Shirli Sensenbrenner came to the hospitality field through the side door—or rather, the office door, when she was hired to help Destination Hotels with their office space in 1998. While working with the team, she became intrigued by the hotel work they did, and fell in love with the empowered culture of the company. The feeling was mutual—the leadership team asked her to join them and lead the company’s design efforts. “Right there, I decided to change my focus from commercial design and architecture to hotels, which are so much more fun!” she says.
Now with over 30 years of experience in interior architectural design, project management and hotel development, she is the creative force behind concepting the aesthetic experience of all CoralTree properties. As the senior vice president of design and development services for CoralTree, Sensenbrenner works with property owners to create hotels that will work operationally, allow guests to know they are staying in a locally authentic place and know they are getting an independent travel experience—not cookie cutter.
From childhood road trips in the family station wagon to exploring London, Amsterdam and France with her family, travel has been a life-shaping passion for Sensenbrenner. “I love immersing myself in local cultures and imagining myself having a life in those places,” she says. In recent years, a month-long visit to China allowed her family to soak in the culture and heritage. Climbing the Great Wall, shooting hoops with local kids and dancing with villagers was immersive not only for her two adopted children but for the whole family. “Connecting with local people was what made it special,” she says.
That feel for connection infiltrates her work. One of her favorite projects was the renovation of L'Auberge Del Mar, a beachside resort in San Diego. She and her team took a charming, local inn and transformed it into a luxury destination. “That project taught me that remarkable hotel design is not simply about good design, but about the experience.”
When a passion for design runs in your blood, there is no off-duty—life and work seem to blend together. Sensenbrenner spends many travel hours with her husband, who is an architect, touring and discussing the design of spaces, museums and hotels. She is extremely grateful to work in a field that allows her to utilize her personal interest in design and passion of creating extraordinary spaces.