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How do you reimagine a property with a renowned architectural legacy? Just ask Michael Suomi. The acclaimed designer and president of Manhattan-based Suomi Design Works has tackled historic projects including the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport and the Eliza Jane in New Orleans while also creating fresh interiors for Limelight hotels in Aspen and Snowmass. So, when he was offered a chance to restore and reinvent the 98-suite Aspen Meadows Resort—a mid-century marvel located on the 40-acre Aspen Institute campus—he didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.
“The Aspen Institute is not a hotel company; it has been around since the 1950s, and it has become known for very meaningful gatherings of people from all different walks of life to make the world a better place,” Suomi says. The campus was conceived as a total work of art, with sculpture and architecture carefully integrated into the contours of the landscape. “It was designed by Herbert Bayer, and several other former Bauhaus people also came and worked on various buildings on campus,” Suomi explains. “It has this really incredible architectural heritage that is both historic and very important in the introduction of modernism to the United States.”
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Was Suomi nervous about approaching a project with that kind of pedigree? “It’s like standing on the shoulders of giants,” he says. “The Bauhaus was this idea that you bring all different crafts under one authority—painters, sculptors, textile artists, ceramic artists, architects, industrial engineers, lighting designers, furniture designers—so that they all work together to create one space that’s harmonious. Everything we did, we tried to be inspired by something we found out of the Bauhaus.”
Although the resort’s six lodge buildings were based on Herbert Bayer’s architectural designs, their apartment-like interiors were not actually designed by Bayer. And while they may look similar from the outside, each building contains a different configuration of suites with a variety of floor plans. “We were tasked with taking what we thought was the most important of Bayer’s stylistic palette and redesigning the guestrooms as though Bayer would have done them,” Suomi says. “Then, we were charged by the [Aspen Institute] board with adding warmth, because the Bauhaus wasn’t particularly known for warmth. The rooms [had] real pale woods and a lot of gray and white and [were] fairly stark.”
Suomi’s update addresses the needs of modern guests by providing comforts that appeal to leisure travelers. Each suite’s design is distinct, but they all share a consistent palette of materials and finishes. Suomi boosted the sense of warmth by incorporating natural materials—including walnut, oak, and a veined granite—in spaces re-energized by strong, Bayer-inspired primary colors. Back in the 1950s, Bayer collaborated with Benjamin Moore to formulate three special paint colors to use on the exteriors of the Aspen Institute buildings: Bayer Blue, Bayer Red, and Bayer Yellow. Suomi and his team color-matched those shades on some of their newly created furniture pieces, upholstery fabrics, and case goods. The designers also made practical changes, including new terrazzo flooring in each unit’s entryway, which provides a durable landing place for ski boots and snowboards, with a mat inspired by the Bauhaus textiles of Anni Albers. Handy, custom-designed kitchenettes feature granite countertops. Suomi also seized the opportunity for a technology update, including new air-conditioning and heating systems.
During their preliminary furniture inventory, Suomi and his team identified some authentic mid-century pieces mixed in with a few knock-offs. They got rid of the fakes and then cleaned, restored, and reupholstered iconic originals including Saarinen tables from Knoll (reglazed in Bayer Blue), Bertoia Side Chairs and Bird Lounge Chairs from Knoll, Lowenstein chrome-plated steel table bases, and Tecnolumen Mushroom Table Lamps based on an original Bauhaus design. They also adorned the renovated suites’ walls with an authentic series of black-and-white photos by Bauhaus photography teacher Ferenc Berko, who also came to live in Aspen in the 1960s.
Custom furniture now complements the legacy pieces, including new, Suomi-designed platform beds, walnut cabinetry, and sleeper sofas modeled after a Walter Gropius Bauhaus original. The team added licensed George Nelson pendant lamps and designed a fresh batch of Nelson-inspired lamps, and even had replicas made of original Bauhaus lights that had gone out of production. “We’re sort of reissuing old Bauhaus fixtures that have been forgotten,” Suomi says.
Some of the guest suites are finished already, with all 98 expected to be complete by April. So far, they’re a hit with visitors. “Our guests have absolutely loved the renovation, saying the rooms are thoughtfully upgraded and comfortable without being stuffy or overdone,” says Aspen Meadows Resort’s general manager Justin Todd. “They stay with us because we aren’t another bland, luxury hotel that could be anywhere in the world; we have a much more interesting story to tell.”
And what does Suomi think Herbert Bayer would say if he could witness this new chapter in the Aspen Meadows story? “My hope is that he would smile, and laugh, and say that I did a pretty good job.”