Designing the Great Outdoor Space
By Sam Barry
For the past several years, elaborate outdoor kitchens and living rooms (often complete with a fireplace and outdoor home theater) have been a hot trend in high-end residential design. As travelers clamor for unique, indoor-outdoor experiences the design of memorable, awe-inspiring outdoor spaces naturally becomes more important in the hospitality industry.
In the desert of Palm Springs, California, sits L’Horizon Resort and Spa, an iconic institution known for the 1952 design of William F. Cody. The building, originally intended as a private home and guest retreat for a Hollywood producer and his actress wife, has welcomed the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Presidents Nixon and Reagan. The property was recently renovated by Steve Hermann Design, who has choreographed a graceful waltz in which the built environment embraces and wraps itself around the natural environment.
Nestled at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, L’Horizon’s flat roof extends its structural steel beyond the building itself to embrace a mature cactus. On the site, 25 bungalows dot the landscape, each opening onto a lush, green courtyard and view of the v-shaped,
mirror-like pool. The pool beckons from the foot of the mountains, flanked by cabanas and a handful of chaise lounges—each accompanied by a sleek white sun umbrella that complements the architecture and bows to the mountains just beyond. L’Horizon is one example of the growing importance of outdoor living spaces in hospitality. The relationship between the building and the mountains oscillates; each one is in turn the headliner, and each one dutifully slides to the background to allow the other the spotlight. Yet each offers a unique experience of secluded, pampered luxury.
On the other side of the continent, in Hawley, Pennsylvania, the Ledges Hotel sits quietly beside the Paupack Falls in the Poconos. This Federal-style, 1890s glass factory was converted into a romantic destination hotel in 2009 by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson—a firm renowned for its reverence for nature, material and people. Much like San Diego’s Hotel Coronado or the Sagamore in Lake George, New York, Ledges relies on the natural beauty of its site to deliver the romance.
The hotel’s great room-style lobby provides sweeping views of the adjacent river gorge and waterfalls. Outside, multi-level, tiered decks cascade down the river, providing private sitting areas and tables for guests to unwind and soak in the sights, sounds and smells of a pristine natural setting. Walled gardens featuring sculpture installations and additional seating provide a yet another option for an intimate outdoor guest experience. The message here is clear: Just as the historic building was preserved, the unique natural landscape should be cherished. BCJ has increased the odds of this by bringing guests into immersive contact with nature.
As more guests seek getaways that layer in restorative outdoor spaces, the design of these venues offers designers and operators the opportunity to orchestrate indoor environs with the great outdoors. The range of options for doing so begins with providing a setting, like adirondacks and fire pits along the sea wall, to creating something truly transformative, an experience that leaves the guest craving more, wanting to come back to find that unique balance of the natural and the built environment. As we journey and seek places of shelter, the next frontier in hospitality turns out to be outdoors.
Want to take it a step farther? Journey to Marfa, Texas and the boutique outdoor lodging of El Cosmico. El Cosmico represents a return home for Liz Lambert, CEO of the visionary hospitality firm Bunkhouse. In the desert of Southwest Texas and in the metaphoric shadows of Donald Judd, visitors can choose to stay in teepees, tents, yurts, or trailers and attend festivals, sing karaoke, and reconnect with their inner bohemian or cowgirl. A core belief that drives El Cosmico is “tuning in, dropping out, and being here now.” And nothing helps you get into the now like bathing in an outdoor, wood-fired Dutch tub under a night sky filled with stars.
Perhaps nothing summarizes hospitality’s quest for great outdoor living spaces more than the idea of being here now, enjoying nature in a space that encourages you to do so while also taking care of every creature comfort.
Sam Barry is a former principal with Gensler, where he led a Brand Design studio in Washington, DC and a Lifestyle (retail and hospitality) studio in Atlanta, and former Director of Marketing for Shaw Contract and Shaw Hospitality. Today, Sam and his wife Kelly own Innovatude, a brand and marketing strategy and design boutique focused on innovation in the built environment. Sam’s focus is on helping product manufacturers, developers and building owners navigate turbulent times to find points of leverage to forge competitive advantage and significant growth. Sam lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.