In early September, the Montage Palmetto Bluff completed its largest ever expansion. The property, which is located in South Carolina’s low country, was first inspired by a mansion built by affluent New York banker Richard T. Wilson in Palmetto Bluff in 1902. After the mansion succumbed to fire in 1926, Wilson refused to rebuild it. The Montage property was designed to mirror the look and feel of the original mansion, something Montage Hotels & Resorts was keen to maintain through the new additions to the property.
In order to pull off this update, Montage signed on with design firm HKS Hospitality Group to rework the grounds of the resort, adding 150 new keys, including 74 accommodations at the property’s Inn, and 76 guestrooms along the banks of the property’s inland waterways. The lobby lounge in the Inn was also updated to added a new library and fireplace, screened-in wraparound porch and a bar. Other additions include a new restaurant, Jessamine, and a coastal-inspired spa as well as 7,200 square feet of event space.
According to Marcus Jackson, GM of the Montage Palmetto Bluff, one of the greatest challenges facing the property was recognition from the general public. "Not many individuals have heard of the location," he said. "The inn at the Palmetto Bluff has many accolades, but a large percentage of our target audience wasn't familiar with the location. That's why we set out with an advertising campaign and marketing plan to get the word out."
Jackson said the initial draw of the property is the natural beauty of the hotel's surroundings. The property sits on 20,000 acres of land, with a front drive almost six miles long. "It's the quintessential Southern town," Jackson said. "Gaslamp lit streets, bridges over waterways, an architectural style that takes people's breath away."
The resort takes advantage of its ample space by offering kayaking, canoeing, tennis facilities, access to a golf course, equestrian activities, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, a shooting club and more.
"We highlighted our use of the rivers on property, the salt marshes are stunning," Jackson said. "We restored a yacht, The Grace, and it goes out daily for wine cruises and historical cruises along the May River. Dolphins and eagles can be seen regularly."
The development of the addition at the hand of HKS Hospitality Group began roughly four years ago. Through the update, HKS added 150 new keys, a new spa and public spaces to the resort, with a heavy emphasis on staying true to the property’s history and legacy. Don Harrier, principal at HKS, said one of the greatest challenges was complying with a long list of restrictions designed to keep additions within the scope of the original buildings, such as a mandated three-story height limit and rules regarding waterways.
“It’s easy to get into a site like this for construction, but in our world we have staging areas for materials, contractor trailers, etc., and because of the environment we had to build another building first to house back-of-the-house areas, maintenance, administration and parking,” Harrier said. “There were a lot of logistics involved as far as taking care of the site.”
Great emphasis was placed on designing around the property’s waterways as well. The main lodge and a number of smaller buildings line the waters of the resort, creating a footprint that HKS could plan around, and Harrier was able to play off the architectural design of other nearby buildings in order to make the new additions seem timeless.”
The existing manor there is in what is commonly referred to as ‘low country,’” Harrier said. “The architecture is a function of a lifestyle centered on dealing with the environment and the heat. The principles of design there include a taller ceiling height on the first floor since heat rises, and a lot of closed porches. We wanted to incorporate that, and scale to a size that did not exist on that site already.”
Harrier said that the team was so successful with the renovation was partly to do with the level of freedom Montage gave them during the process. “There are other operators that give you a thick book of design standards that you have to hold on to during design. Montage doesn’t do that,” he said. “They look at every site as an opportunity to explore, with respect, the vernacular of the area as well as the creativity of the design team.”
Before any guests set foot on the new Palmetto Bluff property, Jackson wants them to understand the uniqueness of the location. “The property has the best of what nature has to offer.”