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A Pirate’s Life

What do you get when you combine a modern hotel aesthetic with unique local history that includes a pirate, lost treasure and sea turtles? The new Cambria Hotel St. Petersburg—Madeira Beach Marina, located a block from the beach and marina at Madeira Beach, FL. Completed by Jacki Arena Interiors, InspireDesign got a history lesson plus some design insight from Principal/Owner Jacki Arena on the new project:

Can you detail your design process? Where do you start?
We typically start by identifying the story we want to tell through the design, along with the client’s vision, and create concept boards or storyboards. Then, we look at the brand standards and make sure we incorporate their signature features, then we get creative! We go through the typical process of conceptual/schematic design, design development, construction documentation and construction admin/observation all combined with brand reviews and team coordination.

How did the location/culture inspire this property’s design? How did history inspire it?
This property is a block from the beach and located on the marina. When researching Madeira Beach, we discovered these facts. Starting with the two-mile long beach: The town’s slogan “Ready. Set. Relax.” Operations is tying this slogan into various marketing material.

We drew from history, a reference to John LeVique, the pirate who is credited as the first western settler of the area. According to legend, John LeVique was not typical of most pirates in that he didn’t acquire much treasure because he didn’t hold those he captured for ransom. He did have a small chest of gold that he buried on the beach, retired as a pirate, and then settled in the area and became a turtle farmer. This is where our turtle theme comes in. Apparently, after returning from a trip to New Orleans where he sold many of his turtles, he found the island where his gold was buried was split in two by a huge storm—right where he had buried his treasure. This is now a very popular tourist destination called John’s Pass that has many shops and restaurants 1.5 miles from our hotel.

Based on this research, we incorporated the sea turtles into the guestroom headboard murals as well as into the first floor lobby’s 41-in. wide mural. We also took the idea of treasures, defined as gold/coins, jewels, compasses, maps, etc., and hid them throughout the hotel in the artwork and even in the tiles of the pool. There are gold coins grouted into the pool tiles for guests to seek out.

Since this hotel has a parking garage on the first two levels, the main lobby is on the third floor. So, we decided to make the small “jump lobby” on the first floor have a “below sea level” theme with the underwater mural, rugs and furnishings with the colors of sea glass and oversized pendants that take on the shape of sea urchins or something to that effect. Guests take the elevator up to the third floor and now they are “on land” with tropical palms, florals and greenery. The decorative lobby columns with etched palms and the carpets tell most of the story along with some of the artwork. This is all done very subtly so guests don’t necessarily realize any of this during their stay.

What were some challenges you faced designing this project and how did you overcome those?
The biggest challenge with this property was the structural design of the building. The columns required created the challenge of 65 different room types instead of our typical eight-12 room types. That creates a challenge for designing and quantifying items that we are specifying and having purchased. Instead of two or three vanity sizes, we had to design 14 of them. Another challenge was the Cambria brand referred us to this absolutely wonderful client, but unfortunately much later than we would normally become engaged, so this was more a build-design project than a design-build. The earlier ID can be brought on board, the more time we save the client, which then affects his schedule and ROI.

How are you incorporating new social-distancing protocols and cleanliness expectations into the design?
This hotel just opened in June, so all was designed before and installed during COVID-19. Fortunately, we used back painted glass and stone tops on nearly all the surfaces in the guestrooms (casegoods, vanity, etc.) so they will withstand the new cleaning standards our industry is adapting to. Since we are across from the beach, we already specified crypton fabrics and as many antimicrobial materials as possible due to sand, salt and suntan lotion. The hotel owner—who is at the property all day every day, greeting guests, checking rooms, mopping, and vacuuming—and his management team are following all of the COVID-19 protocols for the Cambria brand as well as local protocol, which changes frequently.