August 8, 2017
By Mary Alice Palmer and Thomas E. Sprinkle, AIA

The excitement we feel when a project we’ve designed prepares to open never gets old.  The sense of anticipation; watching it all come together after years in the making … there is nothing quite like it.  We’re feeling it now as the W Hotel Bellevue opens its doors. 

As both the architects and interior designers for the project, our design goal was to evoke the unique history and contemporary culture of the hotel’s location near the shore of Lake Washington in Bellevue, Washington. We began with the concept of a “virtual lake house;” a modernist’s club house for a creative culture filled with music, fashion and design.

The lake house archetype serves as a framework for the many threads of the Bellevue narrative, replete with references to the wilderness, rugged individualists, strawberry farms, summer vacations at the lake and suburbia.  Local music from Jimi Hendrix to grunge provide the score. The hotel guest’s journey is meant to be a slow reveal—like tales told around the campfire—nostalgic, ironic and sometimes irreverent. 

The W Hotel is just one component within Kemper Development Company’s 1.5 million-square-foot, mixed-use Lincoln Square Expansion project in Bellevue’s Eastside community. The 14-story, 245-room hotel sits atop four floors of retail, and 231 luxury residences rise above the W Hotel in a single 42-story tower.  The development includes upscale retail and entertainment venues, Class A office, residential, as well as six floors of parking and elevated pedestrian bridges. 

Upon entering the hotel, guests are introduced to the virtual lake house through an assent up a monumental stair as deconstructing dock, surrounded by a three-story hand painted street mural.  Street art stories punctuate many spaces, revealing multiple aspects of the narrative as the story of Bellevue unfolds through the hotel’s imagery, both literal and metaphorical.  

The hotel’s welcome lobby is housed in three mirrored chrome fragmented totems, representing the stories of the Pacific Northwest for the modern primitives in their towering dance on the adjacent wall. The hotel lobby and a restaurant are integrated into the second floor retail space, creating a second hotel entrance.

The hotel abounds with public gathering spaces, all affectionately named and themed along lake house lines. The W Cocktail Culture Tribe finds a home in the reflective framework of the “Lakehouse Livingroom” to gather and indulge in creative libations around a roaring fireplace, in which guests can recline in deep sofas and lounge chairs based on the 70's mismatched logic of the found object. The space is a high/low extravaganza of color and pattern, like the lake house repository of a family’s cast-off treasures, or the garage band’s flop house, all with a technical, modern twist. The Livingroom connects to the “Pool House,” so named for the game of billiards, not the water feature. The heart of the Pool House is the DJ booth, where the music has blown the house apart and its fragments fly high.

A glass wall opens out to “The Porch,” where a campfire beckons, surrounded by swings, rockers and cushions in an open-air lounge for relaxing, rain or shine, in the great outdoors, where urban meets wilderness.

Guests will seek out “The Library” for a night cap and some pillow talk, with a reading of a trashy romance novel or lurid detective story from the crammed shelves of summer cast offs. While reclining on cushions resplendent with references to Jimi Hendrix’s bohemian finery and tribal plaid of the grunge rock movement, guests can strum away on a tattered instrument pulled from the shelves. A giant mural tells the story of the “Beautiful View” as a backdrop.

The W’s signature restaurant is The Lakehouse, a metaphorical whitewashed cabin in the woods. It serves as the gathering place for the modern primitive cocktail culture tribe to share a meal deeply rooted and referential to the area’s agrarian past. Diners enter the Butler’s Pantry and Kitchen Garden through heavy timbered trusses and walls charred and blackened by the years of wood smoke from the central hearth fire. Gingham and flowers in shades of gray decorate the walls like a memory of grandma’s breakfast room.

Guests retire to rooms through corridors of memories: family photos curated that surprise and delight, evocative reminders of our own summers past. The guestrooms are at once familiar and warm, welcoming with a fabulous window seat framing the “Beautiful View” on an imaginary porch, complete with bar, Munchy Box and board games for a curated cocktail experience. Pulp poetry adorns the custom pillow, reminiscent and playful, and written in the style of a tawdry romance. The bed’s headboard is based on a silver blow-up float upon which to sail away in your dreams.

The virtual lake house narrative is expressed inside and out, with the notion of Bellevue as seen from across Lake Washington as a convivial vacation destination.  As the summer sun sets on the water’s expanse, the shimmering reflection on the hotel’s windows are reimagined in the aluminum orange fins, a colorful pixelated vision on the skyline.  The influence of the region’s Japanese culture, through the artistry of stacked paintings, is found in the stepping of the tower’s architecture.

So while excitement reigns supreme as our virtual lake house vision comes to life in the guest experience, a deeper sense of satisfaction resides within us.  The project owner, Kemper Development Company in Bellevue, and operator W Hotels, gave us an opportunity to bring the HKS hospitality architecture and interior design teams together to collaborate.  The resulting design and finished project reflects that harmony.

Posted in Hospitality, Interiors