Robin: WATG is known for creating the resort. Tell us how the resort has changed in the last few years.
Rhonda: Resorts are now typically smaller and more intimate. The successful ones still command a sense of place and a connection to the surrounding locale.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company used to have the philosophy that all their hotels should basically look alike. Their restaurants all seemed the same, whether in Boston or Bali. This is no longer the case.
St. Regis recently went through the conversion of a property in Princeville, on the island of Kauai, that involved removing tons of polished marble, ornate railings, European themed furniture and artwork, and gilded Corinthian columns. Designers repositioned the Hawaii property to reflect its locale. Now it features indigenous materials, paintings and sculpture by local artists, and custom-designed carpets and furnishings that exude warmth and hospitality.
Robin: What are some of the most progressive or unusual hospitality projects that you've worked on recently?
Rhonda: One of the most unusual projects we've worked on recently is our "Facility of the Future" for Golden Living. It blends hospitality and spa qualities in the healthcare patients' rooms and facilities. The facilities will emphasize short-term recovery care and promote an active lifestyle. Accommodations will be modeled after hotels and spas with a sharp attention to detail and with an awareness that the physical environment can play a critical role in the recovery process.
Components from "Facility of the Future" will create a foundation for the renovations of other existing Golden Living facilities to bring a greater focus on personal space, wellness, and rehabilitation. The facilities provide residents private, hotel-like rooms with lounge areas, desk space, plenty of outlets for personal electronics, and a place for all their personal toiletries in their private bathroom. The public spaces are designed to create warm, inviting areas for patients and guests to visit. The guidelines implement sustainable practices with holistic approaches, including the extensive use of day-lighting. Warm sunlight is favored over artificial light and nature is brought indoors wherever possible through the creation of atrium spaces where residents can enjoy the scenery and the environment regardless of weather conditions or physical limitations. These connections to nature play a vital role in recovery.
Robin: How will technology play a role in hotel design?
Rhonda: We find that guests often bring their own technology into hospitality spaces. And they expect that when they get to the hotel, we'll have provided everything that they have at home.
Robin: Where are you seeing the most daring hospitality designs?
Rhonda: WATG invented Mosaic as entirely flexible, individually configured, modular Prisms, outfitted as needed as spas, salons, guestrooms, mini-homes (multiple Prisms such as kitchenette and bedrooms), or tented villas (an addition to a luxury resort at peak season). Grouped together, Mosaic Prisms are attached organically to Mosaic Hubs that comprise and contain lobbies, restaurants, bars, lounges, and other amenities.
The pop-up modular system is prefabricated and portable to virtually anywhere, made especially for adventure travel and "voluntourism," hybrid vacation and volunteer work experience. Mosaic Hubs and Prisms accommodate volunteers and then remain as housing for local communities. Mosaic is a trusted global brand, yet offers experiences that can be fresh and flexible.
They will become more sustainable with a strong sense of place that focuses on a unique guest experience.
Robin: How do you see hotels evolving in the coming years?
Rhonda: More sustainable with a strong sense of place that focuses on a unique guest experience.
In the past, green design was about being altruistic to some degree — doing what's right because it was the right thing to do. But more recently, respecting the environment has been shown to make financial sense, as well. This trend will continue to gain traction in the luxury sector.
Bardessono, a boutique hotel that we designed in Napa Valley, California, illustrates how luxury and green can go hand-in-hand. Designed to LEED Platinum standards, the property uses solar and geothermal energy, sophisticated energy management systems, sustainable building materials, and organic landscape management practices.
Developer Phil Sherburne credits the green aspects of the design of Bardessono with providing a distinctive edge and getting him through the challenge of opening a luxury property in the midst of an economic downturn.
Guests like having a story behind their stay. Sharing "what makes it green" is one way to tell a story and to brand and differentiate a property.
Robin: Tell us something unusual about yourself.
Rhonda: I graduated from high school in Hong Kong.