In the travel world, there are organized Journeys known as a FAM, a familiarization trip to introduce you to hotels or countries. Days packed with movement, multiple site inspections interspersed with elaborate dining. Numerous whirlwind days when I often can’t remember what town we were in or which hotel. I prefer to create my own fam trips! Some Journeys are imprinted by the people you meet along the way, a simple act of kindness or generosity that make a site memorable. My Lindblad National Geographic Orion sailing adventure from Papeete to the Marquesas was extraordinary but memorizing the harbors and multi-syllabic atolls and islands was challenging! The charming people of each village fashioned my memories, especially the women wearing traditional flower headdresses. An enchanting recollection enhanced by their unpretentious beauty and ever so casual descriptions on making these, by my standard, elaborate floral hats. Beautiful, welcoming and humble women, a true joy to meet them.
Passengers arriving in Tahiti are gifted with handmade floral leis when you arrive at the airport. Usually one spends a night in Papeete before embarking on an island adventure. The air at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel is heavily scented by trees and bushes that bloom year-round. However, it is in the remote Marquesas Islands where flowers are intricately woven into the fabric of everyday life. The beautiful women wear extravagant handmade floral headdresses. Often referred to as simply “hei,” the formal name for these headdresses is “umu hei.” A contraction of two Polynesian words, “umu” means aphrodisiac and “hei” is the Polynesian word for wreath. Women believe that wearing a crown of flowers heightens their sensuality and makes them more attractive to the opposite sex. Wouldn’t you agree they are charming?
You might also see a range of native flowers woven into the Tahitian headpiece, including hibiscus, frangipani or plumeria, and of course, the greatest symbol of the islands of Tahiti, the tiare flower. Everyone wears the fragrant white tiare flower behind an ear. If you wear the flower behind your left ear, the heart side, it means you’re married or taken or not interested in a relationship. Behind your right ear, it means you’re searching for love. And if woven in the hair and placed behind the head? That means “follow me”. The French post-Impressionist artist Paul Gaugin, inspired by the beauty of the Marquesas Islands and their inhabitants, did not fail to capture these flower-related practices in his paintings.
Flowers are an important part of the culture and history of French Polynesia. On the atoll of Fakarava, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and second-largest atoll in French Polynesia, we motored in to shore and rode bikes around the small atoll. Fakarava has 837 inhabitants; the main village is Rotoava. An outdoor Catholic Mass yielded a small parish of radiant bedecked women. Mass was a combination of French and local language, in a garden grotto due to construction on their church. Village women in brightly colored floral muumuu’s and straw hats festooned with brilliantly hued flowers quieted young children, fanned themselves and sang hymns. Some adornment made of dried leaves were just as attractive. It was Mother’s Day and the ladies would celebrate with a craft fair presenting their shell and bead jewelry. Photos and shopping, I was thrilled to spend more time with these artistic ladies.
On the island of Fatu Hiva, our welcoming singers and dancers were also bedecked in splendid floral headdresses. A village woman described the simple process: she picks a few garden flowers and assembles an elaborate wreath in a matter of minutes, it’s very easy! Obviously, a clever islander with years of experience. One of my favorite decorated women played a guitar in the welcoming band, a massive green leaf headdress drew all eyes to her.
Hiva-Oa, the second largest island in the Marquesas and where Gauguin is buried, presented a small museum shop where I discovered my woven headdress, the picture-perfect adornment for evening cocktails!
Tahitian headpieces, or Tahitian flower crowns, are common throughout the islands of Tahiti. Worn by locals in order to celebrate a special occasion or simply, celebrate the beauty of everyday life. While some Tahitian headpieces can be very elaborate, it is not uncommon to see a simple crown made only from woven ti leaves.
There are many types of Tahitian headpieces beyond the simple flower crown. Typically, you will see the more elaborate forms only in Tahitian dance numbers. The headbands are sometimes woven with palm fronds or tapa cloth which gives the headpiece structure. Intricate designs and embellishments such as flowing raffia, feathers, mother-of-pearl, or black pearl, are often added as well.
In my globetrotting, performing site inspections at five-star luxury hotels, our clients understand I am obsessed with the arrival – whether it be an exceptional ceremony or a distinctive design nod to the geographic locale. The arrival sets the stage for a guest visit. Will your eye drift to the décor, does the space suggest a sense of place? There is nothing more frustrating to stay in a hotel and think I could be anywhere. What subtle or direct messages are included in the overall atmosphere of a hotel? I’m envisioning a deeper design statement, tell me about the history of the people, present a preview of the flora and fauna in textiles or art, who are the locals? Tell me a story.
