Goin' Condo

It's a good time to be a hospitality designer. Development is up in most sectors of the lodging industry and that means lots of work, in both new construction and renovation.

Perhaps the busiest segment currently for design work is condo hotels.

It's a segment that has contributed to a $30-million backlog of work for CVC & Associates, a hospitality outsourcing company headed by Craig V. Cook. Cook has observed the dramatic rise of condo hotels in central Florida, where he says eager developers are buying aging two-story motels, tearing them down and replacing them with 10- to 20-story buildings.

“We have 21 projects in development right now and I believe that $30 million figure could rise to $50 million in the next six months,” says Cook. “It's a surge that I've never seen before in my 35 years in the commercial hospitality business. A third of our business now is condo hotel design — a segment that didn't even exist for us just two years ago — and these tend to be big projects.”

CVC & Associates has four projects in development in Orlando alone, “large ones, that are selling like crazy,” says Cook. One is the 892-unit Floriday Resort on International Drive near Sea World, where units are going for an average selling price of $400,000.

Developers are specifying high-end furnishings, fixtures and finishes, with a very residential look and commercial wearability.

And get this, says Cook: “We wrote up the contract for our Floriday client with a healthy design budget and they came back to us, after having sold the units, and said they wanted to spend an additional $2,000 per unit. They said ‘find an extra value, a wow factor, that will please the client beyond their expectations.’ We couldn't believe it — they took $2,000 profit out of each unit to improve them even more. And those clients will be blown away. We're doing things like 8-foot-high headboards, very luxurious materials, all the latest electronics and high-end appliances.”

That luxurious residential look must be built to commercial standards, advises Cook. “Developers and owners don't want anything that says ‘hotel.’ However, commercial standards are a must — we have to use solution-dyed nylons for carpets, for example, so they don't bleach out, and Avora fabrics so they can stand up to hundreds of cleanings. These are crucial considerations.”

SIMPLY THE BEST

Condo hotel design presents different challenges and opportunities from the typical hotel development, for both new construction and renovation. Certain design elements, for example, are a given, including some kind of kitchenette feature, together with an owner's closet (unless a developer offers storage on-site elsewhere within the property).

Most condo hotel developments are also very upscale and luxurious because that's the leverage developers are using to get more money out of their real estate, explains Jim Culpepper, AIA, design principal, Culpepper, McAuliffe and Meaders, Inc., headquartered in Atlanta. His firm is providing planning and interior design services for the the Regent Bal Harbour, FL, a luxury condominium hotel being developed by WCI Communities and slated for completion in late 2006.

“A challenge in designing condo hotels is that you're dealing with a broad cross-section of buyers, not just one hotel operator and one developer,” says Culpepper. “You need to address the tastes of many people, so the idea we proposed for the Regent Bal Harbour was to create something very classic, yet very modern, clean, rich and elegant. Instead of designing a typical five-star hotel with trim upon trim and multiple details, we offer a very clean look, with fine woods and marbles and textiles, but done in a way that it will look great 10 years from now. It's not so trendy that it would turn buyers off, but elements like the standalone bathtubs and contemporary furniture make a unique design statement that's cool and kind of edgy without being scary.”

The interior design aims to create an elegant, tranquil oasis where guests and owners can relax and be pampered in an ultra-luxury setting, with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Intracoastal Waterway to the west, Miami to the south and Haulover Park to the north.

Throughout the hotel, architectural elements, millwork and lighting features are simply detailed to work with the contemporary architecture of the building, which was designed by south Florida architectural firm Nichols, Brosch, Sandoval & Associates. The elegant setting acts as a backdrop for the custom-designed furniture and international artwork. The materials are “textural and seductive, and the color palette is soothing and rich, with splashes of color for accent,” describes hotel promotional material.

Each guestroom suite has a custom-designed private elevator with wood floors, and a foyer with leather walls and custom artwork. All guestrooms will have six-fixture bathrooms, including a free-standing tub.

Condo hotel design style tends to be more classic and less trendy than standard hotels, says Culpepper, “and yet it still has to make a statement. The project needs to have a signature, a unique feel that sets it apart and creates a memory maker in the owner's mind.”

