Desert Springs Eternal

A Landmark Palm Desert resort undergoes a sleek next-generation transformation.

Jan Maguire Hotels & Resorts, Real Estate

Photography by Ethan Kaminsky

You drive up a winding thoroughfare lined with towering palm trees, vibrant flowers, and a sweeping expanse of lawn. As you pull up to the spacious porte-cochere, you alight from your car under the elegant polish of a Brazilian teak canopy to the soothing sound of cascading fountains and the sight of a magnificent fire caldron.

Welcome to the new face of Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa in Palm Desert. For nearly two decades, Desert Springs has enticed guests to its 884-room resort with the many impressive features that lie within its 450 acres of lushly landscaped grounds — amenities that include 10 restaurants, 36 holes of championship golf, and Venetian-inspired waterways with boats. Today this grande dame of Coachella Valley resorts — one of 35 worldwide in the JW Marriott chain — is poised to become an even more attractive hospitality competitor with a massive makeover underway.

“The Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa is one of the finest hotels in our portfolio,” says David Marriott, senior vice president of global sales. “As our first spa [resort], it served as a springboard, enabling us to become the largest hotel spa operator, with over 60 around the world.”

Coinciding with the resort’s 20th anniversary, the comprehensive facelift is designed to fulfill the leisure and business needs of the next generation of resort clientele.

“One of the reasons that we’re doing this entire renovation is for the next generations, X and Y, who have different tastes and are our future customers,” says Desert Springs General Manager Ken Schwartz. “We can’t rest on our laurels. We have to keep evolving.”

In addition to a new porte-cochere and luxurious new bedding in the guest rooms, the $30 million transformation — slated to be finished by summer — includes a makeover of the atrium lobby, reception areas, and spa.

To spearhead the transformation of the main public areas into a contemporary California desert theme in mood and design, Marriott selected Creative Resource Associates, an interior architectural and design firm based in Culver City, led by principals Fernando de Moraes and Hydee Hirschman.

For the dramatic porte-cochere, de Moraes and Hirschman created a textured environment using iconic earth elements such as water, stone, and fire. “We wanted to create an oasis sense when [guests] arrive to contrast the aridness of the desert and complement the palm-lined drive and seasonal landscaping,” de Moraes explains. To achieve this, they installed water features that include reflecting pools embedded with Italian mosaic tiles in varying hues of jade, framed by ledger stone columns.

In the atrium lobby, Creative Resource Associates broke form from — in de Moraes’ words — “a linear desk component” to a more interactive reception area, which allows resort staffers to walk around the desk to greet and assist guests. In fact, the entire concept of what Director of Sales and Marketing Matt Stewart terms “approachable luxury in a progressive and hip environment” will be characterized by several new design elements in the atrium intended to create an overall warmer ambiance. Those elements include a refinished wood veneer ceiling that enhances the acoustics, quartzite flooring, wall cladding, teak reception desks, and six gigantic lanterns of linen and brushed nickel to provide diffused illumination.

The atrium’s centerpiece will be a new 60-foot bar sporting a luminescent counter, floating glass shelves, and water cascading over textured glass behind the bar. “What guests enjoy more than anything else is socializing and meeting people, whether in a group environment or with family and friends,” Schwartz notes. “Now, with the new lobby bar in the center of everything, it’s a great area that is going to be fully utilized.” De Moraes notes that the lounge area will incorporate data ports so that customers can work and socialize at the same time.

The lobby also will feature a sushi bar. The boat docking area will be tripled in size and made from Brazilian teak. Adjacent to the atrium, a 2,000-square-foot Starbucks — the brand’s largest location — features a spacious outdoor seating area overlooking the Ted Robinson-designed, 18-hole putting course.hat’s more, Desert Springs hired a music consultant to create music for three different zones within the resort. “Music has the power to calm, inspire, refresh, and motivate,” Stewart notes. “It plays a role in how guests feel and in how they will judge their experience.”

Also in the midst of a major remodel is The Spa at Desert Springs. Construction began in August 2006 under the aegis of the internationally renowned architectural and design firm Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo. The new spa is scheduled to open this summer (a temporary day spa is operating in the main hotel building). Plans include expanding the facility from 30,000 to 38,000 square feet and from 36 to 48 treatment rooms. Guests will enter along meandering walkways and bridges into a spacious lobby in soothing earth tones with relaxing water features and recessed lighting. “The spa is designed to offer guests a seamless experience,” says Bruce Taylor, director of spa operations. “The women’s locker room is adjacent to the salon and treatment rooms, and all rooms are adjacent to the bistro and pool area.”

In addition to the treatment menu of European and Ayurvedic services, the spa also will offer treatments using indigenous ingredients such as sage, grapefruit, and dates. New state-of-the-art equipment will include a desert rain shower, a Turkish-inspired aromatherapy steam chamber, and coed relaxation lounge.
New to the spa will be a VIP suite with a private entrance, courtyard, and outdoor spa whirlpool and a spacious suite with a couple’s bath and treatment table, living room setting with fireplace, and a personal butler. Additionally, there will be one deluxe couple’s suite and two standard couple’s treatment rooms.

Other unique features include a “spa within a spa” setting, offering secluded treatment rooms and a private relaxation lounge to accommodate intimate gatherings and groups; a full-service European hair and nail salon with separate areas for hair treatments, manicures, and pedicures; a newly designed spa retail boutique; and a singles-friendly spa bistro counter.
The 4,000-square-foot fitness center is also undergoing enhancements that include a new movement studio overlooking the signature 17th hole on the golf course, expected to be finished by summer.

Schwartz expects the renovation to have a significant impact on the Desert Springs’ market, which already has an annual occupancy rate of 70 percent. “Without a doubt, this will give us a huge competitive advantage,” he says. “Everybody loves Desert Springs, but we need to keep earning it.”

Stewart notes that more resort enhancements are planned. These include adding new 32-inch, flat-screen televisions and credenzas to all guest rooms, as well as converting Colibri Grille into an Irish pub/deli to create a sports bar.

“The JW Marriott brand throws out the old notion that ‘luxury must be stuffy’ and provides a rich, authentic experience without pretense,” Stewart says. “It also builds upon Marriott’s longstanding reputation as a world-class cornerstone of genuine care and dependability.”

An impressive porte-cochere offers arriving guestsa their first impression of Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa.

A teak-accented reception area combined with warm tangerine hues and fresh flowers create an atmosphere of “approachable luxury” during check-in.

Desert Springs guests enjoy the convenience of an in-house Starbucks — the largest outlet in the company’s extensive chain. At left, massive framed linen lanterns in the atrium merge modern art and function.