The Four Seasons Bora Bora General Manager, Diego Stembert, called to thank me for our recent booking, he had read my blog posts and noted it’s been too long since your last visit. Please come and view the newly refurbished resort, mentioning the prominent San Francisco design firm BAMO, who accomplished the renovation; in one of those small world encounters, I had recently been introduced to and consulted with the BAMO principals discussing key issues for luxury travelers and operating brands. I was pleasantly surprised to discover BAMO had designed many of the Four Seasons properties I’ve visited as well as many other of my preferred hotel properties. BAMO also designs private homes including a few of our client homes. Don’t you love these circular connections?
I adore a clever intriguing story, I thought it would be delightful and interesting to share a behind the scenes look at luxury hotel design with and in particular, the Four Seasons Bora Bora. I’m very excited to introduce you to Anne Wilkinson of BAMO. With 25 years of experience in luxury hotel and residential design, Anne brings an unparalleled amount of knowledge to each project at BAMO. A New York native, Anne earned her Design degree from Cornell University, alongside interests in theatrical lighting and classical and modern dance. Named Principal of BAMO in 2017, Anne has contributed to the growth and success of the firm since its inception.
Anne shares their inspiration for the refurbishing of the Four Seasons Bora Bora Resort.
Q&A Q: What do you enjoy most about designing luxury hotel spaces?
A: I’m passionate about every part of the process from solving a tricky space planning puzzle to finding the perfect leather piping for a pillow. But, I find the big picture, conceptual design the most rewarding. To me, every project has a design vocabulary, a style language, that speaks both to its sense of place, and to the feeling or mood we want to create. That language evolves through researching the project’s location, it’s history, culture, geography, etc., while also drawing on other inspirations that are less expected or have more modern-day relevance. I enjoy taking in that range of information and translating it into a unique design and a unique style that transcends obvious interpretations, yet captures a sense of place that is right for the project.
Q: In your opinion, which area in a hotel has the biggest or strongest design impact?
A: I couldn’t agree with you more that your first impression is key, and sets the tone for the entire property. That said, you probably spend most of your time in the guest room, which tends to have an outsize impact on your overall experience. Usually the most design budget is allocated for the lobby, and the most design time is allocated to getting the guest room right.
Q: BAMO also designs private residences. How do you think your experience designing hotels benefits your residential clients, or vice versa?
A: I think that the biggest influence our hotel design work has on private homes is the understanding that true luxury is in the way a space makes you feel. Of course beautiful materials and impactful design moments are a part of the luxury experience but if those things don’t work together to put you at ease and in a state of bliss then we haven’t done our job.
In a luxury hotel, every moment is choreographed, to anticipate a guest’s known wishes and essential needs, and to elevate the experience beyond those known needs to unanticipated desires. We want a client’s home to function in the same way. We work with our clients to uncover how design can enhance their lifestyle at home, just as you work with your clients to determine their “travel lifestyle.” Then we take it a step further to bring that air of luxury that I can only describe as the “sigh of calm” that happens when you arrive at your favorite hotel; The sigh of knowing that you can relax, be at peace with yourself and be inspired to live – and to dream – more fully.
We’ve had a number of private residential clients come to us after staying at one of our properties. For example, a couple who frequents the Four Seasons Bora Bora wanted the same feeling of sanctuary and French Polynesian serenity in their Master Bath. BAMO created this spa-inspired suite, complete with custom details like under-counter cold storage for water, fresh juice and wine, that has become their escape at home.
FOUR SEASONS BORA BORA | UPDATED
A FRESH NEW LOOK, WITH THE SAME EFFORTLESS SENSE OF PLACE We’re excited to share with your readers, a behind the scenes look at our latest design for the Four Seasons Bora Bora guest bungalows. We’ll share some of our inspirations and give you a glimpse of the process involved in creating a luxury retreat. Starting with our concept statement following, which gives the rationale for our new direction.
CONCEPT & APPROACH
CONTINUING THE THREAD OF THE EXISTING PROPERTY – NOT FUSSY OR PRETENTIOUS, FEELING LIKE IT BELONGS, REFLECTING THE SPIRITUAL AND SENSUAL NATURE OF FRENCH POLYNESIA.
