Hotel News Now spoke with a principal at Dallas-based design firm Wilson Associates to walk through the process of redesigning a resort in Puerto Rico that suffered damage from Hurricane Maria in fall 2017.
DALLAS—Going back to redesign and renovate a hotel that’s suffered hurricane damage isn’t an easy feat, and there are many lessons to be learned throughout the process.
Dallas-based design firm Wilson Associates worked on the original design for the Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico, and it revisited the property to assess damage after the resort was hit by Hurricane Maria last year.
Michael Crosby, principal at the firm, said the buildings that make up the resort did not suffer much damage since they were built to withstand severe weather, but the hurricane knocked out the power at the hotel, which led to a humidity problem and damage to the interior, he said.
The hotel’s insurance company went through the property to assess the damage. After that, the Wilson Associates team went to do their own assessment and plan for a redesign.
Read through HNN’s Q&A with Crosby for his take on what the process for updating the design of a luxury resort after a hurricane was like.
Q: How did the insurance agencies factor into the redesign?
A: “The client and the owners, they do a kind of presentation or proposal to them and they work out what’s critical to replace or upgrade, and it’s not just furniture (fixtures and other equipment) … they first have to do a big clean up because all of the pipes in the drains get filled with (sand and mud) and everything gets overwhelmed … there’s a lot they have to assess and it’s critical … you have this huge property sitting there, and it needs to get back up and running.
“Part of that, to find the right kind of replacement stuff, pretty much everything nowadays that is designed for a resort environment, we always specify outdoor, durable furniture and fabrics. You get all kinds of product ranges nowadays like … marine grade, stainless steel … so the manufacturers and the design companies who design furniture … they know the market and they know how to come up with ideas for those kinds of settings.”
Q: How did you find aesthetically-pleasing FF&E that’s durable enough to hold up in tropical climate? How did that apply to the redesign as a whole?
A: “What we do is we have good relationships with our vendors here in Dallas and a lot of the high-end and top manufacturers for those types of applications, they have incredible ranges of furniture. Resort furniture, pool furniture, things like umbrellas, daybeds … they have amazing (ranges) of prototype pieces, which (we) can view and we can research.
“Coupled with that, we will always, in this case, we have a strong story line that goes with it, so we use that as a basis for creating and profiting color palettes (and) fabric palettes, depending on whether it’s more textured, it’s more color, it’s an accent color … so (we can) really customize the soft fabrics and furnishings to go with the appropriate style of furniture we select, which in this case is more leaning toward mid-century modern because of the history of the property…
“The custom design, and in fact, being a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, they have very strict standards given about things like a pillow on a bed … (it) can’t have a label on it (from the manufacturer). It has to be very customized. They don’t like to have any form of advertisement, so that’s how customized they are.”
Q: When you were thinking about doing this project and how to accomplish it, how did you factor in warranties and other tangibles in an area that’s prone to hurricanes?
A: “Some of the things we realized is we didn’t need, in the beginning, one of the designs we had (weighed 10 years ago for the original design) was an outdoor beverage station on each terrace. They have their private pools, and the idea was to have this kind of butler service. When you (came back from the beach), the outdoor mini fridge had been replenished, etc. Over time … those things became really subject to just general weather and we realized … we’re not going to put minibars back in that area, there’s no need for that, they just get torn up, and so we’ve completely taken out those. It was part of a built-in banquet arrangement on the terrace…
“In the new relaunch, it is going to be replaced by a comfortable, two-person loveseat day bed, which is much more practical and it is far less maintenance.”
Q: How did you deal with the assessment of issues such as mold and other types of damage to areas of the hotel?
A: “We always try to focus on specifying fabrics (that) are not susceptible to that. It doesn’t help when you have an enclosed space and it is humid and there’s no air conditioning. That’s inevitable, you can’t help that because it grows everywhere and you have to dig behind paneling to make sure it’s not there.
“The furniture chosen is … synthetic resin and these outdoor fabrics they can withstand that, so that’s how we kind of work around that.”
Q: What are some of the things other people might not think about when restoring a luxury resort after a hurricane that you didn’t think about at first?
A: “I think, for all of us, on the rooftop suites, they have these rooftop pools, and then next to the rooftop pool is this signature daybed. It’s a magazine cover-type look … it is like a daybed with a pool beyond and then the palm trees and the ocean. Now that large mattress was placed on top of a coral stone platform, which is very luxurious.
“After seeing what should have really been is, we (specified) this round, a low wood platform enables the water to drain out of the bottom of that mattress … so that eliminates the mold. You kind of realize OK, we don’t need this or we do need that…”
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you learned throughout this process?
A: “The unpredictable nature of a hurricane, you never think it is going to happen to a project you’ve worked on…
“It is unfortunate that the power situation on the entire island was such an issue. It took … construction techniques (more subject to) stricter codes.
“So these buildings that survived, the one thing you don’t want is the wind damage, (which) is really the worst … it enables the air to come in and blow things out and some of the older buildings (had) that kind of damage.
“You have to be prepared as best you can, really.”