The Story Behind JAI
by Jacki Arena

You could say I’m in the business of blending, shaping and defining spaces for both business and leisure travel.

It all started when I was a young teenager from Wisconsin who took a trip to La Jolla Beach, California, for the first time. That trip would be the catalyst for my journey into design. Something stirred in my heart as we passed beautiful ocean front estate homes and pristine properties located up on the hillsides. I remember thinking, “I will never have a home like this, but I can design these for other people.”

I never forgot that pivotal moment in La Jolla and how something came alive inside of me. I went on to attend the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where I studied interior design and accepted a position working in the retail division of a five-star resort. While working for the resort, I unearthed my passion for hospitality design. I started observing how guests and staff interacted with guest rooms, lobbies, restaurants, retail spaces, offices, open air spaces and every specialized area within the hotel. It was fascinating to observe all the creative opportunities available under one roof and how I could play a part in the positive experiences people have in the places they stay while traveling.

I began researching how hospitality spaces and people function together. I interviewed everyone who would talk to me. I studied people as much as I studied design. Post graduation, I was hired as the in-house designer to work on the prototypes for what became the largest growing chain of extended stay hotels in the country. From there I worked for a luxury Caribbean resort firm with unlimited design possibilities. I discovered my niche was somewhere in between those two experiences, and so I pursued custom three-star and four-star hotel design.

And then one day I reached a crossroads in my career and had to make a risky decision. I stepped out on my own and I have never looked back. Jacki Arena Interiors (JAI) was born, and many of my first clients are still with me today, fifteen years later.

I often think about that wide-eyed girl from the Midwest driving through the beauty of southern California. Her dream came true. I’m grateful to have an infinite amount of hotel guests experience the comfort, beauty and accommodations that JAI proudly designs.

JAI creates personalized environments for each client that guests will find both inviting and memorable. To contact us about your hospitality design project, call 727-786-7113 or email