Outside of Phoenix, the Phoenician Scottsdale, a Luxury Collection Resort, recently wrapped a multiyear renovation. The lobby was updated in late 2017 with new restaurants, and the brand-new three-story spa opened in early 2018. The project ended in April with the refurbishment of the resort’s golf clubhouse and tavern.
“The resort was built in the mid-80s, and although it had had a number of softgood renovations over the years it had never been reimagined in a more modern way,” said Barbara Parker, cofounder of Sudbury, Mass.-based Parker-Torres Design, which handled much of the project. When Host Hotels & Resorts acquired the 643-room resort for $400 million in 2015, the new owners decided it was time to make a change—and a change was needed. “The hotel had no character,” said Miriam Torres, cofounder of Parker-Torres, of the property’s 1980s aesthetic. Parker agreed: “The first time I went there prior to our starting the design, if you sat with your back against the window and looked into the lobby, you could have been anywhere in the world.” The marble floors, wood paneling and crystal chandeliers were too generic for a new generation of travelers that demands authenticity in their hotels.
With Host ready to “make a big investment” in the redesign, Parker and Torres started researching the history of Scottsdale and Camelback Mountain. Meeting with the curator of anthropology at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, they learned about the Hohokam and Pima tribes that had lived in the area for centuries, incorporating cultural elements into the hotel’s design. The bronze screens by the check-in space were inspired by the Pima basket designs (and developed along with the curator to ensure authenticity). The concierge desk, meanwhile, has a custom leather art panel that was inspired by the area’s topography and fabricated in cow hide—paying homage to the region’s cattle ranching heritage. The updated carpeting in the lobby was inspired by a rattlesnake’s patterns, and desert flora and fauna were incorporated into the space.
“We really wanted it to be indigenous, to feel like it was part of the landscape and part of really the Arizona experience,” Parker said.
Rising from the Ashes
The brand new spa, meanwhile, was inspired by the name of the resort—and of the Phoenix of legend. “It was very easy to assimilate the story of the phoenix, which is all about renewal and rebirth and so well suited to a spa environment because we all go there to get refreshed,” according to Parker.
Behind the spa’s front desk, Parker-Torres installed a backlit abstracted sculptural element that evokes phoenix wings. The corridors, meanwhile, have torchieres that evoke a bird’s nest. “All throughout the renovation you'll find lots of those artistic, artisanal touches,” Parker said.
While the hotel team was enthusiastic about the renovation and Parker-Torres’ vision, one dramatic element of the lobby gave them pause. The space had a central fountain that Parker and Torres hoped to move. “It was taking up valuable seating space and revenue-producing space,” Parker recalled. And since the fountain was adjacent to the check-in area, the sound of water falling made quiet conversations between guests and staff difficult.
The fountain, Torres acknowledged, was iconic and historic—and removing a beloved element from a space can seem intimidating. But with “multiple rounds” of detailed renderings, Parker and Torres were able to show the client what the new space would look like, and how the lobby could be “activated” without the fountain in the way. “The bar in the lobby was placed in a very small room to the right,” Torres recalled. “That room became a tea room and instead we put the bar in the back and center the lobby so you can look at it as you walk in.”
A bar would not only open the space up but would offer dramatic views of the valley to guests as they first walked through the doors. Not only that, but removing the fountain would give enough space to double the seating of the former bar. With those numbers in mind, the hotel team was able to calculate how much more revenue they would be able to generate from the lobby alone. The fountain was removed and the Thirsty Camel lounge opened in the heart of the lobby as a social hub for guests and locals. “Now you can look right through the lobby,” Torres said. “It just changed the whole [space]. It was fantastic.”
To further open up the lobby, the hotel’s front desk was reconfigured as several pods, and a custom-made chandelier was installed above the concierge desk to catch the eye—much as the former fountain had done before the renovation. The chandelier’s look was inspired by the seed pods of the agave plant, and the layering of the chandelier against the weathered texture of the plaster wallcovering is meant to look like the plant’s appearance against the scorched desert floor. Parker and Torres also installed a new sculpture from South Korean artist Lee Seong-gu. Solaris is meant to evoke sunlight and warmth, and offer a calming arrival experience.