Creating a hotel within a hotel is a bit like setting a single jewel in the middle of an intricate ring. It has to be instantly memorable and striking, but also enhance and complement its setting.
In the case of Fairmont Gold at Fairmont Chateau Whistler, that ‘setting’ – namely, the location and landscape – made finding inspiration simple. The landmark ski-in, ski-out hotel and golf resort is situated at the base of Blackcomb Mountain in British Columbia, Canada, where breathtaking views of the mountains and spectacular forest of Whistler are abundant.
“The first three terms that come to mind to describe the design are modern mountain, eclectic and luxury,” says Meghann Day, partner, HBA San Francisco.
“Fairmont Gold is the pinnacle of rustic mountain luxury in Whistler. The elevated design includes many special elements that ode appreciation to the alpine town”
So far, so good – but these 96 rooms and lounge still comprise just a piece of the hotel’s 519 total keys. A strong design link between the Gold spaces, privately located on floors seven through 12, and the rest of the hotel, was key.
“Our team worked to make the design of Fairmont Gold cohesive with the rest of the hotel, but more elevated and curated,” says Meghann. “It was critical to carry finishes unique to the hotel into the Gold Lounge – such as the signature flagstone used at the lobby. This formed the structure of the lounge, bringing the character of the flagstone into the columns and fireplace cladding.
“Fairmont Gold is the pinnacle of rustic mountain luxury in Whistler. The elevated design includes many special elements that ode appreciation to the alpine town. From furniture constructed of locally sourced wood to customised artwork reflecting the nature of Whistler, all pieces were specifically hand-selected to sing true to the local culture and connect guests with the property’s inspiring organic surroundings.”
Using FF&E to link design themes solved one key problem. It also provided the backbone for a design that bore out Meghann’s intent to tell a local story.
“Different members of the team FaceTimed daily with the construction and operations teams to ensure that the install was running smoothly and to provide guidance”
The basic toolkit of materials and finishes sets the stage. Wood is a given in many chalet-style resorts, but here it is a mix of live-edge, sustainably sourced beetle-kill pine, wood end block, and more. Natural stone, including rugged flagstone carried through from the lobby to the lounge, gives the design aesthetic weight. Exposed nail heads and rivets, heavy-duty steel hinges, brackets and hardware all speak to the toughness of materials designed for snowy winters. Leather and fabrics with a tailored elegance reinforce the look of carefully curated luxe.
But that was not enough for Meghann. Just selecting pieces that were evocative of the location was only step one for her and her HBA San Francisco team. This called for an intense knowledge-gathering process, to bring the designers into contact with the local arts and crafts community.
“Most of the materials and FF&E had been sourced and procured prior to Covid – our team did extensive research on local artists, local small businesses to support, and sustainably sourced materials,” she says. “For example, when designing the lounge’s custom coffee table, created from sliced wood logs, we approached a local craftsman, Brent Comber. We worked with him in-depth for each step of the process, from sourcing locally salvaged wood from sustainable forests, to ensuring the wood is a species that is found near the property. This is the level of attention to detail and care that was put into each piece for this project.”
“The guestroom and suite design avoids many of the challenges common to renovation projects by focusing on FF&E, so that the bones of the design can be easily transferred among differing footprints”
There were more than a few challenges to putting this design in place. First and foremost, the pandemic made it impossible for the HBA San Francisco team to fly out to Whistler to supervise the install. Cue a very 21st-century solution – installing via FaceTime.
“Different members of the team FaceTimed daily with the construction and operations teams to ensure that the install was running smoothly and to provide guidance,” says Meghann. “This proved to have challenges, such as the inability to physically be present to review and needing to communicate the special design touches to be added, but there was a great increase in communication style and co-ordination as the process went along.”
While it was not simple to handle the installation remotely, the team did realise a few upsides that they will take into consideration post-Covid. The lack of time pressure (normally, the team would only have two to three days on-site) meant that the design and construction teams had as much time as they needed to co-ordinate both prior to and during the install. It also helped open an ongoing dialogue among all parties, which Meghann says she will continue to emphasise in order to streamline projects installed once the pandemic is, hopefully, a thing of the past.
The other things that made the project thought-intensive were much less unprecedented. The new lounge had quite a history – it had been four room bays. For the lounge, saying goodbye to the footprint from the guestroom bays meant an open space the team could lay out and design as it saw fit.
“In addition to the increased capacity allowance, the renovation allowed for multiple areas of added function and ambience,” says Meghann. “The lounge consists of multiple added amenities, including: an arrival and reception area; an outdoor drink rail to view the gorgeous mountains beyond; an expanded lounge area with wet bar, banquette seating and fireplace lounge; a library lounge; and a fully functioning buffet entertainment kitchen.”
The entry establishes the design narrative at first glance. Dark-blue wall panelling plays off the leathered stone flooring. Metal and oak wood end blocks comprise the reception desk. The light fixture pays homage to the location and draws inspiration from ski poles and snowfall. Moving into the lounge, a change in wallcovering to a textured vinyl provides a gentle but perceptible shift in mood.
Cerused European oak wood plank flooring underscores the transition between entry and lounge, while the flagstone from the lobby is echoed in the fireplace. Floating oak and dark metal shelves behind the wet bar continue the rich warmth of colour and the contrast in texture, to maintain Meghann’s aim for a more wide-ranging spin on the mountain resort vibe.
Moving into the library, the subtle differentiations of spaces via finishes, colours and their placement continues. The blue wallcovering seen in the other spaces provides a (pun intended) red thread for guests, but the flagstone here is seen on a vertical surface – the column cladding. Wood becomes an art material.
In the buffet, antiqued stone floors offer yet another subtle, thoughtful way of giving each space continuity and a unique mood. White quartzite countertops and modern, painted Shaker-style cabinets bring a contemporary streamlined note that perfectly fits the purpose of the area. Oak and dark bronze behind the wet bar keep the lounge’s palette in mind.
As an extension of the lounge, HBA San Francisco’s designers appointed the enclave of Fairmont Gold rooms and suites with refined finishes and fixtures, the addition of gas fireplaces, and elements characteristic of traditional construction methods.
The guestroom and suite design avoids many of the challenges common to renovation projects by focusing on FF&E, so that the bones of the design can be easily transferred among differing footprints.
Projects such as this serve to demonstrate that designers are continuing to find ways to adapt to working during a pandemic. With the advent of increasingly more affordable (or free), user-friendly and high-quality technology continually improving the remote work experience, lessons learned during this challenging and tragic period will serve many firms well in the future. Time will tell, however, where technology will continue to become a dominant part of the process, and where the need for in-person visits will prevail.