Julie Cline was working as a private art dealer in Santa Barbara in the early 1990s when she discovered her true calling.
Luxury hotel developer Kim Richards had just announced plans to build a Four Seasons hotel in Hawaii, where Cline grew up. Though she didn't know Richards, Cline envisioned creating an art collection for the Four Season Hualalai Resort that would showcase fine art from Hawaii's golden age in the 1920s and 1930s.
All she had to do was convince Richards to hire her as the hotel's art consultant.
"I started with a plan and kept writing and calling him," said Cline, "and I was relentless." She spent two years pursuing Richards, the president and chief executive of Athens Group, a hotel developer based in Phoenix. "Finally, I called on a Friday night at 5:30 p.m. and he picked up the phone."
The pressure was on: Cline was given just 15 minutes in the firm's reception area to pitch her concept to eight executives. She came armed with storyboards and photographs of Hawaii's royal family and a theme that incorporated fine art into the hotel's lush surroundings.
"I was able to tell a story that really grabbed them," she said. That was the
origin of Julie Cline Fine Art Services.
Since that first major project in 1994, Cline has had no trouble finding high-end clients for her niche in the art world.
She has developed art collections for the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, for Azzurra, a 19-story condominium in Marina del Rey, and for the Californian, a 23-story residential high-rise on Wilshire Boulevard, among others. One of her first corporate clients was Gary Winnick, the former Global Crossing chairman, who paid $400,000 for 330 drawings that Cline had to auction off when Global went bankrupt.
It seems evident today, but 20 years ago the concept of using fine art to add a design element to luxury hotels was counter to the "cookie cutter" approach of building hotels.
"When Ritz-Carlton came to the forefront as a luxury product, they tended to build the same style hotel and often had the same exact art in the interior," said Richards, who built the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay. "But that assumption was ultimately rejected. Now the luxury product has evolved into a comprehensive demonstration of the art history and culture of the place where a resort is located."
Of course, art is so personal it can often lead to conflict. In fact, Richards fired Cline five times in three years but always hired her back because of her skill and passion.
"Art, like everything else we do, is very authentic, it's very honest," he said. "But it doesn't lend itself to a corporate process."
Creating an art collection that includes hundreds of pieces on a budget can be time-consuming.
Cline typically works on three to four projects over a two-year period. She currently has six projects in various stages of development, all in California.
Key to her work is spending time at private estates, rare book stores and antique shops looking for old drawings and photographs that tell a story about a project. She also has connections with many gallery owners who advise her of upcoming shows. She charges a fee that ranges from 10 percent to 20 percent of the total budget of a project.
For Colony Capital's Azzurra condominium project, Cline purchased 150 works from the Venice Beach art scene of the early 1960s. With a $2 million budget, she assembled Dennis Hopper photographs plus art from Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha.
For the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, Cline put together a collection of works from the Plein-Air art movement, with 20 original oils by William Wendt, Edgar Payne and Jean Mannheim.
"She brings an incredible amount of knowledge as far as the art world is concerned," said designer Jonathan Barnett, of Jonathan Barnett Studio in Beverly Hills. "Most of the time when you finish a job it's really unfinished unless you have art on the walls. And Julie has an amazing eye."
Cline credits her schooling at the prestigious Punahou School in Honolulu for instilling a love of art and ability to tell a story.
"Living in Hawaii, you see art through storytelling and you become a storyteller," she said.
But she struggled for years trying to figure out what to do with an art history degree. For a while, Cline raised thoroughbred horses with her first husband. After getting a divorce, she launched her own business as an art advisor but spent three years battling breast cancer while raising a young son.
Though there are hundreds of art consultants nationwide, few have successfully melded art with real estate.
"There are plenty of art consultants who will go to a poster book and simply mass print posters," she said. "I really want to tell a story. That's the difference."
Julie Cline Fine Art Services
Year Founded: 1990
Core Business: Creating fine art collections for luxury hotels, high-rise condominiums, corporations and private clients.
2004 Revenues: $1.5 million
2005 Revenues: $2 million
2004 Employees: 1
2005 Employees: 2
Goal: To create art collections that capture people's imaginations and connect them to the community.
Driving Force: Clients' need to display art that tells a story.
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