes the whole process much easier for all of the consultants on a project.

Right. And in doing that, I remember Ted was saying like, he loves working with you guys because, you know, you make it. It's so easy, and granted, nothing's easy, but I, but what he clarified, I think he said, oh, nothing's easy. But really it just helps us all be so much more streamlined and in alignment on a project.

So that time being the most valuable asset for everyone, there's not as much wasted time. And do you get that feedback a lot?

Molly McDonald: we do. I mean it, frankly, it's what makes my job easy. Uh, easy to sell us, right. Um,

We're organized. Uh, these are all things that I have. I'm outta that space now. I just get to

brag on

everybody I work with um, Yeah, I mean,

we are thorough and it's great and it makes my job easy because I can say that you

know, we're gonna be able to do this and we're gonna be able to do this in this

period of time.

And I feel confidence, um, in our capabilities. And

it's, it's awesome. It really is.

Dan Ryan: Well, I, I can just speak, speak from my experience on the, on the few projects that we've worked together on. I I can say yes, that that is the case as well, and. Okay, so then, but that was a little digression, but then a and a nice memory to walk down to be in Las Vegas. I, I never,

Molly McDonald: We'll be there again in a couple weeks,

Dan Ryan: yeah, that was a very pleasant, I, it's not very often you have these really pleasant moments in Las Vegas and really it's more, it's more frantic.

But, uh, that was really a nice afternoon. But you said something a few minutes ago also that was like, oh, you know, we're all getting so. busy. Right. And And as it related to technology. and I, remember like I'll date myself to when I was a purchaser or when I was interning at a, at uh, Hirsch, Bedner like 20 something years ago. I just remember everyone would have to do draw like drawings and things would get faxed and there'd be FedEx tubes going everywhere. And. It just seemed to me that people would work on less projects but kind of go deeper into them because it wasn't as fast and you could, there was like a pause between each one. I found that like, as good as the technology in, as with all the efficiencies that are coming in, it's cramming so much more into everyone's daily workflow.

Molly McDonald: yes. Yes, we actually talk about this, about limiting the number or, or, you know, reducing the breadth of numbers of projects people are working on because it's just so

hard to

pivot your head right from project to project or fire to fire or

whatever. You know, it's with the squeaky


Dan Ryan: Mm-hmm.

Molly McDonald: so, um, that's something that we

really, um, Our goal, we try to be more intentional about is how, how wide are people being spread?

But it is hard. It's really hard. And it's not just at work too, right. Uh, at home, I think that was

one of the, the nicer things to come out of Covid was those couple months where everybody could just sort of like, back off, like foot off the pedal a little bit more and um, not have to overcommit to everything.

Uh, And it was kind of a good reset, I think for people to recognize like, Hey, like let's stop. Trying

to do too many things. Let's try to focus on doing a couple things really well or intentionally.

Dan Ryan: I, I, I Totally. agree that pause was a silver lining in In the Covid experience, we'll just call it that the, covid experience.

Molly McDonald: experience? Yes.

Dan Ryan: Everything just the breaks hit. Um, and okay, so on the technology side, like what, like what are some other things that you're seeing, um, that's just radically different from the 13 years ago when you were still in school?

Molly McDonald: Oh gosh. Um, design is more,

is more intricate I think. I

don't wanna say more complicated, but, um, Design IQ has really risen, I think, and, um, expectations of, you know, we are doing So, much more interior architecture and, collaboration with the architects. Um, sometimes we've even started adding a a phase before we get brought on for concept design.

That is really kind of a consultation with the architects on programming new spaces or programming the building and. Um, providing that hospitality lens, I mean, that, that's another one. Hospital, the hospitality lens, right? Like that we are hospitality experts and people wanting that,

um, that consultation or that that lens on their projects that might not even be hospitality. you know, we want a

gold key in November for a senior living

project in Houston. Um, Five years ago we weren't working on

senior living. So, um, that's been a, a fun way

to see hospitality evolve into a, an emerging market. I know we're not the only ones, right. Um, but there's others. We're doing more club


We're doing, you know, we did the, um, university Club of Chicago, a social club there.

We're working in the Dallas Country Club right now. Um, so there's a handful of, we're doing a, a surf

club in Palm Springs. Um,

Dan Ryan: A surf club.

