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Lynn Wilson Brings A Royal Touch To Hotels Worldwide

or more than 30 years, designer Lynn Wilson has been lending her talent to a widespread assortment of projects. With an illustrious client list encompassing Queen Elizabeth of England, the kings of Morocco and Abu Dhabi, King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan and his royal highness Sheik Hamden Maktoum in the United Arab Emirates as well as celebrities such as Donald Trump, Wilson has also designed a multitude of major hospitality projects worldwide including her latest endeavor, The Regent South Beach in Miami.
Wilson began her career as an architect, but switched to design after realizing it would give her greater professional freedom. “I started as an architect, but women were much more limited in that field then,” she said. In 1970, Wilson opened her own firm whose headquarters are located in Coral Gables, FL, and today, Lynn Wilson Associates International has satellite offices in such major cities as Paris, London, Tokyo and Madrid.
Having designed for royalty as well as for some of the world’s most exclusive hotels, including the Taj Mahal Hotels in India, Wilson brings a unique international perspective to each of her projects. While her design talents may take her all over the world, she also holds a particular fondness for historic projects in the U.S., many of which have been located right here in Florida such as The Biltmore in Coral Gables, The Vinoy in St. Petersburg and The Boca Raton Resort & Club. “There is so much love and so much history in those properties. When you see historic hotels such as The Biltmore and The Boca Raton [Resort & Club] saved— that’s our U.S. history and when you’re designing, its important to make it blend seamlessly with that history because you’re saving artisans work,” she said.
Wilson noted that she frequently crosses her designs over from the residential side to the hospitality side and vice versa, especially in international projects. “I’m always putting together great schemes from vendors and I wait for the right opportunity to use them,” she explained, adding that whether the project is a hotel or a king’s palace, a personal connection with her clients is critical. “When my firm designs for a king or queen, it’s me who goes to meet face-to-face with them because having a hands-on relationship with my clients is very important. Those unique meetings have been very special opportunities for me,” she said. “I travel with 25 to 30 color boards and eight sample books because palaces are far more personal [than hotels].”
When it comes to designing outside the U.S., Wilson reported that while it’s crucial to be aware of the culture of an area, often her reputation precedes her. “I can bring in ethnic elements, but sometimes a hotel wants ‘something different’ and that’s why they chose me— they want my American style and knowledge.” But she does enjoy the freedom to use top-of-the-line materials. “Overseas, they are used to paying more, so there’s no resistance. I get to use the best, most expensive fabric and huge slabs of granite and marble…it can be an adjustment going back to designing for U.S. hotels!”
Wilson’s latest accomplishment, The Regent South Beach, promises to be a chic, stylish addition to Miami’s famed Ocean Drive. The $76 million, 80-suite luxury condo hotel, which is slated to open early this year, was from the start a project close to Wilson’s heart— literally. “I have traveled and worked all over the world and no matter where you go, there’s no place like South Beach. And the fact that it’s practically in my backyard was wonderful,” said Wilson. “It [South Beach] has such a unique aura because of the geographic location and the great Art Deco tradition that exists there. Right now, it’s a combination of new architecture and an effort to restore and maintain that tradition.”
The five-story Regent South Beach, which first began construction in October of 2003, was designed to be a fresh take on the classic Art Deco style that has made South Beach famous. Wilson, explained that Arquitectonica, the hotel’s architect, has taken the movement’s geometric designs and clean lines a step further. “This building is a totally new statement. Arquitectonica has interpreted the Art Deco movement and taken it to a new level so that from the inside out the hotel blends finishes and materials to create a seamless look that reflects the feel of Ocean Drive.”
One factor that was critical to the design of the hotel was the fact that it was ground-up new construction, a rarity in South Beach. “Because it was new construction, we didn’t have to deal with any of the historic restrictions that would come with a conversion,” said Michael Fernandez, the new hotel’s general manager. “From the start, that provided us with a great deal of design latitude and Lynn has really capitalized on that.”
Wilson relished the greater design freedom the building provided. “When other buildings in South Beach are redesigned, you have to make the rooms fit into a 30- to 40-year-old footprint. No matter what you do, you can’t create more space,” she said. “We had none of those constraints here and that allowed us to create the type of space and modern amenities you only get with a new build.”
