Every summer, W Hotels honors emerging interior designers at the W Hotels Designers of the Future Awards. This is the fourth year the event has taken place as part of the annual Design Miami Basel art fair in Switzerland, which took place last week.

Earlier this year, the judges selected Canadian-Dutchman Jon Stam, UK girl Bethan Laura Wood, and Korean-born Seung-Yong Song as the 2013 winners. The winning designers were then sent to one of three W Hotels in Verbier, Switzerland; Mexico City; and Bangkok for short-term residencies to develop new design projects for the hotels, inspired by local culture. The results of their labors were officially unveiled at Design Miami Basel 2013.

With its quixotic brand so closely aligned with fashion-forward design, W Hotels is compelled to aggressively update its 44 properties and seek out edgy designers on a constant basis to remain relevant. Starting with the brand’s inception in 1998, W honchos decided to use retail designers versus traditional hotel designers to differentiate the guest experience.

It worked out well. Today, no hotel group with such a small footprint has achieved a similar global presence in popular culture. The Designers of the Future Awards are one of W’s most high-profile vehicles to celebrate and communicate that success with a worldwide audience.

“These emerging designers provide forward-thinking and innovative design solutions for our hotels, while showcasing their unique works to both W guests and locals alike,” says Mike Tiedy, SVP, global brand design for W’s parent company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

The theme of this year’s awards was “Making Connections,” designed to facilitate interaction between locals and visiting business and leisure guests inside the W Living Rooms (lobbies). That was the motivation behind the design residencies this year so each artist could explore their respective cities for hands-on research and inspiration.

Designers of the Future

In celebrity-packed Verbier, Jon Stam reimagined the late 18th-century Claude Glass — a small concave black mirror that artists used long ago to see greater tonal gradations in landscape scenes. Mounted to the wall, Stam’s 4-foot black disk superimposes the viewer’s reflection on photographic scenes of Verbier shot by local photographer Guido Perrini every minute for 24 hours over a series of days. As the disk is manually rotated, the scenes change from daytime through evening.

Bethan Laura Wood visited W Mexico City, which is presently undergoing renovation. After spending time wandering the colonial streets, she was taken by the play of sunlight on the city’s vibrant colors and structural motifs. Her commissioned work includes an array of Art Moderne-inspired lighting fixtures attached to brightly dyed glass plates. She created them in collaboration with Italian glassblower Pietro Myver and Nouvel Studio in Naucalpan, just outside Mexico City.

“I was inspired by the markets in Mexico City where the flowers were arranged in a grid-like pattern, which surprised me,” Wood wrote on the Design Miami blog. “Also, the use of triple reliefs in the city’s architecture provided a model for the layering of plates.”

Seung-Yong Song spent four days in Thailand where he was inspired by the many different styles of street carts and their various uses. He designed a collection of strikingly modern, multi-functional black and brightly hued rolling furniture. One of them will be used as a champagne cart in the bar of the new W Bangkok. Another is a cabinet that can be transformed into a chic and cheeky light fixture.

All of the artists’ designs will help W Hotels continue to drive expansion in the luxury market by maintaining a youthful swagger for its creative professional guest demographic. The designer mojo also attracts design-conscious locals, creating a groovy vibe at W properties for “Making Connections” among residents and guests alike.