Designer Forum: IGroup Design transforms the Willows Hotel and Spa - June 2018
By Stephanie Lee
The Willows Hotel and Spa project is the third phase in a series of developments that started at the Viejas Resort + Casino in Alpine, California eight years ago. As design architect for the project, IGroup Design was responsible for architecture, interior design and procurement for the 159-room hotel, full-service day spa, pool bar, coffee shop, two restaurants and casino expansion.
Challenged with the task of tying together multiple areas of use and past themes from an eight-year-long development, IGroup Design tackled the Willows Hotel and Spa by concentrating on the location of the property-the Viejas Valley in eastern San Diego County. The design team was inspired by the beauty of the surrounding geography, integrating nature with the abstract interpretation of the landscape and capturing both the larger valley topography and detailed leaf cellular pattern in various interior elements throughout the project. The juxtaposition of organic textures versus geometric meandering themes is consistent throughout.
The Viejas Valley is home to the Kumeyaay tribe, which openly welcomes guests to their beautiful landscape. The guest experience is rooted in this history along with the valley’s vistas, and so the building is angled to capture these views. The horizontal building line is interjected with vertical Las Vegas Rock, a meta-quartzite stone. A preview of the interior’s balanced layering starts here as the in/out balcony dynamic breaks up the façade. A volumetric play of structural elements, with a strong emphasis between foreground/background elements, begins as a recurring theme.
The hotel porte cochère is intended exclusively for hotel guests, while the pool bar is connected to the lobby space. All food and beverage (F&B) venues have an inside/outside element. As part of a larger destination resort, a longer stay is expected, thus a more varied experience is required. Guests can enjoy the energy of a casino, a relaxing spa getaway or a variety of venue types. These spaces by themselves are a hybrid between serving casino guests and serving resort guests, while each has its own unique characteristics.
Casino F&B locations differ from a typical destination restaurant, as the space needs to cater to a variety of different guest interaction timelines. Venues were designed to strengthen a visual connection and openness to the casino floor, while still keeping their unique identity and atmosphere. Multilayering and semitransparency of different finishes and superposition of planes play an important role in the feel, look and functionality of the venue, allowing for the interaction and openness between the different subspaces-lounge, bar, dining, enclosed patio and wine cellar.
FOCUSING ON WILLOWS HOTEL AND SPA
The spa experience set the tone for the entire third phase of development, adding a light, airy, peaceful component to the property. A distillation of the previous phases’ color palette caused the exterior of the building to go down to one color of white stucco, a departure from the original darker palette. The interior refinement of natural elements blends rough stone down to elegant smooth lightness. The new white stone is bright, clean and fresh, while gold and brass metals serve to warm up the cool atmosphere.
A total of 159 all-suite guestrooms encourage relaxation with a lounge-style living room, oversized shower experience and finishes in rich woods, soft neutral tones and bursts of gold. Resort amenities include a business center, coffee shop, fitness center, salt water pool, spa garden, salt sauna, steam room, salon and outdoor spa treatment cabanas.
The coffee shop is a pivotal gathering point as all roads come together here. The space represents a transparency between casino and hotel, a resting point from action. Structural elements with less ornamentation command a cleaner, metropolitan feel. Only one solid wall indicates a transition point and encourages a fluid and efficient circulation, while maintaining a private feeling within the core of the space.
Even though this new Willows hotel is designated as adult-only, the previous two hotel towers are family-friendly. Throughout the property interior, the design team created a perimeter pedestrian concourse, which links the hotels to each other and guides guests along the new restaurant venues for all patrons to enjoy.
Throughout the project, floor patterns and accents were used as a type of wayfinding. Since the project was a combination of existing casino renovation, new casino expansion and a new hotel/spa tower located at the west end of the property, the challenge was to provide an uninterrupted coherent continuation between the existing and the new. The design team referred to this connecting path as the “yellow brick road” and successfully linked all the most significant spaces of the property under a single main theme. Casino floor, restaurant venues, pedestrian access, spa and hotel services all orbit along the yellow brick road, making this connector a destination rather than just a simple pathway.
New carpet patterns and colors slowly evolved from the existing casino, continually morphing throughout the new spa concourse, connecting to the hotel. Emser Tile’s Thassos white marble was delineated with Schluter brass transition strips to mark the guest’s arrival at the spa entrance. A Stone Source tile was used throughout the spa and salon, accented with various Daltile mosaics. A Walker Zanger chevron tile pattern marks guests’ arrival at the hotel lobby check-in area.
The award-winning Locale restaurant features a patterned Porcelanosa tile to delineate areas in the same way as area rugs, highlighting the hostess stand and the private dining room. The coffee shop has a similar inset of Porcelanosa tile within the seating area. Exposed structural elements are boldly embraced and make every seat feel special and important. The diversity of spaces is reflected in a range of finish concepts with strong highlights and emphasis on gold metals and eclectic patterns and textures. The Las Vegas Rock portal at the patio area was introduced with the idea to make a connection between the inside and outside environments and enhance the enclosed patio exterior feeling.
BRINTONS: THIS IS CARPET
The highlight of the project is the approximate 16,000 square yards of custom Brintons Axminster carpets flowing through the spa, guestroom corridors, public spaces and lobbies.
IGroup Design worked closely with Brintons to develop five custom Axminster patterns throughout the Willows Hotel and Spa portion of the renovation as well as collaborating on the carpets for the hotel corridors and casino floor in earlier renovation phases.
The Brintons Axminster carpets are constructed using an 80% wool/20% nylon yarn blend. This blend, pioneered by Brintons in the 1950s, combined with the Axminster weave makes these carpets perfect for high-traffic areas like corridors and public spaces.
The spa carpet pattern mirrors other sculptural natural elements, including the layering and balance of colors, shapes and textures. The linear organic corrugations echo the exterior stone striations, further blending the exterior and interior.
The layered geometric pattern of the concourse and corridor Axminster carpet reflects other artisan detailing-light fixtures, fabric and wallcoverings textures-all referencing organized patterns found in nature. The broken irregular form adds an artful organic facet to the overall impression. The large Villa Suite originally had wood flooring specified but was value engineered to a combination of Porcelanosa parquet and plank porcelain tile.
PROJECT CHALLENGES LEAD TO SOPHISTICATION
The team worked on the project for almost two years. The spa program and layout were significantly impacted by the major structural building elements required to build a hotel tower above. With careful and methodical space planning, the team was able to overcome these hurdles to create a product that maintained a tranquil environment. Of course, typical budgetary issues plagued the project, resulting in the value engineering of several amenities and finishes. Another challenge was a change in management halfway through the project, which meant that many last-minute programming requests had to be worked through.
The property’s original design conveyed a rustic feel with a theme of carved boulders and wood logs. With each phase, the design further evolved the architecture in a honed approach-ultimately revealing a sophisticated connection to the natural elements in a clean, elegantly detailed expression.
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