Meet Blue Flag Partners, The Boston-Based Hospitality Innovators Architecting Boutique Hotel Experiences For Luxury Explorers
Each summer, throngs of sun-hungry (and lobster-craving) visitors make their annual pilgrimage to New England’s cherished resort towns, from Nantucket to Martha’s Vineyard and the string of coastal settlements along “the Cape.” Postcard-caliber landscapes and heritage-rich enclaves have always been the region’s most magnetic draws. And now, with a growing collection of design-centric boutique properties from Boston-based Blue Flag Partners (including the boho-chic Faraway brand that debuted last year), there’s bound to be a charming character-filled hotel to getaway to in all your favorite destinations.
Behind Blue Flag is a charismatic team of investment, real estate, and hospitality experts—but above all, they consider themselves to be “explorers” at heart. Before the firm was founded in 2015, the three managing partners found success in different, but complementary business sectors: There’s Brad Guidi, a third-generation builder who was at the helm of the award-winning residential construction firm Guidi Homes, Inc. Nantucket-native Terry Sanford was Principal for real estate brokerage Territory.com. And lastly, Jason Brown, who served as President & Chief Development Officer of AutoCamp and Chief Development Officer for YOTEL (he kicked off his hospitality career as a 14-year-old intern at NYC’s Soho Grand hotel).
Blue Flag first came together as a residential development group, with four homes on Nantucket as the inaugural project. In a few short years, the firm evolved into a prolific developer of sought-after communities, premier restaurants, and high-design hotels in some of the most desirable locations in the country. In addition to the flagship Faraway Nantucket, 2022 will see the expansion of the brand with a three-bedroom home designed by the Blue Flag team, plus a new 12-key hotel called Blue Iris, and a newly acquired inn called The Beachside on Nantucket. Future properties in Martha Vineyard, Hamptons, and Deer Valley Angles are also in the works.
“A sense of adventure inspires everything we create,” says Sanford. “We are on a mission to be stewards of profound experiences through all aspects of our work. Our official mark honors the iconic nautical flag that signals the beginning of a voyage. To earn this insignia, our projects must be bold, inviting, and exceptional. These qualities are a result of a holistic development approach grounded in bold ideas and unexpected collaborations.”
Forbes spoke with Blue Flag Partners to learn more.
Forbes: Blue Flag handles so many aspects of the hotel development process. What is your collective mission?
Brad Guidi: We don’t just strive to create beautiful hotels; we truly believe that at the root of any exceptional hotel is its story and the emotion it evokes. Each living narrative we create reflects a passion for opening the door to incredible, inspirational environments that last. That’s not just hotel speak either, we really mean it.
Forbes: How does architecture and interior design fit into that philosophy?
Brad Guidi: Today’s luxury explorers crave places with a personality that embraces their surroundings. Design has evolved so much in the past decade. Even some modern design now seems, at times, passé and unexciting. That’s why we are constantly challenging ourselves to find the real soul in the properties—not just by creating nice-looking spaces, but by really looking at its history, sense of place, and surrounding neighborhood as we are searching for the property’s heartbeat. The goal is to go beyond what’s expected and touch upon something deeper that will truly connect to our guests; to push the boundaries and search for true authenticity.
First things first, you have to respect the building for what it is. For example, the historic buildings at Faraway Nantucket were never meant to have modern shiny interiors. We leaned into the patina of the buildings and strived to be additive to them by not stripping away their souls. In some cases, there are incredible architectural details that can be enhanced and made to sing; in other instances, we have to add architectural details that are in line with the age of the buildings. Unlike new builds, working in the confines of historic buildings is often like an archaeological dig: You keep scratching at the surface until its real beauty comes up.
Forbes: Beyond design, how else do you stand out from other boutique hotel brands?
Brad Guidi: I think what sets us apart above all else is the experience our guests have. From the moment you step foot in one of our properties, you’re encouraged to feel, explore, and ponder. I like to think we are creators of experience. We believe that every new project is an invitation to embark on an unexpected and fascinating journey. Design is largely intuitive but when done well, it becomes a form of storytelling.
We aim to tell these evocative stories, by creating authentic spaces, coupling that with real experiences. Take Sister Ship, for example. (The signature restaurant at Faraway Nantucket). The story of incredible journeys past is reinforced by the fact that you may sit down at the bar one day, and the bartender may hand you a wax-sealed letter from a friend that may have been at the bar the previous year. Or you may choose to leave a letter for a future guest. Writing a letter with pen and ink, and sealing it with hot wax, is a real experience that gives our guests a sense of connection to the restaurant. It’s storytelling in its truest sense.
