From theatrical maximalism in a Doha hotspot to pared-down calm in a Sri Lankan resort, going to extremes is all in a day’s work.
What makes a cynical traveler feel like a five-star price tag is justified? Not “safe” design, that’s for sure. Guests are ready for a magic carpet ride, whether the end result is a decadent celebration of texture and pattern or the exact opposite. Read on for insights from the two ends of the luxury spectrum.
Pampering doesn’t end at the spa door, at least not for today’s jaded luxury guests. Spoiling them from the minute they walk in is a must. For Marcel Wanders, product and interior designer, and art director of his eponymous Amsterdam-based firm, that means cocooning them in a world where beauty is the only visible force behind the built environment.
“We want to make something that feels like it’s all smooth for our audience and that sometimes means that we, internally, have to work harder,” says Wanders. “Because we are good designers, we know how to hide things well; we know how to make something difficult look simple; we know how to make something that is odd-looking seem very logical. If you see a design and you don’t see the things that look technical, it’s because we have fooled you; it is full of technique but we fool you by making it invisible. Say there’s a maintenance door in the back. We’ll hide it behind some nice decoration so you’ll never see it.”
Wanders’ behind-the-scenes meticulousness is key to creating front-of-house visual magic. It starts with an intense drill down into the vernacular of local culture.
“Transporting something of that same genetic formula we used in the Mondrian South Beach in Miami, in the Mondrian Doha we tried to do something that is as festive and as funky, to create a place where people can party, have fun, feel surprised, enjoy the weather, the culture and meet each other,” he says. “Even though it is all of these things combined, the Mondrian Doha’s design is a lot more sophisticated and even demure in comparison to a property like the Mondrian South Beach in Miami.”
Elements ranging from sculptural white trees in the lobby and giant columns with golden eggs to a signature black spiral staircase to pixelated images that occupy entire walls and falcon video art invite just that kind of unhurried examination.
The same care goes into the inspiration process, both with the client and in his own studio, says Wanders. He keeps things on track not only by drawing out ideas for other people, but by utilizing every possible tool, such as fabric and plaster samples, maquettes, paper models and renderings to test out each piece of the concept—thus not only minimizing redos, but cutting back on cost overruns. Delivering out-of-this-world styling within real world constraints is part of Wanders’ magic.
“People look at a hotel like Andaz Prinsengracht Amsterdam [which Wanders’ firm designed and that opened in 2012] and think they could never afford something like that. But we brought the whole project in under budget,” he says.
Onsite R&D is great, but for projects like this, thinking ahead beats thinking on your feet.
Werapitiya, Sri Lanka
Health isn’t just wealth. It’s the 21st century traveler’s new favorite indulgence. Well-being might just be the hottest buzzword in resorts today—after all, unplugging and refocusing on what feels good is just about the only thing über-connected jet setters can’t buy on a daily basis.
Fitness centers, spas and serenity earned their place alongside the more typical five-star standbys, such as crystals, decadent fabrics and gilded accents, as must-have elements to convey top-of-the market status.
But, says Thisara Thanapathy, founder of his eponymous Boralesgamuwa, Sri Lanka-based architecture firm, it’s time to make what’s new old again—or at least, look back to the pre-detox, pre “wellness fad” approach to make a holistic perspective on beauty (think the play of natural light, colors that shape mood and touchable textures) relevant to the luxury aesthetic. That meant taking owner Vickum Nawagamuwage’s dictum to highlight peace and quiet as the main sensory indulgence of his new resort in Sri Lanka, translating his vision to a minimalistic design language that puts function ahead of form and the locale front and center.
Not an easy task, given the resort’s hilly site. Thanapathy used the terrain as a floorplan for both the public buildings—a lobby, restaurant and spa—and the 20 chalets for guests.
“The most public buildings, such as the main lobby and the restaurant, are located at the central, topmost point of the site,” he says. “The spa is in a place with views, but not in as prominent a site as the restaurant and the lobby. Chalets, which house the hotel’s rooms, are built in a quiet sloping terrain to offer views and privacy.”
The materials palette had to channel the same precision and environment-first attitude. Keeping materials lightweight was a functional must for reducing the impact on the ground below, especially for the chalets on steeper parts of the land, where the team used steel pillars to protect the earth beneath the structures.
That called for looking beyond the natural aesthetic to include a few key construction elements. Zinc/aluminum roofing on a metal frame, for example, helps reduce the weight of each building. For the spa and the interiors, Thanapathy turned back to a local approach. Almost everything on site, except for the steel, cement and roofing sheets, was sourced nearby.
Continuing that careful curation into the interiors keeps the hotel’s manifesto top of mind. “We are incorporating concepts of wellness into spaces with the functionality of meditation caves, clarity of line and lack of clutter. That all helps to minimize the stimulants that keep our minds busy and not relaxed,” says Thanapathy.
For designers of luxury projects like this, “wow” looks might just be the anti-stress test. Chill out, already!