Last year, W Atlanta-Buckhead celebrated 10 years with the brand—making it the perfect time for a $20-million refresh designed to bring that chic-meets-rebel luster back to the property, taking cues from fashion, design and art.
Woodbine Legacy Investments turned to a number of firms for the renovation of the 12-story, 291-room luxury hotel: C+TC Design Studio served as architect and interior designer for the guestrooms and rooftop bar, Whiskey Blue; Studio 11 designed the lobby, public areas and meeting spaces; and Genoa Construction was tapped as the general contractor.
While most W hotels can be described as “hip” and “edgy,” Billie Thorne, principal, C+TC Design Studio, noted that W Atlanta-Buckhead had been one of the first W hotels to open—so it had a lot of traditional elements, like crown molding. “With that in mind, we wanted to create a renovation narrative that could tie the existing hotel to the newly renovated hotel and the W brand as it is today, which is edgier than it was a decade ago,” she said. “We felt this narrative would also help us preserve the Buckhead property’s unique identity given it is now one of three in Atlanta.”
The starting point for developing a story was not only in the hotel, but in the community—specifically, the world-class shopping that Buckhead is known for. Thorne pointed to the legacy of “Buckhead Betty,” a term used to describe Atlanta women who frequented the neighborhood to shop.
“Back in the day, Atlantans would take a boxcar train out to Buckhead for R&R, enjoying cocktails along the way. Some patterns in the guestrooms and guest corridors were inspired by the boxcars from the past, but color has been added to add an unexpected playful surprise,” she said.
“We determined that our narrative was that Buckhead Betty had willed her traditional-style home (in this case, the hotel) to her niece Bitsy, a stylish and well-traveled young woman,” Thorne added. “Bitsy was renovating her home (the hotel) to reflect her preferences, as well as her love of shopping in Buckhead and around the world. This narrative allowed us to marry the old and new elements of the hotel in a way that’s authentic, artful and well aligned with the W brand today— as well as reflective of the surrounding Buckhead neighborhood and city of Atlanta.”
Thorne described the hotel’s ambiance as energetic and edgy. “It’s a place to celebrate, gather…and experience life,” she said. “Different spaces throughout the hotel offer different atmospheres, like a house would—and I love that. It isn’t matchy-matchy, it feels curated.”
The hotel renovation included the addition of a dedicated welcome area for the concierge team; new furnishings; and a café-style seating arrangement. The new, flexible layout in the public spaces flows easily from day to night, showcasing fashion, art, music experiences and more. In the lobby/living room, a custom installation/mural by Chris Veal is the backdrop for the W photo booth. Images taken in front of the mural will be looped to the hotel’s Instagram account and displayed on an adjacent Polaroid-style screen—creating a real-time art experience that highlights the mural and people’s interactions with it and each other.
The hotel’s 11,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor/outdoor function space received new furnishings, paint, carpeting, lighting and artwork, along with enhanced spaces for breakout sessions and pre- and post-function events and activities. The fitness center got a new look with refreshed surfaces and updated artwork, while maintaining views of the city.
Guest accommodations—286 guest rooms, 4 WOW Suites and 1 EWOW Suite—were enhanced with new headboards, armoires, sophisticated damask wallcoverings and carpeting, 55-in. televisions, in-room Nespresso machines and beverage bar, and vivid artwork throughout.
“The guestrooms have their own identity, and function a bit like a studio for each guest,” Thorne said. “The flexible setup lends well to getting work done, but also having a drink or bite to eat— or even visiting with a friend. While many people don’t spend that much time in guestrooms, if you do here, it’s a lot of fun.”
With the feel of a home or studio, guestrooms offer various elements that speak to Buckhead, the city and the brand. “The carpet pattern is bold but understated thanks to a coloration, and the wallcoverings feature a damask pattern that is blown up and larger scale than expected,” Thorne said. “The look gives a nod to classic elements while achieving a feel that’s also bold and fashion-forward, which is what Bitsy would want.
“In addition to the artful surfaces, there are also artful moments in the room via the bed pillow, which is a W signature, and locally sourced wall art,” she continued. “These would be finds Bitsy would have sought out to pay homage to Atlanta. The graffiti bed pillow is a tip of the hat to the city’s graffiti culture, and the wall art is the work of Lela Brunet, a muralist, artist and designer who is known for art featuring female figures with energetic patterns, colors and textures—making it a thoughtful and striking complement to the room.”
Thorne said that features of the guestroom include “a cocktail cubby and lounge area tucked into each room along the window; and a white marble table that’s perfect for work, coffee and cocktails, and its style is a bit unexpected—but again, it’s an infusion of the tradition based on the idea that Bitsy’s home would have classic pieces she would have inherited from her aunt or collected during her travels. The same goes for the nightstands, some of which are new and modern, and others of which are updated and refinished versions of the older ones. These variations also align with what people really do with furniture in their homes—they don’t just get rid of it, they rethink and reinvent it with paint, finishes and the like.”
Guestrooms also have a wardrobe with a mirrored back, “which makes it a space not only to store but also display your own wardrobe, shopping bags and finds during your time in Buckhead,” Thorne said. “The wardrobe is a signature piece that’s fashionable and functional, providing a beautiful solution to what was a limited amount of space for a closet.
“The bathroom is a gem as well,” Thorne added. “In contrast to the guestroom, it has a cleaner and simpler palette— but it’s no less bold thanks to the graphic black and white wallpaper. The space feels fresh and works well with the entryway while also playing off the bright pops of the guestroom. Also, the storefront-inspired glass entry door that surrounds the bathrooms in the king rooms is a special moment. The bathrooms used to be more open to the guestroom space, and this custom solution was inspired by retail storefronts. It lightens up the space and upgrades it visually as well.”
Thorne noted that the EWOW and WOW suites were some of her favorite features. “The EWOW space in particular is designed and appointed for entertaining, with beautiful bar cabinet that’s lit with glass interior and a little cocktail trolley—inspired by the boxcar trains of yore that took people to Buckhead in previous eras,” she said. “There’s also great seating throughout, with ottomans, funky chairs and a well-appointed living area.”
Rooftop bar Whiskey Blue reopened in November 2018. Its refresh included new furnishings, flooring, wallcoverings, lighting, artwork, terrace furnishings and landscaping, as well as changes to the entrance elevator and surrounding rooftop, including Chris Veal’s 66-ft. walkway mural.
“Being one of the only rooftop bars in the city, it’s a huge draw,” Thorne said. “The renovation there was less extensive but still notable, with an infusion of seating inside and out, the addition of reflective surfaces, upgraded finishes and lighting—all of which enhance the atmosphere and overall vibe. The bar is more of a big-group space where larger parties go out together, compared to the hotel’s lobby bar, which has cozier setups that lends more to intimate conversations. Whiskey Blue’s identity is separate from the hotel but still features a contemporary and bold style, including the statement mural that spans the bar’s entry walkway. Again, there’s nothing like the views at Whiskey Blue. Like the hotel, it has a prime location that makes it a great place celebrate and enjoy.”
A second phase of renovation is planned for later in 2019; it will focus on the hotel’s restaurant, Cook Hall.