USE OF NATURAL MATERIALS THAT ARE OF THE SITE, WOOD, SHELL AND MOTHER OF PEARL, REEDS OR GRASSES, CORAL, BASALT
TEXTURAL AND WOVEN MATERIALS INSPIRED FROM TRADITIONAL USES SUCH AS THATCHED ROOFS AND WOVEN PANDANUS GRASS CEILINGS
LACY, PITTED SURFACES THAT RECALL THE CORAL FORMATIONS OF THE MOTU
ORGANIC, ROUNDED SHAPES RECALL THE CARVED WOODEN CANOES AND WATER VESSELS THAT THE POLYNESIANS USED TO EXPLORE THE WORLD
RECALL THE INDIGENOUS CULTURE WITH ARTWORK AND ARTIFACTS THAT DRAW ON THE CRAFTSMANSHIP INHERENT IN FRENCH POLYNESIAN TOOLS AND DECORATIONS
WITH THE RENOVATED DESIGN – HEIGHTEN THE SENSE OF COMFORT AND LUXURY – PRIMITIVE BUT REFINED, USING LUXURIOUS MATERIALS TO LEND WARMTH AND TEXTURE – WOOD, MOTHER OF PEARL, UNIQUE STONE ACCENTS AND NATURAL FIBERS THAT BREATHE AND FEEL GOOD AGAINST YOUR SKIN. EDITED USE OF PATTERNS THAT PAY HOMAGE TO THE BEAUTY AND SYMBOLISM OF TAHITIAN TATTOOS
CREATE SPECIAL MOMENTS – EMPLOY LIGHTING TO HIGHLIGHT FOCAL ELEMENTS SUCH AS THE ENTICING FOUR SEASONS “MY BAR.” – INVITE ROMANCE, WITH FURNISHINGS THAT CREATE COZY AND INVITING PLACES FOR COUPLES OR FAMILIES TO ENJOY CLOSE CONTACT – INTRODUCE ART AT KEY PLACES TO ENRICH THE GUEST EXPERIENCE.
PROVIDE AN ENHANCED GUEST EXPERIENCE WITH MORE FUNCTIONAL LIGHTING AND INTEGRATED TECHNOLOGY AND POWER WHERE IT’S NEEDED
RE-INNOVATING With an existing property, part of the challenge is to see the same space with fresh eyes. Deciding what to keep and what to change is the first step. Starting with what’s there, we look at:
Practical Considerations – What’s working? (The bones of the room were good!). And what’s not? (Not enough lighting, old technology, under-appointed minibar)
Design Considerations – What looks dated or worn out? How big a style change is needed?
In this case, the client loved the feel of our original design. We applied a lighter touch to maintain the beloved character of the property, keeping the natural wood envelope of the space and blue plaster accent panels, adding a more sophisticated, modern mood, playing up bolder, primitive patterns with less emphasis on color and more on sensory textures and layering. This was accomplished by replacing all the furniture and fabrics, some of the lighting and augmenting the millwork with unique details and integrating more user-friendly technology.
Tattoo, or Tatau as it’s called in Tahiti, carries great cultural and symbolic significance. We developed a custom fabric pattern for the original design for the property that was re-colored in red and black for the renovation.
HERE’S OUR PROCESS FROM INSPIRATION….
….TO HAND-SKETCHED CUSTOM PATTERN
…..TO CUSTOM COLOR TRIALS
ART AND ARTIFACTS
In the recent renovation, we retained the artwork created for the original 2008 guest room, as it still played a key role in connecting guests to the history and culture of early French Polynesians and their Oceanic life; Beautiful mother-of-pearl fish hooks, tools made with stone, woven grass rope and carved wood, intricate basketwork and striking primitive jewelry. Each guest bungalow still features these varied compositions of fabric-lined shadow-boxes, which display exquisite reproductions of original artifacts.
To have these produced in an artful and authentic way, we reached out to a long-time friend of BAMO founder, Pamela Babey. What luck to have Bruce Carpenter, a well-known author, art historian and gallery owner in Bali, apply his incredible eye to overseeing our simple but important endeavor. Using his resources in Bali, Bruce had the pieces made according to our specifications, crafted by hand and capturing much of the charm and effect of the original items.
Fast forward ten years to 2018, we again reached out to Bruce Carpenter, still working in Bali. This time, he suggested we work with his son, Avalon, which proved to be another successful collaboration. Through the custom furniture studio Kalpa Taru, Avalon helped bring our design ideas to life, carving wood to make our organic patterned, decorative screens, and suggesting a bolder, carved wood art piece, which fit well with our more contemporary, natural aesthetic.
