Andrew Bockner has transformed his fair share of outdoor spaces at hotels. The al-fresco-adoring purveyor behind Andrew Richard Designs, a fine outdoor-furniture showroom in Toronto, shares a singular affection for making the most of under-the-sky spaces, and he’s learned the best way to do that is with upfront planning.
“I’ve seen so many projects where hoteliers get really ambitious with their desires for the outdoors,” says Bockner, who’s worked on Toronto’s Hazleton Hotel, the city’s newly opened Trump International Hotel & Tower and The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. “And then, after they burn all kinds of money inside and go over budget, [outdoor design] is the first thing that gets cut.”
It’s unfortunate because a captivating hotel interior is one thing, but a captivating hotel in its entirety is another. Whether it’s a spectacular rooftop pool or a swank outdoor lounge off the lobby, a well-designed outdoor space can become a buzz-worthy destination in its own right. So, what’s the formula for courting the crowds? Create an environment guests won’t want to leave.
You don’t have to look very far for inspiration. “If you go into the living room of a well-designed home, you may see a couple of cotton bergère chairs and a sofa in a totally different fabric; maybe a cast-iron table base next to an old French, hand-carved wood cabinet,” Bockner says. “It’s about mixing materials. I personally despise setting up a space with the exact same chair or fabric.”
So what does it cost to bring outdoor nirvana to a hotel? “It comes down to the size of the space and how much of it is furnished,” says Bockner, who has seen hoteliers spend anywhere from $250,000 to $2.5 million.
Bockner’s own summer 2013 collection is a nautically nuanced mixed bag. Inspired by the Côte d’Azur region in the south of France, the colours are coastal — white or grey in sofas and chairs; propped with striped, solid and diamond-pattern pillows in deeper hues, it makes a striking statement. In terms of the pieces themselves, these are a mash-up; everything from petite wooden organic-looking tables to deep-seating curved woven chairs.
In smaller resort towns, designers are taking cues from the residential realm. Home to bald eagles and sunbathing seals, the maritime town of St. Andrews by the Sea, N.B., is also the site of the Algonquin Resort that overlooks Passama-quoddy Bay. The historic hotel’s façade may be Tudor and castle-like, but hospitality designer Robynne Moncur, of Moncur Design Associates, says the outdoor design will be full of home-inspired surprises.
Set to reopen in June, the resort is in the midst of a large-scale renovation by the Toronto-based designer. And, she’s currently juggling multiple projects, including Calgary’s Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire and the luxury Jekyll Island Club Resort in Savannah, Ga.
Moncur says these projects share a commonality: the outdoor turf is all about a mix of materials. On the large outdoor patio at the Sheraton Eau Claire, “as opposed to using furniture where absolutely every piece is woven, espresso brown and all the table bases the same, we’re furnishing in a far more residential manner.” Simply put, the space has a dynamic mix of materials and furniture, she says.
The same applies to the four-storey Algonquin Resort, which features a 15-foot-deep veranda that wraps around part of the structure and faces a large, rolling lawn. To capture the view but still achieve an indoor feel, Moncur treated each outdoor vignette as if it were an interior. “We used different groupings of furniture and drapes in between them, almost creating private rooms,” she says. “The [billowy white] drapery can be pulled back so the space becomes one open area.”
Among other furniture pieces — including cane chairs and rockers — guests can relax inside each of the veranda’s cosy nooks on striped settee chairs, dressed in Sunbrella fabric, a stylish material meant to withstand the elements. Guests can place their beverages on the glazed ceramic side tables by the light of the lanterns.
Another historic property that’s been making a splash with its outdoor space is the Hilton Bonaventure in Montreal. The Brutalist building of chunky concrete has its diehard admirers, says Stephane Morin, the hotel’s affable director of Sales and Marketing. “We have a lot of architectural schools bring their students here, because it’s such an icon of design.” The two-and-a-half-acre rooftop amenity, which was designed 43 years ago, is part of the attraction. “In the ’60s, a rooftop garden was non-existent,” says Morin. “Now everyone is talking about trendy green roofs,” he laughs.
The Edenic setting includes a chef’s garden bursting with fruits, herbs and vegetables. There’s also a 63-foot-long pool. “The magic of the pool is that it’s open all year,” says Morin. “During the winter, it feels like a Zen Nordic spa, and, in the summer, you feel like you’re in the Caribbean, with lively music.” There’s also a river, a duck pond and a waterfall.
In the last four years, the hotel underwent a major renovation. “We’ve added beach chairs and loungers built for two,” says Morin. “They’re very trendy pieces — white and dark chocolate leatherette made for the outdoors and mixed with stainless steel and wood.”
Like the designers at the Hilton, Freed Developments, the masterminds in partnership with the Thompson Hotel in Toronto, know all about the lure of the outdoor rooftop. In 2010, they built a sky-high oasis, sporting a shimmering 36-foot-long saltwater infinity pool with a lounge kitted out by II by IV Design. No surprise the exclusive space (no drop-ins off the street here) is filled most nights with social events that keep the bartenders occupied. What accounts for its tremendous popularity? “Our unprecedented and unobstructed 360-degree view of Toronto,” says a Thompson Hotel PR representative. “It’s the only hotel in the city with an outdoor rooftop pool and terrace and exclusive access.” She adds, “The pool is used less for exercise and more for cooling off and lounging over the infinity ledge and being mesmerized by the view.”
At night, under the canopy of the sky, cocktail-toting fashionistas revel while perched on low-slung rattan sofas done up in durable Sunbrella fabric. A ragtag of stools and low, square tables ensures there’s always room for the drinks. “The Thompson Hotel did a great job creating comfort on that rooftop,” says Andrew Richard Design’s Bockner. “There are a lot of large, oversized pieces; they’ve created bottle service and sectionals. In that kind of environment, people are hanging out longer.”
Apart from that, he’s especially impressed by the seamless integration between indoors and outdoors, a style all lodging facilities in Canada would be wise to emulate. “People love that. When I’m putting together outdoor spaces for hotels, I always try to create versatile covered areas that merge into the open areas,” he says.
After all, you can’t beat fresh air — the most attractive, and free, design feature of all.