Say Aloha to Mauna Lani

by | Jan 26, 2021 | News

All photos: Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection.

Re-imagined and Re-introduced by Auberge Resorts Collection

There are some destinations that just stay with you even long after you’ve left them. For me, Mauna Lani on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of them. For three decades, this iconic property has been one of the state’s most renowned resorts. Spectacular sunsets, ocean breezes, gorgeous grounds, and so much more make this one of my favorite travel experiences. When I heard it was closed for a re-design, I have to admit I was both excited and anxious wondering what its new version would be. Now that I’ve gotten a first-hand look at the images of how Auberge Resorts Collection has re-imagined it, I am counting the seconds until I return. As its first property in the Hawaiian Islands, the organization turned to Meyer Davis—a New York-based, multi-disciplinary, award-winning design studio—to seamlessly combine Mauna Lani’s rich cultural history with a contemporary-yet-organic sensibility for its interior design.

Mauna Lani, which translates to “mountain reaching heaven,” is located on sacred land that features royal fish ponds, natural lava plains, lush tropical gardens, coral-strewn coves, and breathtaking beaches. The summits of Hawaii’s five great mountains—Hualālai, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Kohala, and Haleakalā— also rise around the resort. Described as “an inspiring spiritual haven that captures a distinct sense of place deeply rooted in rich cultural traditions,” the property spans across 32 sun-kissed, oceanfront acres on the Kohala Coast. It features five private bungalows and 333 guest rooms and suites; Hālau, a central meeting place and the cultural heart of this luxury resort; three pools; five restaurants and lounges; a signature spa and wellness haven; two top-ranked golf courses; plenty of exceptional amenities; plus curated cultural and transformational experiences. We caught up with Meyer Davis founders Will Meyer and Gray Davis for details on their design approach, the lighting, and the inspiration behind a project based in paradise. To capture the spirit and the beauty of the region was no easy task.

“Lighting and materiality were the most important factors of this renovation. We were working with a very large, kind of sparse envelope. The architecture could very easily have started to become very outdated, and it needed to be reconnected with the surrounding landscape and culture of Hawaii,” explains Meyer, “We spent a lot of time thinking about how to frame the views and bring things down to a more human scale. One of the big ways we typically do that is with lighting—decorative lighting as well as lighting details and accents that help guests focus within a large space.” The team created a kind of secondary architecture out of teak, and then proceeded to incorporate pendants, table lamps, and more lighting, to make the public areas feel more like living rooms. “Lighting was also an excellent way for us to portray craft, whether through weaving, porcelain, or other interesting methods of construction.”

For example, outdoors at the Hā Bar making sure the spectacular scenery is part of the experience was paramount. “The Hā Bar fixture was a custom design, fabricated by Hubbardton Forge. This piece was designed to bring texture to the bar, but it hugs the ceiling because we didn’t want to interrupt the view,” says Meyers, “It’s very simple but helpful in guiding guests towards this bar from afar, and then not obstructing their sightline once they arrive.” Meanwhile inside for the accommodations, which feature luxurious textures of rich hardwoods and natural fabrics, keeping the focal point on the spectacular sightline from the private balconies was important as well. “For guest rooms, we try to keep things feeling residential, hence the fabric shades. You could say the fixtures have a bit of a Mid-century vibe,” notes Meyers, “We love the simplicity of these forms, and again—they have personality and subtle details, but they’re kind of made to fade into the room and keep guests’ focus on the view out the window.”

When it came to the choice of fixtures, certain styles of lighting and eras did influence and have an impact on the team’s design. “For this project, it’s probably safe to say there was a bit of a mid-century lean, even a bit of 1970s style. We were kind of thinking about the heyday of Hawaii tourism, after it became a state and people were really starting to explore the islands,” explains Davis, “But we are also very passionate about lighting as a studio, and we try to create or select fixtures that are artistic, show attention to craft and detail, and add personality to the space. We played with form a lot. Mauna Lani was our first project completed in Hawaii, and we really loved the experience of learning more about the history and culture of the location. It is our second completed property for Auberge Resorts Collection. We have another property for them in Riviera Maya, Mexico opening next year.”

In terms of what trends Meyer and Davis are seeing in the hospitality design space right now in light of COVID-19, they happily report they aren’t seeing anything too dramatic. “To be honest, we don’t see a lot of drastic changes from our clients. It seems like most are confident that we will get past this period, so while we’re making accommodations for it as needed, it’s being done under the pretense that people will travel, gather, and celebrate just as they previously did—perhaps with more appreciation for those opportunities,” says Davis, “Right now, the big adjustments are making sure we are giving people space, as well as looking for better and more attractive touchless options.” The team is typically designing for luxury brands, and with that comes consistent emphasis on creating spaces that are easy to clean, give guests options based on their comfort levels, and have maximum durability and comfort. “Health and wellness has been a trend for a years now,” Davis concludes, “and the current crisis is emphasizing for us that travel is a gift and should be restorative.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of designing lighting.