Inside the suites at The Regent South Beach, Wilson created a modern look with sleek European flair. She used highly polished Jerusalem stone flooring, which features a golden tone that resembles the color of the sand on Miami’s legendary beaches and dark solid wood furniture complements the floor’s neutral tone. “I chose maple because it doesn’t have a strong grain,” she explained. “With a smooth almost invisible grain, the wood created very sleek lines.”
Wilson’s goal for the suites was to combine the living, dining and bedroom areas into one open space, which meant a break with tradition in terms of furniture. “There are no closets, dressers or desks— none of the elements on the traditional hotel ‘shopping list.’ It’s a very European trend, having no closets. Instead we created modular furniture units,” she said. The suites feature one entire wall of glass and a custom designed, rounded wall unit that extends from floor to ceiling, with one side facing the bedroom and the other side facing the living area. Incorporated into the unit are two flat-screen televisions, and a Bose stereo system. “It’s a very vital, multi-purpose piece,” said Wilson. “The room looks divided, but still conveys an open feel.”
In the living area, Wilson chose to forgo the traditional sofa bed and opted instead for a chic, Italian-designed, 3-position sofa that slides from a couch, to a lounge with footrests, to a king-sized bed. “It’s not a fold-out, it’s an elegant, multi-position piece of furniture,” she said.
The sleek, contemporary kitchen boasts stainless steel appliances, European faucets and a wrap-around black granite counter that features two adjustable stools, each made from one smooth piece of contoured wood. “It serves as a desk as well as a dining space,” Wilson added.
Another intriguing feature of The Regent South Beach suites are the sprawling bathrooms that run the entire length of the unit and can be divided into three separate areas with the help of a series of frosted sliding glass doors. The first, a dressing area with a vanity that is generously lit; the second a water closet; and at the far end is the bath/shower area, where an oversized shower with a built-in bench offers six different showerheads. “Guests can have their privacy or leave the doors open for one large space,” she explained.
Wilson used a soft color scheme that complements the sunlight the floor-to-ceiling windows welcome into the room. In addition to the gold-toned marble floors, the walls exude the same sandy tones in warm shades. The sofa is upholstered in a soft chenille suede-like fabric in beige tones and golden threads run through the sheer silk drapes.
Wilson chose terra cotta for the accent color that is used throughout the suite. “There is an accent wall behind the bed and another behind the sofa that is painted terra cotta with an English imported finish,” she said, adding that the color is also echoed in silk pillows in the living and sleeping areas.
The soft color scheme of the suites is part of Wilson’s overall design philosophy for the hotel. Instead of making the rooms vibrant and busy, she chooses to let the people add color and life to the spaces. “In South Beach, the people are the color. When you’re there, you see fabulous fashions you wouldn’t see any place else so you can’t just picture the room empty— people use the space and give it that flamboyant South Beach quality,” she said. “It was important to make the room an environment for personalities and not make it too jumpy or active by itself.”
Wilson’s designs extend beyond the confines of the suite by way of the balconies that every suite offers— a rare occurrence for a South Beach hotel. An extension of the room, they are richly decorated with a dining set, additional tables and two chaise lounges. But the real standout feature of the hotel (and Wilson’s personal favorite) are its 27 penthouse suites which each have a spiral staircase leading up to a private terrace complete with a hot tub surrounded by platforms of marble complete with cushions, an oversized wicker lounging bed, wet bar and remote controlled canvas awning.
The lobby of The Regent South Beach echoes the same sophisticated Art Deco feel with Venetian plaster walls, a chiseled stone floor with real bronze inserts and a Venetian glass chandelier constructed of individual pieces of glass strung together with stainless steel. Dark wood furniture with copper leather upholstery and two walls of complete glass complete the chic space.
The classy, uncomplicated European styling of the Regent South Beach is part of a contemporary design trend Wilson predicts will gain more popularity in the U.S. in the future. “Contemporary, ultra-sleek designs are in— it’s been ‘in’ in Europe for a long time. There’s much more of a free spirit with design these days and much more exciting architecture.”
Lynn Wilson Associates International typically works on 10 to 12 hotels per year and some of Wilson’s current projects include the recently completed Ritz-Carlton in Santiago, Chile as well as several resorts in the works in Central America “that are in the boutique style, which I love,” said Wilson. “I’m always on the lookout for the next exciting experience.”