Made in the shade
What heat? Kelly Wearstler of KWID chills at Estrella, a resort in Palm Springs, California
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Palm Springs is hot—and it's getting hotter, courtesy of Estrella. Another ambitious renovation by the Los Angeles "it" team of designer Kelly Wearstler and her real-estate developer husband, Brad Korzen, the 77-room California resort had consisted of 1930s bungalows and three pools spread over 3 acres. Besides redecorated guest quarters and new landscaping, Wearstler's renovation involved adding a spa, business center, bar, and restaurant. The designer may be known for her snappy colors and unerring eye for offbeat furnishings, but she's also a pro at scheduling a tight production on a budget. This $4.5 million phased project was effected over a two-year period, without a lull in operations.
Her reputation for cool well established by L.A.'s Avalon, Maison 140, and Viceroy hotels, Wearstler took the word literally at Estrella. As an antidote to the desert climate's highs, she says, "The spaces should feel cool, temperature-wise—like you're walking into a cup of sorbet." Icy lemon tones plus crisp black and white are her most visible means to that end.
Building efforts centered on public areas. "This was a unique property, but it had no restaurant or spa," the designer points out. To rectify the former situation, she combined a pair of guest quarters with part of the lobby to make room for a restaurant-bar. A 3,000-square-foot spa, de rigueur for a resort, was created by overhauling two bungalows. The business center is a ground-up construction, a 2,000-square-foot single-story stucco building with a tented roof.
Wearstler's penchant for eye-popping design makes a first appearance in the lobby. "I don't do things small," she says of her homage to the square, an op-art mosaic covering a sidewall. The citrus-and-white composition is a backdrop for 19th-century French seating—taken from Wearstler and Korzen's L.A. house, which they purchased furnished. The antique chairs and daybed mix with a stenciled faux zebra rug, a mirrored table, and nine angular white-painted chandeliers.
Next door is an 18-foot-long white Corian-clad bar accompanied by wire stools, a mirrored back bar with silk-screen appliqués, and a terrazzo floor. The restaurant, Citron, seats 75. Half the tables are inside, where Wearstler deployed a lemon-and-cream palette with a striped ceiling and polished-chrome fixtures. Half are outside.
Per the Korzen formula, key count remains almost identical. Guest accommodations take the form of singles, suites, and villas. "Designing the villas was like doing little houses," says Wearstler. Behind each poppy-colored entry door—where a pair of white cement whippets greet arrivals—furnishings are consistent, for economy of scale. Lounge seating upholstered in a Wearstler-drawn black-and-white Greek key pattern joins custom lemon-yellow chairs the designer calls "Regency high-backs." Existing terra-cotta floor tiles are painted white.
Painted directly on the wall above the fireplace in one room, there's an original artwork by Wearstler, who studied at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and the School of Visual Arts in New York. "Because there was no budget for art, I said I'd do them all. But then I got pregnant," she says.
There was no budget for architectural embellishments either, so Wearstler relied on decorating to give rooms depth. Ceilings and walls have black-painted outlines instead of moldings. Headboard walls feature floor-to-ceiling draperies, plaster medallions, and chic black-and-white valances, which repeat at windows. The suites' dining rooms exemplify Wearstler style: Foliage-patterned wallpaper covers the walls and ceilings.
Not typically prone to New Age–speak, she couldn't resist when talking about the spa. "There's energy even when your eyes are closed," she says of treatment rooms. The "quiet room" exhibits a healthy dose of flair in the form of vintage seating and fiberglass artwork from the '60s.
Working Southern California's ubiquitous indoor-outdoor connection, Wearstler created roomlike environments for Estrella's open-air assets. Poolside tents and the spa's six treatment enclosures confer shade on guests and white whimsy on the landscape. L.A. visitors may be buff and pared down to the minimum. Not so Estrella.