Beyond the Prototypes: Travelers Are Seeking Unique Hotel Experiences

By Keith Simmel, Andrea Schaub, Mike Linker, Brandon Danke

Travel is back! According to TripAdvisor, not only are people traveling again (with numbers almost reaching pre-pandemic levels), but travelers are also spending more time at their destinations. This is just one more reason for the rise in travel revenue, up 29% from 2019.

Now more than ever, travelers want to immerse themselves in the true vibe of a place, and that includes their lodgings. Cooper Carry’s Hospitality Studio is adept at creating spaces that reflect a unique sense of place and tap into the mindset of the guest, making sure the style of the property tells a holistic narrative that fits both the hotel brand and the location. Here, we take a trip up and down the East Coast to visit hotels that capture the local vibe vacationers seek.

The Nature Lover – The Eldred Preserve

Located just two hours north of New York City, in the heart of the Catskills, Cooper Carry reimagined this 1960s roadside motel, turning it into a modern 11-building campus amid the beauty of nature.

“Calling upon the 20th-century nature-oriented lodgings where city dwellers took refuge in the summer months, the design strategy bridges the gap between past and present to give new meaning to the mountain retreat,” says Keith Simmel, Principal in the Hospitality Studio.

Cooper Carry wanted the new buildings to take advantage of the views of the existing ponds and stream, as well as the woods and mountains rising behind the site, while still limiting the views from one building to another to create a sense of privacy. This was part of the design challenge, because none of the original buildings on site were salvageable. Instead, our design team focused on working within the footprints of the existing buildings and siting buildings to the back of the property, allowing more access to natural views. Further, the placement of the individual buildings provide moments of pause and respite as guests explore the natural grounds, soaking up waterfall views, looking out across the old fishing ponds, or dining under a tree canopy.

In the main inn and cabin-style guestrooms, the interior design by La Bossiere Inc. harmoniously blends with the exterior. The contemporary style includes glass, wood, and stone, providing a perfect backdrop to the scenery. No detail was overlooked in the design, as our design team sought out local stonemasons to get the look of dry-stacked stone that the owner had envisioned.

To get more than a glimpse of this breathtaking property, visit our YouTube channel, or take a virtual walk through the space via our immersive Matterport 3D visual tour.

For those who prefer the beach to the mountains, this 305-key resort hotel and event center is part of a growing collection of properties and amenities that bookend the northern portion of Virginia Beach’s resort district.

The hotel was intended to be the newest destination property on the oceanfront, so our designers teamed with Marriott to establish a fresh, sophisticated look by incorporating raw materials like concrete floors and rough-hewn wood walls and columns, intricate wood/biophilic accents, and a 35-foot live wall in the entry. The procession of the guest experience upon arrival and at any time entering the lobby was also a strong design focus.  The public spaces were organized to create a directional movement through the lobby, across the bar and out to the ocean, pulling the eye in that direction at every opportunity.

This connection to the oceanfront and extension of indoor/outdoor encounters was carried through the property using operable glass walls in both the ground floor and roof-top restaurants and in the grand ballroom, allowing guests to take in the impressive, open-air views of the eastern seaboard and creating a truly unique event experience.  In addition to the efforts in the public areas, each guest room with a sitting area was designed with a Juliette balcony and “flipped” so that the seating groups in all rooms were turned to face the ocean. This gave each room a spectacular view, regardless of its location within the tower.

Lastly, there was also a focus on creating a design that would work in harmony with the hotel’s sister property, the historic Cavalier Virginia Beach Hotel. Our team worked with the client group to create a vibrant sprawling resort with intuitive connections between each property and resort amenities as well as to create and enhance views back to the Cavalier throughout the property.

In 2021, the resort won Marriott’s award for Hotel Opening of the Year and received a recommendation by Conde Nast Traveler. TripAdvisor also named the hotel as a Traveler’s Choice in 2022, an award given to only 10% of the site’s properties. Get an up-close look at this property here.

Millennials have been driving experience-focused travel over the past few years, and Forbes predicts that the trend will only continue. Larger brands are investing more in boutique and/or soft brands to provide a more bespoke experience, and these hotel sectors have continued to perform well, even through the pandemic.

