Picture Perfect

Art is a powerful, although often-ignored, tool in hotel design. Las Vegas impresario Steve Wynn is an owner who understands the powerful role art can assume in a hotel: Museum-quality artwork is the point of difference at three of the iconic Strip properties he developed: Bellagio, The Wynn and the upcoming Encore.

Likewise, a new collection of luxury resort hotels, The Gallery, is using art, and photography in particular, to differentiate its product in an increasingly crowded upscale marketplace. The first hotel in the unbranded brand, One Ocean Resort and Spa in the Jacksonville seaside suburb of Atlantic Beach, incorporates art as a primary design statement throughout the 193-room property that opened in May.

“We're certainly not the first to use art in a hotel, but we believe we can use it as a way to highlight the luxury of the properties in the collection,” says Mark Sharkey, president of Remington, the Dallas-based hotel development and management company that introduced The Gallery concept at a chic reception at the 2007 New York University Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. “At One Ocean, we employed a number of types of artwork — glass, metal, stone, tile, paintings, photography and more — to express the individuality of the hotel. We'll do the same at future properties in The Gallery.”

Under Remington's direction, owner and sister company Ashford Hospitality Trust spent $34 million for a down-to-the-studs transformation of a faded local landmark, the Sea Turtle Inn, into One Ocean. The rebuilding included a total redo of all guestrooms, f&b facilities and public spaces. The lobby, entrance and porte cochere were relocated, and more meeting space, a kids club and a stunning $2.1-million oceanfront spa were added. The property was accepted in Preferred Hotels & Resorts even before it opened.

Carla Neimann, who directed the design for Leo A Daly, says Tuscany was the original inspiration for the property design, “but in keeping with the owner's idea of creating a sense of your element, the design also incorporates an oceanesque feel. Overall, we strived to use rich and striking elements throughout the hotel.”

A dramatic sense of arrival greets guests. Even though it has a relatively small room count, the hotel has a 5,000-square-foot lobby accented with several dramatic art pieces. A bronze seaweed sculpture by Joe Simmons dominates the front of the space.

In addition to the front desk, the lobby has ample seating and a bar that serves coffee and pastries in the morning and cocktails in the evening. From there, guests climb a sweeping curved staircase, where before boarding guestroom elevators, they see the spa, beach and ocean through large picture windows.

Photography is the most obvious, but not the only, design element at One Ocean. The property chose photographer Greg Whitaker as a kind of artist-in-residence. His photos are scattered throughout the hotel, including in every guestroom, while a small gallery in the lobby showcases his work, most of which reflects the property's casual, beachside environment.

“The photos convey the idea to guests that they're in a special place,” says Neimann, “and that the environment is relaxed and reminiscent of the beach.”

The Daly team (which also included Kathy Chavez, Lara Rimes and Anna Verhalen) used the expansive variety of art pieces as design starting points. The entrance to the restaurant, Azurea, is at the end of a tunnel-like hallway punctuated by a mobile sculpture that, depending on one's interpretation, suggests a flock of sea birds or a school of fish. “The piece reminded us of the ocean and we designed the restaurant and bar around that theme,” says Neimann.

The guestroom design evokes a cool and calm feeling through colors and ff&e that mimic the seaside environment. Again, water is a dominating theme: bedding fabrics and colors reflect waves and sand; carpeting is in a water-droplet pattern; and seashell lamps sit on the bedside tables.


“We don't want The Gallery to be a series of hotels that remind guests of a brand,” says Sharkey. “Each one must fit in and be part of its destination, whether it's a beachfront property like One Ocean or a hotel in Palm Springs.”

To promote that concept, Remington developed a service strategy it calls “Always in Your Element.” As an example, each floor has a Docent (another reflection of the museum/gallery theme), a kind of butler-cum-concierge who's at the ready to tend to any guest needs or requests.

“We want guests to feel comfortable and in their own element, not someone else's,” explains Sharkey.

The hotel calls every guest before arrival to book restaurant reservations, spa appointments or tee times at a nearby country club. The agents also ask guests what kind of snacks they want stocked in their refreshment centers, the cost of which is included in a daily resort fee.

Like a boutique hotel, One Ocean was designed to achieve immediate buzz in the local community. Judging by the crowds of 30-, 40- and 50-something pretty people jamming the bar and restaurant on a recent weekend, the strategy and execution worked. The hard part, as any owner of a hip hotel-of-the-moment knows, is maintaining popularity once newer and perhaps hipper competitors come along.

“It's so expensive to develop a luxury property that some developers can't afford to change the product as it's needed,” says Sharkey. “We recognize the importance of updating our facilities to reflect trends and expectations. The restaurant is in a simple structural envelope so we can change it as needed, like every three or four years. We would then refresh the spa, public areas, even the artwork, before we redo the guestrooms. Most hotels do it the opposite, with the guestrooms getting renovated first.”

While future properties in The Gallery will share certain design, operational and service philosophies, each will reflect its own market segment, location and clientele. Remington originally intended to exploit the then-burgeoning condo hotel market, but future development will now focus more on projects like One Ocean.

“We believe we can take existing hotels in great markets and reposition them and add enormous value,” says Sharkey. Several are in the design process, and future locations may include Santa Fe and Key West, markets Sharkey identifies as those with “high barriers to entry and strong luxury orientations.”

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