Santa Barbara Sublime
Bacara, the newest addition to Southern California's spa landscape, was designed as a collaborative effort of Hill Glazier Architects, Leclere Associates Architects, and Hirsch Bedner Associates.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
THE MOST REMARKABLE aspect of Santa Barbara's Bacara Resort and Spa is not the scope of its rooms and facilities spread over 80 acres, but the fact that the project was almost 20 years in the making. One has to marvel at the patience and determination of the property's owners, New York-based developers Alvin and Wanda Dworman, who inherited the parcel as one part of a business purchase and began squaring off with the California Coastal Commission and Santa Barbara County in 1982 for permits. Both institutions were dead-set against the proposed project.
Ultimately prevailing after 15 years, Alvin Dworman assembled a team to interpret his vision of a Spanish Mission-style village. Architectural design and development was a collaboration between Hill Glazier Architects of Palo Alto and Leclere Associates Architects of New York. Santa Monica-based Hirsch Bedner Associates developed ff & e schemes for guest accommodations, public areas, and the Spa Café. Added to the group effort was Wanda Dworman, credited by all as a seminal figure in Bacara's design.
The setting is phenomenal. "I was dumbfounded when I saw it," reports its owner, whose real estate projects comprise commercial, retail, and luxury apartment buildings on both coasts. The property "sits 100 ft. above the water, rolls down to the beach and then goes back up another 100 ft." Turn one way and you're looking over the Pacific Ocean; make an about-face and views focus on the Santa Ynez Mountains. A two-minute drive from Bacara's center leads to a 1,000-acre ranch and avocado farm, also part of Dworman's holdings and, in a sense, an extension of the resort.
From afar, Bacara indeed resembles a hillside village that meshes with the surrounding Santa Barbara architecture while recalling any number of picturesque, whitewashed towns bordering the Mediterranean. It consists of 26 buildings set amid Valley Crest's landscaping of mature oaks, illuminated canarious palms, and poured concrete walkways stamped and tinted to resemble flagstones or terra-cotta squares. Individual structures include: the main hotel with a 1,000-person ballroom, meeting rooms, tony shops, and a screening room; a 42,000-sq.-ft. spa whose 40 treatment rooms promise a reward for workouts; a conference/technology center; plus three restaurants, Miró, the Bistro, and the Wine Cellar, in addition to the Spa Café. Guest rooms and suites, totaling 360, are spread throughout 18 buildings. The 3,700-sq.-ft presidential suite has its own two-story structure.
Building forms and vocabularies were derived from the area's history and its vernacular architecture. Both Robert Glazier and Michael Leclere cite prolonged photographic research as a precursor to their own efforts. Thus Bacara's buildings, cascading down the hillside, present a harmonious face with stucco finishes, red tile roofs, and mahogany framing. Architectural detailing-arches, columns, patios, and roof lines-as well as subtle shading and textural differences in the plasterwork create variety in the overall scheme. Some of the guest buildings form their own mini-complexes around zero-edge pools, which supplement the deluxe main pool at the spa.
The buildings are grouped to counter perceptions of Bacara's size with a feeling of intimacy, Glazier explains. "You never see the entire project at once. You're always walking through a series of courtyards and outdoor landscaped spaces."
Like the architecture, guest rooms, ranging from 290 to 450 sq. ft., "are pretty much consistent," says Caroline McLean, Hirsch Bedner's senior associate and project designer. "There's a strong tradition of Spanish Mission style." Contributing design elements comprise terra-cotta flooring (at the owner's request), dark wood custom casegoods designed to look as if they might have been found at local antique shops, wood shutters, and a breezy navy-blue/off-white palette. "The biggest thing," McLean continues, "was to keep the scheme strong and simple, not overly elaborate. We wanted to stay out of the way of the views."
Restaurant Miró, under the authorship of Michael Leclere, is the sole exception to Bacara's pervasive Mission statement. One step inside the traditional building in which the restaurant is housed, visitors confront a frankly contemporary environment. To serve as a backdrop to the owners' collection of three Miró bronze sculptures, Leclere commissioned a trio of canvases that refer to the artist's signature style. Brilliantly colored, the works are mounted as frameless wall coverings backing the sculptures, which are mounted on blocks of Santa Barbara sandstone. Leclere continues the attitude with a vibrant color palette of burgundy and deep blue shades, an oversized fireplace measuring 20 ft. wide by ten ft. high, and colorful custom china, also incorporating a motif that could well have been the brushwork of the artist. Below Miró, another dining option exists in the form of an 8,000-bottle wine cellar and two private banquet rooms for 35. Here Leclere reinstated the traditional vocabulary primarily through an elegant groin-vaulted ceiling and 300-year-old terra-cotta tile flooring.
Within the vast resort/spa category that has become such a vital category of hospitality design, "most resorts have a token spa and most spas are all spa with no great hotel," says Leclere. What makes Bacara special, he avers, was his client's determination "to define the market. He didn't necessarily want to make the best spa or the best resort. He wanted to make the best project because of the synergy between the two."
Bacara was designed and built in three years for $250 million. Additional credits from the Hirsch Bedner office extend to Deborah Gear, Danielle Hirsch, Naoko Horii, Mohan Joshi, Christiane Kaalund, and Jorge Soto. From the Leclere office, credit extends to Ella Kui, Woon Lam, Antoinette Torrens, Nikita Oak, Donna Schragis, and Kim Hyunin.