Designer Profile: Klai Juba Wald's Ann Fleming

When Hotec Design kicks off in Florida next month, Ann Fleming, principal of interiors at Klai Juba Wald Architecture + Interiors is set to be a first-time attendee. At the conference—presented by Questex Hospitality, the parent company of Hotel Management—buyers like Fleming will meet one-on-one with hospitality-focused suppliers to learn about new products and services and to keep up to date on emerging trends.

Fleming became interested in design as a child, traveling through Europe. She learned about different cultures, architecture, art and design. “That really got me excited seeing about how it affects people,” she recalled. “I think intuitively, I felt it but I didn't come to realize until I was older when started my design career. It is so inspiring that we as designers can set a tone for an environment.

Growing up in Las Vegas, Fleming was surrounded by a range of hospitality projects and watched the growth of both themed resorts and luxury convention properties in real time. “Growing up here has been fascinating because you see how our city just keeps reinventing itself," she said. "There’s no better place to be for that.” 

After receiving her Bachelor of Science in Interior Architecture degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Fleming joined Atlandia Design, a firm that was working on the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio resorts in the 1990s. “That really nurtured me in hospitality design,” she said. The energy and boldness of the city’s hospitality world drew me in, being part of that culture was an outstanding education.

Building a Business

By 2000, Fleming was ready to set out on her own and teamed up with another respected designer to form Cleo Design. “Vegas is such a small design community that all the wonderful people that we worked with during our informative years were our biggest supporters when we jumped to create our own firm,” she said. “We were able to thrive with our collective exprertise and found success working in Las Vegas, across the US and Internationally, it was a wild ride. Design can be fantasy and it can be emotional, but when its your business, you are driven every single day to succeed wearing many hats.

Over the next 17 years, the Cleo Design team worked on a number of high-profile properties in Las Vegas and beyond, including the Wynn Las Vegas; MGM Grand Hotel & Casino; Caesar’s Palace Hotel & Casino; the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in both Tampa and Hollywood, Fla.; and The Venetian Las Vegas. 

Creating a Studio

After the better part of two decades, the partners were ready for a change. “Design is not a static business, you know,” Fleming said. “People and personalities evolve, and so [it was] just a natural evolution for us to want to do and explore different things.” Fleming wanted to design projects in a bigger realm and liked the idea of being part of a big firm with an architecture division. Klai Juba Wald—a firm with which Fleming and her partner had collaborated with for many years had never had an interiors division, and a new possibility took shape. “Because I'd worked with them for the past 20-plus years, it felt like a natural transition,” she said. 

Fleming believes that joining Klai Juba Wald helped her grow as a professional, fostering a “collaborative yet creative” atmosphere with the company's team. “Designers do not reach an apex at a certain age or year in practice; you continually evolve and mature.”  

In 2018, Cleo Design dissolved and Klai Juba Wald added an interiors studio to its architectural studio, bringing Fleming and several Cleo team members onboard. “Since then, it's been a great collaboration.” 

Over her years in the industry, Fleming learned how Las Vegas’ reputation for excess had created an impression that some Clients translated to the city’s design firms. At the same time, Vegas’ hotels were shifting from “neon, over-the-top design”  to a more refined sense of luxury, and Clients began looking to coastal firms or bringing international designers in to create new aesthetics. “Granted, it is good to have other firms from other locales participate in Las Vegas design because they do give a fresh perspective, absolutely,” Fleming said. “But I think the challenge, a bit of a stigma [that] Las Vegas designer cannot design in the realm of refined and luxurious. That's a little bit of a challenge I think all of us encounter.” 

To combat the preconceived notions of what Las Vegas design can be, Fleming has been attending design conferences and trade shows to meet with owners and hoteliers. ”I think the more that people are exposed to you and your design approach and show them visually, the more they understand what you do and appreciate it, she said. “That's been helpful. It's a slow turn and I think it will always be, but I think hospitality is so open to new ideas that opportunities will always be available.  

After more than two years of a travel downturn and virtual meetings, Fleming was ready to try a different kind of conference and looked to join Hotec Design. “What I liked about the event [is that] it's very specific [about] getting people to meet each other, have face to face interactions, which is sometimes not so easy,” she said. 

The 2022 Hotec Design conference will take place June 20-23 at the Breakers Palm Beach in Florida. Registration is open for both buyers and suppliers.