Custom carved wood accessories were also made for the bungalow renovation: a bowl on feet and a decorative shell based on a piece by artist Carola Vooges.
MODEL ROOM REVIEW Once the design is complete, the next step is to have prototypes of all the furniture pieces produced, including in some cases, multiple options for the same piece. Any built work, improvements or additions to the room construction is also done for the model room review, in order to evaluate the completed design in full.
The BAMO team arrived at the property in November of 2018 to meet with the Four Seasons team and ownership. We were happy to have a lift from our Beach Villa to the prototyped model room.
ON-SITE REVIEW Every detail is double checked on site, with adjustments made as needed to ensure the design functions as it should. The bar area evolved after this first review to integrate additional lighting and open up the side with floating shelves.
Our temporary workstation on the terrace came with a stunning view of Mt. Otemanu! One of the perks of working in beautiful places.
COMPARING OPTIONS, CHECKING DETAILS Small details, like a recessed pull in the side of the ottoman, make a big difference in ease of use for the guest.
With this project so far away, we did more options for each piece than would typically be produced. A new cushion at the entry bench was evaluated in both the red and black tattoo fabric. Two versions of the lounge chair were considered. In this case, both chairs were great, one was selected for the bungalows and one was earmarked for the upcoming beach villa renovation.
THE FINAL RESULT The transformation of the overwater guest bungalows has now been rolled out for all to enjoy. A more inviting, casual feel that reflects how we live today. Work can be done from anywhere, including nestled into a comfortable sofa with your feet propped up on a generous ottoman, a vista of the calm lagoon stretching between the motu and the mountain.
Our neutral scheme allows the brilliant turquoise water and lush green landscape to color your view. The warmth of natural materials and tactile, woven textures invite a feeling of ease and comfort. Bold contrast patterns, and the hand carved wood elements and handmade art capture the sensual, primitive chic of French Polynesia.
A year or two away from implementation is the beach villa transformation, where we have begun to envision a dramatically upgraded, luxurious outdoor living experience. Yet another reason to return to this island paradise!
ABOUT BAMO Enjoying an international reputation for refinement and style, BAMO is an award-winning interior design firm focused on residential and hospitality commissions. Our portfolio includes luxury homes, condominiums, hotels, resorts, restaurants, spas, and senior living developments. Spanning 20 countries on 5 continents, we’ve had the pleasure of working with visionary leaders of industry and the most exclusive hotel operators. Our firm, team, and projects have been honored with numerous awards, including Interior Design’s Best of Year Awards, IIDA Honor Awards, Gold Key Designer of the Year, and the induction of our founders into the illustrious Platinum Circle.
ABOUT ANNE WILKINSON Anne infuses a marked sense of style and place into her elegant and cohesive designs. Working around the globe in vibrant urban or resort destinations, including some of the most pristine and sensitive environments, Anne has the ability to create settings that not only speak to the destination but also respect the people and place. Her strong understanding of the complexities of hotel design allow her to develop creative and innovative solutions that improve the overall guest experience and add to the client’s success.
ABOUT GWEN BOOKS When I travel, even if it’s a lengthy Journey, I move hotels every few days to explore new properties or to take a fresh look at a beloved refurbished hotel. My clients await my advice: you will adore this hotel and this is why! Believe me, one client after I advised him he would not care for a newly refurbished property in Paris, insisted they had to stay. At close to midnight Paris time he called and said you were right, please move us to our favorite hotel! Style, décor, ambiance, and of course service, all combine to provide a compelling narrative, which results in content clients.
Tahiti is a lush paradise; how do you compete with nature in this gorgeous environment. The Four Seasons Bora Bora is a serene oasis; on my arrival, my eye was drawn to art work gracing the public areas, it turns out one can visit local artists. One memorable inspiring space is the spa; I made a point to wander through every day for photos and lingered on the to die for view relaxation decks. The calm and serene space is enthralling, it beckoned each time I passed. Every distinct detail of the spa whispers rest and unwind – the cathedral like wooden building is sandwiched between a tranquil lagoon and the edge of the sapphire sea. Sandalwood and frangipani perfumes the space, dappled sunlight and dramatic shadows dance on the lacquered floor – the quiet is truly church like, guests and staff passing in robes and soft slippers, disappearing behind enormous dark doors.
I look forward to returning to paradise and exploring the BAMO design stories, seeking out their intricate clues of the island history in the décor. I hope you enjoyed the behind the scenes BAMO inspirations!
Thank you Anne and BAMO! More BAMO hotel storytelling to come.