How slow and thoughtful design improves the customer experience one detail at a time


History shows us that when a big change happens in culture and technology, it is reflected in arts and design. A fondness for particular colors, architecture, shapes and materials that evoke a mood often bubbles up to counter or complement the times in which we live. Good design can help us feel better, find peace, invoke energy, and be the backdrop for an inspired moment.

In today’s era of overhauling the way we consume, reevaluating the types of spaces reflect the lives we want to live, and the rooms that fill them are being redefined. Types of products, their durability, and discovering and supporting artisans are increasingly on people’s minds in all aspects of life.

Consider that in the late 80s; the Slow Food movement began in Italy by Carlo Petrini and a group of seemingly starry-eyed activists to champion regional traditions and artisan products. Once upon a time so radical and niche. The approach was – and still is – to embrace food that recognizes the deep connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture. What was once considered a radical belief is now widely understood and cultivated in over 160 countries.

So how can design be an extension of this philosophy? How can it help us feel centered and potentially improve the lives of people and the planet? “By creating a balance between stimulation and pause,” says Rachael H. Grochowski, award-winning architect, architectural historian, founder and principal architect of RHG + Architecture and Design. Grochowski’s design evolves with his clients but is often grounded in natural elements, including meticulously selected unique artwork and materials to elevate a space. “Through a design lens, this means creating the simple yet elegant combination of filled and empty spaces. Space in a room allows your mind and body to rest and immediately makes you feel calmer.”

After two difficult years for the global collective, there was a palpable need to have sustainable and ethical objects. There is a responsibility to know what types of goods adorn the spaces. As a result, there is more discussion around objects and materials, where they come from, where they have been, and what cultural history they may hold. Some resorts are now focusing their guest experience on the intersection between heritage, design and history.

Mauna Lani in Hawaii for centuries was a place where the Hawaiian royal family went to relax. “This was once the playground of Hawaiian royalty. The property was recently renovated and has now become an oasis,” said Sanjiv Hulugalle, regional vice president and general manager of Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, located on the Big Island of Hawaii. Through this restoration, the station better retains the historical and cultural roots of the area, the design has helped capture this ambiance.

One of the most important activities that brings people together, Hulugalle says, through design is through the Hale’i’ke, or “House of Knowledge.” A circled enclave on the station built in local wood reserved for moments of cultural exchange and discussion. “When you are part of the circle, we are all one. So we are all equal and our knowledge is equal. A lot of our conversation stories take place around the circle. We discuss many things, including history and our own experiences. The purpose of Hale’i’ke is the philosophical translation of this house of knowledge. The house of knowledge is what we call this area. Mostly it is to discuss the importance of where we are, Hawaii, the Big Island, nature the land, ecology, dolphins and the connection to our natural environment,” says Hulugalle.

The value that natural elements bring to a space is also finding its way into spas, wellness centers and community spaces to meet the need to feel closer and more grounded to the earth. “The natural elements remind us not only to breathe, but that nature has given us its beauty,” said Grochowski, who has designed several spas and wellness centers across the country. “Natural elements can include stone, cotton, linen fabrics, or natural woven fibers. These natural elements can be supplemented with human-crafted elements,” she says. In the various projects created by Grochowski, she often incorporates natural elements into the design signifying the interconnection between the earth and human craftsmanship.

Thoughtful design is also about creating experiences and a sense of comfort for anyone entering the space. Post-pandemic, Grochowski says many community spaces like theaters and concert halls have redesigned their spaces to make them more welcoming. Last fall, Grochowski was called upon to redesign the historic Claridge Cinema in Montclair, NJ. “The way we design now is to create a sense of familiarity and wonder/magic at the same time,” Grochowski said of the theater, which was built in 1921 and designed by famed theater architect William Lehmann.

Mauna Lani’s fundamental identity is grounded in nature. It works to stay timeless, with an elegant design but thoughtful nods to ancient cultural references that the resort meticulously cultivates. There are water sports available, or check out the thirty-year-old marine life exhibit that Mauna Lani is dedicated to preserving. Partnered with Oahu-based marine and wildlife center Sea Life Park for education and conservation, where guests can watch sea turtles grow up. Thousands of researchers, students, and guests from around the world visit Mauna Lani to observe and learn through programs.

Through all these things, “the design, the gastronomy and the activities, we tell the story of the place. It’s a lot of heart and soul and a real ecosystem. It’s a bigger goal for us than a simple job”, explains Hulugalle.

There are many thoughtful partnerships with the Mauna Lani resort that believe in the same philosophy. Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP has also taken up permanent residence at the Mauna Lani resort. Clean beauty, wellness, athleisure, and beach resort fashion for guests visiting Hawaii. The resort’s GOOP store was designed with interior designers Kate McCollough and Max Zinser and is inspired by Parisian panel shops, with a nod to the island. Soft hues of pale greens and blush tones are reminiscent of a Hawaiian sunset.

“I often tell clients that if everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful. In an overly decorated room, there’s no room for gratitude – you’re just over-stimulated,” says Grochowski. “Just like when we go through our busy, multi-tasking, and juggling lives, we often miss the beauty right in front of us. When done right, inserting empty space into a room makes a room feel more understandable and peaceful. . ”

Perhaps influenced by the past few years of uncertainty, pandemic lockdowns and social unrest – the escape from the settings that allow our minds to travel and at the same time ground ourselves and find calm has become increasingly popular – even if it’s in our own homes. “By nature, design is experiential. But in this particular moment, design is called to do more, to create unique experiences, not just familiar ones. The way we design now is to create a sense of familiarity, of wonder and magic to This is achieved by focusing on two layers of the experience: design and service,” says Grochowski.


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