From Victorian Charmer to Va-Voom Vixen

Since it reopened in 1989, The Virginia Hotel in Cape May, NJ, has been known for its elegance, character and Victorian charm. From the exterior, its lattice-worked entrance, sculpted topiary and twin iron sconces create a 19th-century facade on the storybook design of Jackson Street. However, over the past few months, New York City interior designer Colleen Bashaw has transformed the 24-room inn into a chic, contemporary retreat that is downright sexy.

“I chose red to be the main color because I wanted the hotel to be reinvigorated and have a sexy new view,” Bashaw explains. “I thought red would be bold and fun on the first floor, and carried this color scheme upstairs with the carpets and the red guestroom doors.”

The interior of The Virginia now exudes glamour and fun with gold, rose and white metallic accoutrements and a signature, custom-made carpet — a distinctive red with chocolate brown V and a white starburst accent that is carried up to the ceiling in the form of crystal globe chandeliers. The eight identical fixtures demarcate the lobby and entranceway, offering a dazzling visual display upon entry.

Included in the extreme makeover was the award-winning Ebbitt Room restaurant. For Bashaw, the challenge was to make the room as inviting as Executive Chef and General Manager Andrew Carthy's cuisine. Again, the color scheme takes its cue from the red leather banquette that lines the rear wall, offset by white snake-skinned French dining chairs. Osbourne and Little wallpaper, with its gold on gold, creates a shimmering wave of light through the room, augmented by crystal wall sconces.

“Crystal and glass are important materials throughout the hotel,” says Bashaw. “Glass has a way of creating intrigue while projecting a certain beauty that changes with lighting conditions. From the original stained glass that majestically frames the main staircase, to the diversity of crystal on the chandeliers, sconces, and upstairs hallway lighting, it helps reflect the inner allure of the new colors, fabrics and textures.”

For Carthy, the effect is magical. “The Ebbitt Room has always had a luxurious feel to it, but we have taken upscale to a whole new level,” he says. “It's easy to feel special in an environment like this — and our guests can expect unprecedented attention to detail and customer service.”

The public areas at The Virginia are designed to offer opulence and convenience while providing the perfect backdrop for the property's amenities. The Living Room features a baby grand piano and black slate fireplace. They deliver on their promise of warmth and comfort. The Rose Cumming chintz fabric, “Savannah,” on the two club chairs and a custom made sectional are open invitations to listen to house pianist Steve LaManna tickle the ivories. Across the lobby in the Bar, the chocolate brown tweed of the chairs and sofas is set off by whimsical “Cat in the Hat” red and white roll pillows with white pompom accents, and leopard skin rugs for added exoticism.

The guestrooms have also benefited from Bashaw's keen eye. Whether it's the silver-leafed furniture by Julian Chichester of London or the 27-inch flat--screen televisions, the old and the new complement each other. “Our guests expect modern amenities,” says Carthy. “With in-room DVD players and our new Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, we continually strive to offer those singular conveniences that today's modern travelers expect.”

For Colleen Bashaw, The Virginia Hotel makeover is the latest in a series of designs she has cast on Cape May. She was responsible for the interiors at Congress Hall and The Star Inn & Motel. The three properties share a fashionable flair, but that is where the similarity ends. Congress Hall, with its pastel blue rooms, the austere Brown Room (yet fun, with its zebra rug), and down-to-earth Blue Pig Tavern projects the stately and casual air that most likely was present when Benjamin Harrison made it his Summer White House during his term in office.

The Star Inn & Motel, with its combination of brushed metal and kitschy lighting, resonates with the retro style of the 1950's.

Starwood Design Group Named Designer of the Year

Twenty-three competition finalists and the Designer of the Year — the Starwood Design Group — have been named for the 25th annual Gold Key Awards for Excellence in Hospitality Design. Represented by 15 design firms, the finalists were selected from more than 170 entries, including properties from around the world.

The Gold Key Awards are presented by the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show and will be held during the 90th annual IH/M&RS at the Gold Key Awards Breakfast on November 14 at the Mandarin Oriental New York.

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