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Cheeca Lodge & Spa Stays True To Its Florida Keys Roots While Redefining Luxury

ISLAMORADA, FL KEYS— When Cheeca Holdings, LLC decided Cheeca Lodge & Spa here was ready for a face-lift, it had a very clear picture of what the outcome should be. However, it took a couple of attempts to fully achieve that vision.
A long-time favorite in the Florida Keys, Cheeca Lodge & Spa wanted to better reflect its image as a premier luxury destination but also stay true to its tradition as a fishing resort, according to John MacMullen, director of sales and marketing at the property, which is managed by RockResorts. “We have been a retreat that high-profile people have come to disappear and we wanted to hold true to those roots but also be able to compete with other luxury destinations such as Naples,” he said. “We needed to transcend to the next level and up our caliber in order to cater to the top 5% of business and leisure travelers.”
About a yea- and-a-half ago, the owners called upon Deborah Frustino, designer and owner of Mountainside Designs, to take over the renovation after they were displeased with the first redesign. “The project started without me, but the owners weren’t happy,” said Frustino, who has designed several other RockResorts properties. Following the first renovation, she reported the look was “monochromatic with clean lines, it wasn’t high-end enough and didn’t have enough pizzazz. We completely changed that to reflect a more traditional Keys feeling.”
As part of the redesign, Cheeca Lodge & Spa was planning to convert 96 of its 198 rooms into condo hotel residences. Therefore, Frustino set out to design rooms that looked residential but would also offer the necessary durability. “I changed the carpet, walls and bedding and made them much warmer,” she explained.
The concept behind the design was to reflect the Caribbean feel that is traditionally associated with the Florida Keys. “We wanted it to be a place people could enjoy the Caribbean, without actually going there,” said MacMullen. “The rooms are done in the tropical style that is characteristic of South Florida but also offers upscale urban amenities.”
Frustino used a color palette of green, brown and golden tones to reflect a “Tommy Bahama” feel in the guestrooms. “The rooms were on the darker side, so I lightened them up and used tomato red as an accent color for some pop,” she said. Frustino used a carpet with a mix of gold, green and black that offers a residential feel and chose dark woods for the carved headboards and mahogany for the case goods. “The previous dressers did not hold up, so it was redesigned to better accommodate the minibar and DVD player,” she said. The dressers are topped with marble as are the nightstands which all feature unique carvings in an effort to move away from the uniformity usually associated with hotel furniture.
In the condo hotel units Frustino changed the sofa to make it look more residential and chose a dark chocolate cigar chair as well as a woven leather ottoman for the living room.
In an effort to further brighten the rooms, Frustino added tall tropical-inspired Frederick Cooper lamps that are accented with cast bronze parrots, which have been a huge success. “Guests are constantly asking where they can buy them,” she said.
While Frustino did not have to completely gut the guest bathrooms, she did implement a thorough redesign. The guest bathrooms now feature golden Jerusalem stone floors, dark mahogany chests and etched glass double doors that open to the sleeping areas. Soaking tubs and glass showers were added and instead of the white porcelain fixtures previously found in the baths, new ones in an amber hue were installed. “We changed the accessories in the baths to more high-end ones because here, the salt air can corrode them,” Frustino explained.
Oddly enough, the corridors of Cheeca’s main lodge turned out to be one of Frustino’s favorite areas. “I used Axminster carpet with a Tommy Bahama flair as well as rattan on the walls and custom sconces with carved wood monkeys,” she said. “It’s a whole new feel.”
With the guestroom renovation nearly complete, Frustino has also completed work on Cheeca Lodge’s tiki bar, which features a thatched roof and lounge type leather seating. Continued renovations on the property’s restaurant and dining areas are also in the works. The property has also added lush tropical foliage as well as a lagoon and waterfall.
“Before we were just a hotel by the ocean, now we’re a vacation destination with more depth,” said MacMullen. “There are beautiful resorts all over Florida, but Deborah has created a décor package here that evokes serene emotion.”