Understated Elegance

The iconic Halekulani hotel unveils its new Orchid Suite

If true luxury is the by-product of ingenuity, necessity and style, then the Premier Suites at Halekulani may require a moniker more aptly defined than “luxurious.”

Not because the suites – particularly the newly unveiled Orchid Suite – fail to possess these traits. Instead, they elevate the notion of refinement demanded by the most discerning traveler. At $7,000 per night (the price tag on both the Royal and Vera Wang suites as well), only a hotel that zigs while competitors are waging a price-cutting war and zags through fly-by-night design trends can continue offering the highest personal service.

Halekulani’s chief operating officer, Peter Shaindlin, feels it’s a little more in-depth than that, actually. Which is why it made perfect sense to have Shaindlin show us the Orchid Suite. What follows is not merely a tour of the most elegant room for rent in Waikiki; it is an exploration into the philosophy that birthed it.

The ground floor Orchid Suite, lore dictates, actually was the original honeymoon domicile known as “Bungalow 7” during the hotel’s infancy in the 1920s. Navigating through a maze of manicured gardens and elevators to reach it today, Shaindlin points out that this notion carries a lot of meaning for repeat visitors, many of whom have increased their net worth over the years – and can now afford the tab.

Upon entry, the first thing you hear is the sea. This is a relatively lost amenity in Waikiki, Shaindlin points out. In front of you lies a sizable span of lawn, fronted by a hedge of hibiscus that blocks passers-by, yet perfectly frames the state’s most recognizable landmark: Diamond Head. From the bed in the suite’s single bedroom, there’s also a beautifully centered view of the picturesque crater.

What you won’t see in this room, however, are bold art pieces or statements of color.

“We don’t really do ‘neutral,’ but it is sedated,” says Shaindlin, who has been with Halekulani for six years. “I was very clear to the designers (local firm Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo): ‘Think elements: land, sea and sky. Keep things grounded.'”

As we sink into supple couches in the living room, which has a full kitchen and bar, Shaindlin is eager to talk about a three-option program he inked with incumbent Executive Chef Vikram Garg specifically for guests of the suite. One involves an in-room dining experience featuring the fare of AAA Five Diamond-rated La Mer restaurant, to be served at the outdoor dining area just beyond the suite’s sliding glass doors. Second, Garg can come down and arrange a personalized menu that complements the guest’s palate, which he will then prepare himself. Or, for the more adventurous, Garg will literally teach guests how to make their favorite dishes and suggest ways in which they could be updated. He would then serve the party in the suite.

The master bath resembles a room found within the spa at a resort twice the size of this one. Designed so guests of the suite can have all the relaxation treatments offered at the spa

without having to leave the room, the space is a temple of sedation. Two oversized bathing tubs (one, a cold plunge; the other, an air-bath “experience”) stretch end to end, capped only by a steam “Shower Tower” – all of which are made by Japan’s Toto Neorest. In fact, a new signature treatment was created upon the completion of, and inspired by the Orchid Suite’s bathroom. It involves a white algae body wrap, followed by a cranial massage, reflexology, a steam shower, a lavender jacuzzi soak and a tea ceremony.

“After, we assuage guests to the entertainment room, where they enjoy a light- and sound-therapy experience,” Shaindlin says, standing in the cozy entertainment room palming for a 24-karat gold remote control that looks as if it could land an airplane. On it, a recognizable signature: “Steinway & Sons.”

Shaindlin’s coup de grâce is a $250,000 stereo system built by the iconic piano company. The device incorporates heat sensors that pick up where a listener is located within the room, adjusting the sound appropriately. The nine-point system was installed by a sound specialist from Copenhagen, who fine-tuned every element in the room.

The in-room DVD and album collection was hand-picked by Honolulu Symphony conductor Andreas Delfs. After previewing a video that details wildlife around the globe, Shaindlin pops in The Rolling Stones’ Shine a Light. Amidst wailing gui-

tars and succinct rhythm, we chat about the evolution of luxury hotels, from hiring European GMs with proven pedigrees in the 1980s to amenity-driven gimmicks that “big-box luxury hotels” turned to in the ’90s.

“It’s important to have an understanding of the humanities – of the arts and culture where the hotel is located – in order to execute an informed vision,” he says. “I believe that if a hotelier wants to advance, the depth and culture of his iconic institution can only reach the depth and culture that he has.”

The question arises: “What is iconic?” “An icon has a power over people, whether it’s another person or a building,” Shaindlin says. “When someone interacts with an icon, they encourage a sense of surrender that’s undefinable. There’s a sense of beauty that makes people not want to let go. It’s like after a game at Yankee Stadium – everyone stands, but no one wants to leave. Or at a Rolling Stones concert. It’s the same trying to leave the Halekulani.”

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