Throughout its many eras, Las Vegas design has edged from extreme to high style, from kitsch to luxury. Now, those who have shaped its past and sculpt its future say change is ahead. “Vegas is a highly competitive market and it’s undeniable that everyone—from operators to designers and entertainers—has had to up their game to stay relevant and deliver the highest quality of experience,” says Alessandro Munge, founder and design director of Toronto-based Studio Munge, which has completed numerous high-profile projects in Sin City.
The city’s offerings run the gamut from opulent casino and convention spaces to suburban boutique hotels and new, future-forward projects, which begs the question: How is Las Vegas design defined today? “I love that we’re seeing a celebration of the local community, which is essential to the success of the city as an ecosystem,” Munge says. For his firm’s part, “We deliver a layered approach to the hospitality experience, both on a micro level within the [space] and a macro level through Vegas’ expansion outside the Strip.”
On the Strip or off, there are dozens of new, notable, and paradigm-shifting spaces embodying the concept of immersive design.
The Refreshed Casino-Resort
Studio Munge recently redesigned the high-limit gaming room at the ARIA Resort & Casino, for example. The project was inspired by the organic, flowy layers of an Iris van Herpen dress. “It’s such a great space where colors and cascading volumes create a sense of excitement and novelty,” Munge explains. The studio’s other projects within the MGM Resorts portfolio include ALIBI Ultra Lounge at the ARIA and restaurant LAGO by Julian Serrano at the Bellagio Las Vegas.
ARIA also unveiled the renovation of its Sky Suites and seven SKYVILLAS last year. Revamped by Los Angeles firm KES Studio, the two-bedroom SKYVILLAS were transformed into residential retreats, dripping in glamour with jewel-toned furnishings in bold shapes. In addition, the 420 one- and two-bedroom Sky Suites, envisioned by Houston-based Rottet Studio, now boast a midcentury vibe with a desert-inspired color palette of soothing cream, gray, and beige hues.
KES Studio is also leading the remodel of the 424 guestrooms and suites at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas—located on floors 35 to 39 of Mandalay Bay—which will be revealed later this year. The inspiration for the new accommodations is the morning light of the Mojave Desert, which can be experienced through the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Las Vegas Valley.
In contrast, all 1,830 guestrooms and 155 suites at the goliath New York-New York Hotel & Casino are undergoing a $63 million remodel, expected for completion this summer. HVS Design, in partnership with MGM Resorts International Design Group, is adding exposed faux brick walls and Manhattan-themed accent colors like Big Apple Red and Taxicab Yellow to the accommodations. “We incorporated that New York City vibe and twisted it with bold colors and pops of energy to blend with Las Vegas, stressing functionality as a key factor,” says HVS Design principal Christine Shanahan. “Guests will experience the feel of a loft apartment with convenient touchpoints and amenities to make them feel right at home.”
Avenue Interior Design, based in LA, partnered with MGM’s in-house design team to renovate the 700 guestrooms in the Studio Tower at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The accommodations, along with elevator lobbies, are defined by a midcentury aesthetic amplified with sumptuous color. “Many of the main sources of inspiration were based on the romantic ideas that accompany a getaway to a desert oasis,” says Avenue senior project designer MacKenzie Bergeron.
The MGM team, in collaboration with locally based DezMotif Studios, is also hard at work on the $100 million reimagining of Mandalay Bay’s 2.1 million-square-foot convention center. Hallmarks will include contemporary meeting spaces that showcase a modernization of the resort’s tropical-inspired brand, inviting seating nooks, bright lighting, technology upgrades, and 11 digital signage walls. Artists Thandiwe Muriu and Sarah Anne Johnson are creating new works for the space as well.
Meanwhile, at the Bellagio Las Vegas, another MGM property, Champalimaud Design and the Gettys Group have embarked on the $110 million transformation of all accommodations in the hotel’s Spa Tower. Champalimaud is revamping the 104 suites, while the Gettys Group is undertaking the 819 guestrooms—all slated for completion in October. The suites will be characterized by “custom furnishings and art influenced by high Italian style and couture, while color palettes draw inspiration from the natural vibrancy of Lake Como and the Alps,” