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Meet Denise Korn of Korn Design

Today we’d like to introduce you to Denise Korn.

Denise, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Boston, and did a lot of travel with my family, but since a young age I had always felt drawn to New York City and have spent a fair amount of time between these two great cities since my high school years in the early 80’s. In college, I majored in fine arts + photography at Cornell. It wasn’t until I spent my junior year studying at Parsons that I discovered my love for design. I moved back to NY after I graduated. The creative energy in Manhattan was inspiring. I landed my first design job at The New York Times. I was surrounded by some of the most influential designers, photographers, artists, architects, and performing artists of our time. This had a huge impact on me. When I got engaged to my college sweetheart, a New Yorker, he was invited to help launch a company out of Boston – an opportunity too good to turn down. So, after eight years of living in New York, we picked up and moved back to my hometown, Boston.

It was 1991, and we were welcomed to New England by a bad recession. I was getting job offers for art director positions but with very low salaries and virtually no staff. After a year of consulting and freelancing, I thought to myself that I could start my own business where I would have more freedom and flexibility. I chose to name the studio Korn Design because my sister and I are the last of the “Korns” and I thought my Dad would get a kick out of that. I have always used my maiden name professionally. That was 25 years ago and I was 27.

Has it been a smooth road?
If it were easy, everyone would do it!

I feel very lucky to have worked with some of the best people over the years, true visionaries, smart developers, creative leaders, and world-class chefs from around the world. I consider each of them friends, mentors, and the very best clients one could dream of. At Korn, we welcome the strong personalities that often foster deep collaboration, pushing each other to think bigger to realize bolder outcomes.

When I think back, the early days of Korn allowed me to experiment a lot; to learn how to build and manage a great creative team and to chart a creative course that has kept me continuously learning and engaged while adding real value and innovation in unexpected ways.

It took many years to establish a trusted reputation and a legacy of work that stands on its own. It was an ongoing challenge to get a seat at the table early enough in the process alongside the key decision-makers to allow for the deep impact we bring to all our projects. It seems that now we have “earned our spot” and understand that each team and each project is so different that we have become adept at navigating with a nimble and expert point of view.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Korn Design story. Tell us more about the business.
We get smart, go deep, keep the conversation and the process authentic.
Korn Design is a boutique brand strategy, design, and lifestyle marketing firm dedicated to crafting fearless brands for hospitality, real estate, and culture.

Regardless of who the client is or what challenge is presented to us, we take our passion to every detail, solving each and every complex challenge from the heart. The very best part of this journey has been the amazing people, friendships and relationships that have come out of the work itself. We have contributed to many vital projects that have not only left a mark on their communities and cities across the country but also distinctively contribute to re-defining and celebrating their unique sense of place.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
There are two major shifts in the hospitality industry over the past 5 years; the desire to capture authentic “sense of place’ and “story-telling”. It makes me smile, community has always been central to the projects I am drawn to, and without knowing it I have always been a visual story-teller, with roots in photography and editorial design that reach way back. It has been great to see the leading global hospitality companies launching soft-brands that allow distinctive independent hotels shine in their own way. They are also looking for ways to apply this thinking into the DNA of their established global brands. With a plethora of new choices in all segments of the industry, they know that aligning their brand’s experience and what is stands for will help them to stay relevant as the world around them evolves and will translate into retaining loyalty from their existing guests and reaching beyond.

It’s great for developers interested in the independent space, to have the choice to align their assets with these soft brands, leveraging the established distribution channels of their parent companies and loyal customer base while preserving the freedom to realize their distinct vision. Smaller development groups with big personalities have also emerged and are resonating with new concepts in hospitality and culinary that tap into the vitality of “place” and allow new stories and memorable experiences to emerge naturally.

This industry shift has tapped a chord across generations/age brackets as well as culturally diverse demographic groups and has seen strong ROI in both small cities and larger metropolitan centers internationally where there was a gap in the market offering limited alternatives to the larger global hotel brands. Korn Design has been playing in this sandbox for 25 years with a focus on human-centered brand experiences and placemaking. It is humbling to see the industry begin to embrace community more deeply and lean in towards magnetic places that are relevant and resonate.

I see these trends continuing to flourish in all segments from limited service to ultra-luxury over the next 5-10 years. I also see this methodology emerging, as it already has been, in many new dimensions in the growing residential real-estate spaces as well.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Korn Design
    116 St Botolph Street
    Boston, MA 02115
  • Website:
  • Phone: 617-266-8112
  • Email:
  • Instagram: korn_design
  • Facebook: @korndesignboston
  • Twitter: @korndesign

Image Credit:
Hunter Levitan: Portrait Photo of Denise Korn
John Russo: Photo, The Diplomat Beach Resort
Manuel Santilices: Illustrations, Vintage House

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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