“Design is design, everything else is everything else.”
This is the straightforward philosophy espoused by Michael Wolk, and one that he applies to every project that passes his desk—including the decadent new Trump International Beach Resort, located in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.
“The design drives all of the decisions, as opposed to the economics, a committee or arbitrary things,” he continues. “It’s all put into the formula of how we arrive at the solution, and that solution is always driven by the right design decision. The other things take a backseat to that.”
For the Trump resort, Wolk and his team at Michael Wolk Design Associates re-envisioned the lobby, reception and concierge areas, lobby-level Fusion lounge and restaurant, Neomi’s restaurant on the second floor, and are now at work on the third- and fourth-floor ballroom, meeting rooms, corridors and elevator landings. The “formula” that Wolk describes as part of the design solution is what he calls “a custom mix with applied design principles.”
“They have to do with scale, proportion, continuity, contrast and repetition, all of those basic design elements,” he says, “but when we put them into the mix, we come up with a new solution each time. There’s not one formula that applies to all our work.”
Working within the existing lobby space and restaurant presented a challenge, in that their overlapping expanses were both compromised. Fusion was in the middle of the lobby, intruding into the public areas, such as reception. Meanwhile, rather than creating the sense of a contained space, the restaurant placed diners in the middle of hotel traffic. “Neither of those ideas was really working on all eight pistons,” Wolk recalls. “The challenge was how to zone each one of those functions so that they worked together and separately to the maximum.”
Wolk designed Fusion’s over-scaled arch and screened seating area to create a visual block for hotel patrons walking through the lobby. “You know something is on the other side of that screen through the archway, but you don’t immediately identify it as a restaurant,” he says. “On the restaurant side, when you’re surrounded by that screen, there’s the intimacy of being in a restaurant or in a contained space. So it works for both of those needs.”
To create the ambience of both the restaurant and lobby, the design team took its cues from the existing structural columns in the middle of the restaurant and the lobby’s multi-colored marble and stone floor.
“We turned those things into one of the deciding factors in terms of our palette for the materials and fabrics,” says Wolk. “The floor wasn’t going anywhere, and we wrapped the columns with a drink rail, giving a sense that they were placed there, when in fact they were there before the restaurant. They could have been an intrusion, but we made them into a positive.” Warm woods, stones, tiles and fabrics were all coordinated to work with the flooring.
Most of the furnishings found in Fusion are part of Wolk’s new Academy collection for R. Jones, and harken toward Wolk’s Neo-Modern style, combining new and classic ideas. “There’s somewhat of a comfort level,” he says, “not literal comfort, but visual comfort to see things that feel like you’ve maybe seen them before and yet they still have a newness and freshness. To me, that’s always a fun challenge. The collection has about a dozen pieces, and we got to use almost all of them. There are also some tables and miscellaneous pieces that are mine.”
Neomi’s, located on the second floor, also features Wolk’s furniture, including a white leather serpentine banquette that he designed just for the space.
“Neomi’s was a breakfast and lunch restaurant at the time we did it,” he says. “The hotel package includes that breakfast and the restaurant is more family-oriented and casual. It looks out at the beach, there’s a back outdoor deck, and they serve a Sunday morning buffet, so the whole atmosphere and the whole program of what each restaurant was called for a totally different environment. With Neomi’s, we used the palette of a sandy beach and blue sky. We used reclaimed wood tabletops and we have some big pieces of reclaimed wood, back-to-back banquettes, as a central access piece.”
Bringing ideas from the past into a project like this resort leads to what Wolk calls “the age-old conversation about what’s new. I guess the best answer is it’s a new way of doing something that you’ve seen before. But for most artists, that’s the least interesting thing to do if you’ve done it already, so you always want to try something fresh and experiment it out.” He references the Fusion arch as an example. “There’s a building in Paris that I love that’s basically a big picture frame, and it reminds me of the arch,” he says. “An arch is pretty primal, too; it’s a passageway into another space. So it was new for me because it’s the first big arch that I designed.”
Hotel projects do come with strict parameters for designers— whether it’s because of budgets, deadlines, ongoing foot traffic, or the need for practicality and functionality—but Wolk feels he was still able to tap into his imagination on the project. “It’s a little tough to get that kind of motion going in the ballrooms and meeting rooms,” he says, “but they can be done tastefully and they are well lit and the materials are correct. With the lobbies and restaurants, there are moments when you get to fly and do the stuff that gets you excited.”
At the Trump International Beach Resort, those moments presented themselves with Fusion, in particular. “With the arch and back wall, we anchored the whole space to make you feel that you were in a contained area, with this crenulated wall with light features in it,” he says. “That was in a sketchbook of mine. It was a sketch in which I envisioned a folded screen, kind of an origami thing of folded paper. I expanded it into the wall, with lights in it, and it worked beautifully. I saw this screen, I drew it, and I had it in my sketchbook for five or six years.”
“I didn’t want a flat wall. I wanted a little more movement and dynamic action in the restaurant, and we were able to do that. Those are fun things for me.”
Trump International Beach Resort
18001 Collins Avenue
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160
ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN
Michael Wolk Design Associates
31 Northeast 28th Street
Miami, FL 33137