As Rhonda Rasmussen, Raj Chandnani and I prepared for the St. Regis Princeville Resort Kaua'i Grill grand opening last week, I was excited and looked forward to coordinating two separate gala events.
The first occurred on Thursday, November 19th. This was the grand opening of the Kaua'i Grill Restaurant which included media, clients, regional representatives, and of course world renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who was on Kaua'i to train his staff to present his famous cuisine. We spent several hours prior to the event making detailed lists, photographing the entire fine dining restaurant, and noting adjustments that needed to occur.
After adding a few final touches, we got ready and joined close to 100 guests for a cocktail event to introduce and showcase the restaurant. We learned first-hand the difference between Kaua'i's "resort chic" wear and our own interpretation of it. Let me tell you, our group was in the minority.
Friday began with a "meet the press" breakfast where Rhonda spoke to the history of the renovation and the local stories behind the artwork chosen and displayed throughout the space. Once again we spent time to “set the mood” for the evening’s event which would be more elaborate than the previous.
That evening, champagne was served outside while we watched a breathtaking sunset. Inside, I experienced several different perceptions of the design of the restaurant and the local community’s view of the third renovation of the Princeville property.
Media representatives from Food and Wine, Travel and Leisure, and Forbes magazines, and several local Hawaiian publications stopped by many times to give their feedback on the resort, take pictures, and interview our team on our design vision. Comments were extremely positive and reinforced how appropriate the design was to Kaua'i, its people and culture. The general consensus was that WATG's vision and execution kept the focus on the views and the island's culture.
Although this was a social event, it represented another aspect of a designer's job description: to continue to sell our product and hospitality expertise beyond the drawing table. Each of us were seated with a different group of people by the event coordinator to ensure we were mingling and getting the most out of the evening (I have a strong feeling Raj was most responsible for this mandatory interaction!). It worked. We not only met with the media but we also got to interact with the local community. I met with the local restaurant owners of Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant, who have both lived in Kaua'i since the early 80's. They both expressed that the St. Regis in its recent incarnation was the best they had ever seen the resort. The evening ended with speeches given by both the general manager and chef Jean-Georges who gave kudos to our team.
After all the interviews, tours, and reviewing the entire property we left with a great accomplishment for creating a space that paid homage to the local culture and maintained what our company stands for: creating luxurious, comfortable destinations while maintaining the thoughtfulness and genuine aesthetic that complement the local culture and environment.
Here is a behind-the-scenes glance into how we won the first-ever USGBC Sustainable Suite design competition.
17 July 2009: WATG officially kicked off its collaboration with innovation firm IDEO with a fresh look at the hotel guest experience. The team began its research by staying one night in different hotels and observing the human behavior of other guests within the public spaces as well as their own behavior as they interacted with and utilized the guestrooms. IDEO sent each team member a booklet in advance to gather and organize their findings.
Our team was challenged to switch gears; instead of looking solely at the design, for which WATG is well known, we were becoming modern-day anthropologists of the hotel experience.
We asked ourselves questions like, "How do we redefine luxury?" and "How do we create a sustainable suite without compromising the luxury experience?"
18 July 2009: The brainstorming day with the IDEO team was packed with innovative collaboration sessions that involved more Post-its (recycled of course) than you can imagine. The creativity was literally glued to the walls, and by the end of the day it was branded into our memories. Thoughts of sustainable systems, green fabrics, cradle-to-cradle (regenerative) design, water efficiency and so much more were streaming through our minds.
We set our sights on five areas of the guest experience:
• arrival, which starts from the moment the guests book a room to the minute they walk into their new home away from home;
• dining and entertainment options, which take the guest through the hotel’s dining options and in-room entertainment;
• bathing, which introduces the guest not only to the water-efficient features in the room but also touches on the wellness aspect built into the outdoor experience;
• exploration, as the guest encounters his or her new surroundings and community (as well as what takes place in the room while the guest is away, such as how the room is refreshed and what types of materials are used in the room);
• sleeping, which ushers the guest into a relaxing state with sustainable bed linens and custom pre-set lighting and temperature.
3 August 2009: With just 4 weeks to design, specify and put together a killer presentation, the team began calling vendors for the latest sustainable products, researching innovative systems for water and energy efficiency, drawing up floor plans, reading the entry rules over and over to make sure we didn’t miss a beat.
The WATG team -- Rashana Zaklit, Grace Machado, Catie Liuzzi, Shaun Hannah, Rhonda Rasmussen, Raj Chandnani, Larry Rocha and myself -- worked closely through those four weeks. In arriving at a solution for the design and sustainable specifications, we found vendors willing to donate all the materials that would be used in the room; we sought out the best systems and made sure we were gaining as many LEED points as possible; and we put together a knock-your-socks-off presentation.
31 August 2009: Based on the competition guidelines, the team assumed the deadline for submission was at 11:59PM EST, but when that time came and passed, we decided the deadline was now 11:59PM with no time zone in mind (thanks to Hawaii for the extra hours).
As our fearless leader Rhonda hobbled back and forth from her office with a broken foot (project war wound) to see how we were doing, Rashana, Grace and Catie hustled to get the specification package together after a mishap with the editing software resulted in them having to start all over. Raj reviewed and edited, reviewed and edited, reviewed and edited the project narrative while assisting me in putting the final touches on the design presentation boards. Larry became a cheerleader and overall extra set of hands in the late hours, taking on any task that we needed -- no matter how small or large -- and entertaining us with his magic tricks.
At 11:45PM we hit "send" on the last piece of material that needed to be posted. We wrote a final email to the team at IDEO with an update and the final submission. Then, like every great team, we walked out of the building as one unified front, confident that we had done the very best job we could and proud to have worked with every individual on the long journey to the end.
1 October 2009: Out of a pool of 65 entries from some of the top design firms in the world (several submitted multiple submissions), we were the winners! We were asked to keep the fantastic news a secret until the USGBC had made an official announcement to the media. But once it did, we could finally celebrate this great accomplishment that WATG can add to its legacy of innovative design.
A special thanks to all those who encouraged and helped us along the way with creative input and inspiring words.
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