Forbes: What are some memorable hotel experiences that have inspired your approach to hospitality?
Jason Brown: Great question. We’ve had so many and we are deeply inspired by our travels. For starters, Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, London, is a long-time favorite of ours. The unwavering commitment to detail makes you feel like you are part of something bigger. Long after you check out of the hotel you remember it for how it made you feel.
Daniel Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospital group is another. His attention to detail, his commitment to his employees, and the guest experiences are unparalleled. We aspire to be like that. Then there is the Soho Grand. I’m really appreciative to my extended family in NYC for having had the opportunity to intern there when it opened, which is a hotel they built and still own and operate today. I started in the hotel business at 14 living in and working every job imaginable at Soho Grand and, later, its sister hotel the Tribeca Grand (now the Roxy Tribeca). It was through these experiences that my love for the industry was born. I had my hands in everything and I learned from the best. Fast forward from 1996, that hotel still has the same guest experience today as it did back then.
I believe one of the greatest accomplishments it made was the way in which it impacted the neighborhood of SoHo. It changed it for the better. It’s an important point because it’s at the forefront of our minds in everything we touch. How can we add value here? How can we have a positive and lasting impact on the neighborhoods we are touching? We want to inspire people well past check out. After all, the best boutique hotels in the world grasp and give shape to the community in which they are built. We aspire to do just that.
Forbes: Describe your flagship hotel brand, Faraway, in your own words.
Brad Guidi: Faraway is more than a place, it’s a mindset. We invite the young at heart to get out of the norm. Expect an unexpected mix of wild and familiar. Inspired by the delights of curiosity, Faraway is rooted in the notion of prioritizing surprise and discovery for guests. Mixing styles and influences throughout touchpoints reinforces the lived-in, treasured feel of the hotel. Think 1920’s Parisian salon meets New England maritime. We want people to be transported from the moment they step foot on our property. We want people to go explore the island and return to a place where the exploration continues—through layered design, curated music, and locally sourced and beautifully prepared food.
The word Nantucket is derived from an Algonquin word meaning “faraway place.” This was the starting point from which we drew inspiration for the design by telling a story of an imaginary sea captain that set sail in her late twenties with her all-female crew; this expedition was supposed to last several months, but ultimately sustained for over a decade as they traveled the seas bringing back treasures, spices, and art from around the world. Faraway, Nantucket has become our muse’s home where she shares this collection with our guests.
Forbes: How do you decide which properties will join the Faraway brand portfolio or remain a standalone hotel?
Jason Brown: We are not necessarily focused on building hotel brands for the sake of scaling that brand itself. Rather, we are focused on building the best brand for the right hotel at the right time. We are unquestionably inspired by the neighborhood in which we are. For Faraway, in particular, we were excited about creating an “urban core lifestyle boutique hotel” in a resort market. As a consumer, you’ll eventually see Faraway in other, similar “urban cores” within resort markets; with the idea of creating a campus-style experience set across multiple buildings similar to Faraway, Nantucket. Let’s just say Faraway will be popping up in some of your favorite vacation destinations on the east coast in the very near future.
Forbes: What current travel trends are most impacting Blue Flag’s approach to hospitality and how?
Jason Brown: I think there are two pieces to this, both consumer-facing and in the hospitality industry as a whole. Pre-pandemic we saw work trending more remote than ever before, as younger generations of employees (and employers) wanted more freedom in how, when, and where they work and play. We also noticed that these guests wanted a boutique, lifestyle hotel experience in traditional resort markets; specifically, they wanted hotels and restaurants that were similar to what they’d expect from an urban core market like New York, London, or Paris, but in their favorite vacation destination. Clearly, this trend was accelerated during the pandemic, and we leaned into that.
On the hospitality side, we’ve also noticed a real push for technology to be integrated into the guest experience from both consumers and operators. As a result, I believe you’ll see a lot more automation of hotels in the future. While that could be a good thing, it’s also a very fine line because it means you have to be careful as a hotelier to not take away the human aspect of the guest experience. It simply cannot be a frictionless transaction. When things go wrong, and they will, you want someone there to take care of the guest. At the end of the day, the people make the place. This is something we at Blue Flag understand and take really, really seriously.