A first-hand look at how the brand’s debut hotel in the Riviera Maya redefines the look and feel of all-inclusive luxury.
While buzz words like authentic, handcrafted and eco-friendly made their way to the forefront of the creative brief, the contemporary result was not what I would have expected from a stereotypical Latin American beach retreat. (No plastering the palette in vibrant Mexican patterns or mosaics here.) The regional factor was micro-local. Everything felt indigenous to the site, which is near a Mayan village.
“Our typical approach to any project is to utilize the materials and skills of the location in which we are working,” said Farmerie. “We also gravitate towards finishes that are more natural. So designing for sustainability was not a difficult task for us.”
The design team worked with local fabricators to incorporate native materials and then played up their natural qualities. That meant spending a lot of time teaming with area artisans and agents on wood finishes and material sourcing. “We also found that slabs of local stone were sometimes cheaper than tiled surfaces in this process,” added Farmerie. “As a result, we ended up with a higher quality feel at a lower budget.”
The main lobby corridor at UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya.
But collaborating presented its own challenges. Farmerie said that in terms of the materials, most of the hurdles came from fabricating the metal finishes. “We certainly learned a lot about how to better design to the skills of the local artisans there,” he added.
Even finding those local craftsmen took insider help. “We were fortunate to have both a contractor with many local connections already in place, as well as a client that had completed multiple projects in the area,” said Harris. “Therefore, we had some built-in vendors to work with.”
Beyond that, the designers took a number of trips to Mexico City, Guadalajara and Xuohaca to find local crafts and materials for the project, including a collection of ancient Mexican sabers and armor that decorate the resort’s lobby lounge, whose concept takes cues from a mythical patriarch’s library.
Design details within the lobby lounge at UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya.
Overall, the biggest challenge was tuning the designers’ vision to the local construction processes. “We had to adapt to the techniques of the region, while pushing for certain details we felt were important,” Farmerie said. “The most rewarding aspect, however, is always seeing everything come to life, when the individual operators start to buy into and take ownership of the various stories and narratives that informed the design, and imbue these concepts into the food, bar displays, the music and the service.”
Speaking of F&B, the firm also designed all of the hotel’s five restaurants and six bars. “With each space, we tried to find a unique quality while maintaining a level of tonal and material consistency throughout,” said Bradshaw. Each restaurant takes its inspiration from an industry or landscape in Mexico. For example, the Japanese restaurant celebrates the cultivation of indigenous agave plant, sisal; the Mexican restaurant pays tribute to mescal and tequila production and distilleries; and the beach bar nods to exploration, mapping and the area’s ruins.
Cueva Siete restaurant at UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya.
To me, it’s these dining and nightlife concepts that really inject energy into an otherwise relaxed—almost ethereal—atmosphere. For instance, the mid-century-, Cuban-inspired bar has a classic Rat Pack feel, decked out with plush fabrics, seashell motif wallcoverings, strings of beads, dynamic mood lighting and a lot of color in contrast with the property’s other spaces.
Helping solidify that vibe, AvroKO’s Brand Bureau division collaborated with the hotel’s ownership in creating the naming and graphics for each restaurant and the food and drink offerings, as well as the development of the property’s website. “They were able to bring a lot of operational know-how to the project to help follow through on the interior design with unique plate ware, glass ware, uniforms, etc., which really helped to create a sense of consistency in each space,” noted O’Neal.
For more on my visit to UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya, check out The Buzz section in Boutique Design’s soon-to-be-released July/August edition.
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