Using design elements from around the world, Babey Moulton Jue & Booth creates a truly international destination at Uruguay's Madison Resort.
So-Chung Shinn -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
AT FIRST GLANCE, one may understandably find it difficult to identify the location of Madison Resort. Influenced by cultures around the globe, principals Pamela Babey and Gerald Jue of San Francisco-based Babey Moulton Jue & Booth incorporated elements from Bali, Japan, China, Thailand, France, and several South American countries in the design of this property, which opened in January of this year. The hotel is nestled within a pine forest along the banks of the Rio de la Plata in Carmelo, Uruguay, a 30-minute plane ride from Buenos Aires and a 15-minute drive northwest from Montevideo. A recent recipient of Relais & Châteaux's coveted purple Fleur de Lys, it is the crown jewel of Laith G. Pharaon's Paris-based company, Concorde International, which owns and operates hotels around the world.
"It all began with a mysterious fax," recounts Jue, explaining the firm's history with Pharaon. "After seeing our work at the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan, Laith contacted us with an offer to design a luxury resort on a wooded site he had recently purchased." The client's original mandate was to create an exotic Balinese- and Japanese-style retreat for wealthy, sophisticated South Americans.
After conducting a thorough inspection of the land and its surrounding areas, however, Moulton and Jue convinced their client to include South American design in the mix. "We wanted to embrace the fact that the project is located in Uruguay," explains Babey. "We felt that it was important to create a sense of space by using local materials as well as furniture and accessories from Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile." The hotel's art program was supervised by Bali-based art consultant Bruce Carpenter.
The property sprawls throughout the forest and consists of the main lodge, Mandara Bar, Pura restaurant, spa, 24 duplexes in six buildings, 24 paired bungalows, two golf courses, and stables. A casino and conference pavilion are scheduled for completion at a later date.
The four-level main lodge and port corchere are covered by a local Pizarra black slate roof. Inside the building, a triangular carved wood screen from Bali takes center stage in the otherwise minimal reception lobby. Two custom-designed Chinese "opium beds" occupy the space for casual lounging. "The client wanted minimal furniture in this space," says Jue. "His ideas were completely the opposite of a corporate approach. Such non-conventional vision allowed us to experiment in ways that we couldn't otherwise." Lobby columns are made from strips of local Lapacho hardwood and wrapped in iron straps. The Lapacho floors are finished with a kerosene diesel fuel, a common wood polish in Uruguay, according to the designers. A late 19th century Balinese Singa (lion) sculpture made of wood and gold leaf silently watches over the space.
A soaring ceiling of flying wood trusswork covers the main lobby. The fireplace wall is made of local granite and lends a rustic quality to the room. A raised concrete ledge juts out from the fireplace and offers additional seating to hotel guests. The fireplace is framed by raw, one-in.-thick torch-cut plate steel. Throughout the lobby, the meeting of international design is truly apparent: one finds Uruguayan woven grass rugs, an antique Indian coffee table, custom lounge chairs inspired by salon chairs of the French liner Normandy, Japanese antique tansus, a floor lamp from Africa, English sofas, and Balinese artifacts. A Balinese boat is suspended by steel cables above the fireplace. "The boat had such a gorgeous form, so it was imperative to find the right place for it," relates Babey. Custom pieces are also evident: iron-framed canvas baskets for holding firewood, jute and wool rugs, floor lamps, and four large iron chandeliers, which hang between the trusses above. Upstairs, a suspended bridge connects the Nomad lounge and library on either side of the main lobby.
In the library, guests can lounge comfortably on pillows that are strewn about on the leather-tiled floor or on the Siberian tiger-patterned fireplace rug. The chairs are reproductions of an antique French lady's bedroom chair owned by Babey. Lapacho and Viraro woods are used throughout.
The guestroom duplexes and bungalows are scattered throughout the site. Each duplex room offers a hand-carved Chinese bed, fireplace, large airy bathroom, and covered terraces. Bungalows have locally-carved four-poster Lapacho beds and private gardens with outdoor showers.
Pura restaurant is housed in a pavilion that is connected to the main lodge. Although the space is primarily inspired by Thai architecture, it too meshes design influences from different parts of Asia and South America. The restaurant is covered with a steep thatch roof and overlooks the property's main pool. Inside, formal dining surrounds a small concrete pool lined with glass mosaic tiles. Floating candles bob around the Balinese spirit house that sits in the middle of the pool. Batik draperies envelope three corners of the restaurant and can be lowered for privacy purposes. The corner chandeliers are lit with candles and can also be raised or lowered depending upon the guests' desires. The blue-and-white color palette remains consistent throughout the space in the batiks and furniture upholstery. Even the floor is of white crystalline granite and blue Brazilian marble. Carved wood panels of Balinese mythical figures and sea creatures sit behind the bar and above the open kitchen. Decorative floral medallions of hand-carved wood and bone line the panels.
A private dining area, which also functions as a cocktail or disco space, is located adjacent to Mandara Bar and below the main lobby. Here, candle light emanates from numerous wall niches to create the ambience of a romantic Moroccan fantasy. A Balinese architectural fragment is placed in the wall behind the polished concrete built-in banquette. Flooring is of honed uba tuba.
The project spanned four years from design to completion. In addition to Babey and Jue, the project team consisted of Jon Kastl, Gary Morris, Gail Wall Morris, Peter Birkholz, Steve Elerding, Martin Dykas, Ken Cheng, and Jacopo Monti.