“Guests want something more rooted in the community, and savvy developers are looking at soft and lifestyle brands as a way to create that story, while still providing the dependability and quality that guests seek out in a more established brand,” says Mike Linker, Principal in the Hospitality Studio.

We have successfully created two distinct Hyatt Centric properties to capitalize on this trend. Each features unique design details that tap into the city and offer access to the experiences travelers crave.

We designed the Hyatt Centric Buckhead to showcase Atlanta’s reputation as “the city in the forest,” with breathtaking views of both the Atlanta and Buckhead skyline. Travelers get to enjoy the urban landscape via connections to bike share programs and mass transit. Paths also lead to local shops and high-end retail.

Hyatt Centric Buckhead, Spaceman Rooftop Bar

The 15-story building offers 218 guestrooms, with an interior design program created by Sawyer & Company and inspired by the region’s pottery heritage, incorporating textures, colors, and patterns created by local artists. Guests can enjoy expansive views from the 15th floor rooftop at Spaceman, an indoor-outdoor lounge designed by The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry. When seen from afar and the highway, Spaceman is an internally lit beacon that welcomes guests to a vibrant atmosphere with spectacular views.

The Hyatt Centric Old Town Alexandria is uniquely situated just outside the edge of the Old Town Historic District, at a transition point between the fine-grain architecture seen closer to the river and the taller transit-oriented development around the King Street Metro station.  The project, though on a very tight site, is truly a mixed-use development that includes a 12,000 square foot office tenant, the 124-key hotel, and an independent retail restaurant program.

“The building is designed as a series of masonry elements with metal and glass infill that create a cohesive aesthetic for the whole development, while breaking the massing down into a more pedestrian-friendly scale,” says Andrea Schaub, Principal in the Hospitality Studio. “The masonry components are detailed to create a texture and character that is reminiscent of the historic facades along King Street but executed in a modern way in order to differentiate the hotel and fit within the vernacular of Old Town without being a historic replica.  We wanted a contemporary building that felt like it had always been there.”

Both hotels have generated buzz in their respective cities. Hyatt Centric Old Town Alexandria won the 2021 AIA Northern Virginia Award of Excellence in Commercial Architecture, and the 2020 NAIOP Northern Virginia Award for Excellence, Hospitality. The Hyatt Centric Buckhead is among Jezebel magazine’s 2022 list of the 10 Best Hotels in Atlanta.

The Lux Traveler – Hotel Effie

Hotel Effie puts a high-end feminine spin on a boutique conference center hotel. Located along the Gulf of Mexico and the Choctawhatchee Bay, the 250-key hotel mixes Southern hospitality with modern luxury and effortless function, while standing apart from the other towers among the Sandestin resort campus.

“Hotel Effie provided a unique opportunity to dive deep into the design of all aspects of the hotel.  The result is a refined building and interior that are comfortable to use while providing moments of delight,” says Project Manager Brandon Danke.

Named after the owner’s grandmother, Hotel Effie was designed to signal a new level of refined hospitality for the Sandestin brand.  On the exterior, the boutique hotel was envisioned as a fresh take on its neighboring Grand Sandestin.  It draws from the local vernacular of pitched metal roofs, wide covered porches, and a tall lighthouse-inspired tower and realizes them in a carefully chosen material palette.

Inside, glitzy chandeliers combine with the rustic light wood beams in the lobby area, while hues of sea green, rose, and sandy beige reflect the location.  The interiors by Design Continuum were intentionally coastal but not “beachy.” In the guestrooms, every last detail was scrutinized to provide a great experience, and the client provided the perspective of a professional woman. For example, in design of the bathrooms, our team studied the placement of the full-length mirror, its outlet for a hair dryer, and the positioning of the overhead light to not cast shadow on the face.

A modern rooftop line creates a stand-out façade. The roof bar and pool terrace crown the new building, offering incredible views to the bay, marina, golf course, and the gulf further to the south. Hotel Effie was named among the top women-owned hotels by Architectural Digest.

Ready to create a destination that inspires wanderlust? Let Cooper Carry help you realize your vision.

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