Molly McDonald: surf club that's

Dan Ryan: in the desert, is it Like

one of those big wave pools

Molly McDonald: Yes. Mm-hmm. It's an old, like, uh, it's an old

water park that we're converting to a to a surf club.

Dan Ryan: No way.

Molly McDonald: Yeah. So it's interesting to see, um, a hospitality lens. you.

know, Jim is acting,

we're working on a project in Brevard, North Carolina. Uh, it's a new concept. Um, Brevard, I guess is one of the top mountain biking destinations in the

world. And, So people come there to train, um, from Europe and other parts of the like, it's a

serious destination.

Um, and so this concept is, um, you. know, capitalizing on that, that tourism angle.

Dan Ryan: Well, I think with that hospitality lens, it's come up so many times in these conversations, and I think that's also why the popularity of the podcast keeps growing every week because I think. People realize that hospitality touches everything and it, and actually if you take all the best practices from what you guys have developed as hospitality designers, because it's always changing, people are always changing, culture is always changing it.

It can just make everyone's experience that much

Molly McDonald: Mm-hmm.

Dan Ryan: And uh, it's really exciting. The senior living thing is really interesting too. I feel like I've been waiting for that shoe to drop for 20 years. There's been this like, Huge demographic, baby boomer shift that's been coming. And when you look at so much of the senior living, it's just all like very like institutional and really upsetting

Molly McDonald: And that where you wanna be at the end of your life. Yeah. Or the later years of your

Dan Ryan: there's, yeah, there's very little like healing and wellness associated to it, but now there's like a couple of green shoots in that space and it's kind of a wide open, a wide open, uh, Field right now. And it's, it's really exciting to see because I think like the baby boomers deserve that, right? I think all anyone who's aging deserves that at the, um, in, in the, uh, as they go out to pasture, slowly,

Molly McDonald: Well, and that joy, right? Like, I think that that's what I felt like some of those spaces were missing initially is the, the joy of that life, right? It's just kinda like, oh, that's that place you go. And now it's like, oh no, this is where I wanna be. I enj. I enjoy this place. I like it here. I like the people here.

And creating spaces for people in that point of their life is, is rewarding.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. Um, so. As you look out into the future as far as like your 13 years, you're also, it's also very, um, unique that you've been at one company for 13 years as a, as a millennial, right? Because that's not, you're like very, uh, you're like a salmon going upstream, right? It's pre it's pretty cool. So, uh, but as you look to the future, like what's exciting you most, uh, as you, as you look out there onto the horizon,

Molly McDonald: Um, you know, I'm really, uh, motivated by the, the people that I work with right now. And, um, I feel like the team, the leadership team we have here, and not just the leadership team, but you know, we've cultivated a great tribe of folks across all three offices. And I think the other awesome thing, um, that has happened to our firm in the past couple years is we're working more globally together as opposed to really sort of siloed across the three studio locations.

Um, so I'm really excited to see how. This team, uh, continues to work together over the next couple of years, um, and learn to depend on each other even more, which has been, um, a fun development so far for me to see how our team has really kind of strengthened over the past, over the covid experience is what I'm gonna, we're gonna call it now.



Dan Ryan: the Covid experience.

Molly McDonald: and um, you know, I think that also just sort of this. Finding this work-life balance has been, you know, something that I think we're all striving for and, um, it's something that I'm prioritizing how I, you know, I don't think it's, I think we all view it sort of as two sides of a coin and you have to have it always flipped, one or the other.

Um, and I'm really trying to understand how I can have it be something that's a more consistent, um, it's not just one or the other, right? It's how do I sort of find the balance between the two without having to shut one off or the other off. Um, so those are the two things that I think are, are challenging me and exciting me at the same time.

Um, and I am really excited to see how Looney Associates continues to move into spaces, how it can sell us hell design right. Um, for spaces we're not doing right now. Um, how that hospitality lens adapts to, you know,

Dan Ryan: For a second there. I thought you were gonna say, I'm excited to see how Loony and Associates moves into space. And I was like, no way.

Molly McDonald: I mean, we can do that too, right? Designing rockets. I don't know. Uh, I dunno if we're ready for that yet. Um, but yeah, no, those are the things that I'm kind of, um, like we said, things are moving so quickly that it's hard to catch up with, you know, predict what's next. Right. Because somebody could call us tomorrow and be like, we need you to design a plane.

Okay, let's do that. Which somebody did do that

Dan Ryan: And gimme a ride on it.

Molly McDonald: Yeah, exactly.

Dan Ryan: Um, all right, cool. So now I also wanna say thank you for painting that picture of you and however that Southern Living Magazine wound up in Michigan. I, it's, that's cool. That's a whole other episode. That's a whole other episode that I wanna, I want to get into at some point.

Um, but going downstairs as a little girl, like, and, and building the interiors out of what you saw with Lego. Um, if the Molly that I'm speaking to right now, having not stayed in one lane and gone, taken the path, less taken, let's say, um, What advice do you have for your younger self?

Molly McDonald: It all works out. Stay, you know, stay, stay focused and, and be you, but it all works out. Because I do, I do think that when I was younger and I first graduated, I was really trying to prove myself in a way that probably wasn't, um, aligned with my strengths. And it's kind of like forcing a, you know, round peg in a square hole.

Um, and I was very unsure of myself and I didn't have that confidence And, um, I kinda wanna try to go back and shake that person a little bit and be like, you're fine. Chill out. Like it's gonna be okay. So I think that that's part of what, um, I would also say is just, just it's okay. Chill out.

Dan Ryan: I love that. It's okay. Chill out. Well, and also so. Yeah. And I, and I, I think that's why I love that, that question so much, especially for the reason why I wanted to talk to you today, like I said, is like, just to give all those up and comers, just, uh, a, a wider view of like what you can do with design. And it always does work out.

And that line of the paper of what you like and what you don't

like sometimes the don't like, is more informative than the like and just. The the point is, is that don't be siloed in my opinion. Like try as many things as you can and the opportunity, like you said, if you chill out and just like try as much as you can, it will help shorten your journey or whoever's journey towards finding out what they like doing and finding their true path and their authentic being, living within their authentic self and and values.

Molly McDonald: Mm-hmm. And, and viewing those challenges. You know, sometimes you're like, oh my God, I can't believe that I have to deal with this. Or I'm, or, this is my challenge right now. And then, You come out of it and you're like, oh, wow. That's what led me to where I am right now. And if I hadn't had, if I hadn't have gone through that, I wouldn't be here on this side of it.

Right. Where it's really like where I need to be and where I should be.


Dan Ryan: And, there's always another side.

Molly McDonald: yes, there's always another side.

Dan Ryan: Um, so if anyone wanted to get in touch with you and learn more about you or loony, like what's the best way for them to do that?

Molly McDonald: Um, LinkedIn or you can email me at Molly m Loony and Associates or loony hyphen

Dan Ryan: Great. And we'll put that in the, in the show notes as well. Um, Molly, I just wanna say Mahalo.

Molly McDonald: Well mahalo to you, Dan.

Dan Ryan: Thank you and thank you for, uh, making me feel a part of your ohana always since that we first met however long ago that was.

Molly McDonald: Well, I, I would like to say the same thing because, you know, you kind of shepherd a, a young designer into the world of, of this wild world that we live in. So, and it's been fun. I do wanna say this, it has been awesome to me to watch your journey into this podcast realm and grow here and, The success you've had with it, it's, it's really impressive.

Dan Ryan: Well, I think, you know, after this conversation I can think I just took a lot of advice from you of just not staying in a lane. Just try as many things as you like, and I'm, you know, approaching 50 and like there's still so much more to be done and so much more to be experienced. So if at any way, if I, I, I think in the way that you said that, I would, I shepherded you or whatever that was.

Thank you. But I'm just kind of paying it forward cuz I had some really great mentors who took an interest in me and kind of pulled me along and let me experience our wild, crazy world of hospitality design. And, and uh, I think the more that we can all do that, and again, speaking to all the, the, the kids out there are the, or the people early in their, in their careers.

Like just ask, put yourself out there and. People, people, people will see you and recognize you and bring you along for a really cool ride. So Molly, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Molly McDonald: Thank you, Dan. I've loved being here and talking with you.

Dan Ryan: Awesome. And also to all those listeners, young, old, but mostly the young today. Um, I appreciate you guys so much and the feedback that we get, um, is just amazing. And, uh, we grow every week. So if this, Change the way you think about hospitality. Please pass it along. Uh, please follow, please, like, please subscribe, whatever, all those things that everyone says after those YouTube videos, do it and we'll catch you next time.

Thank you.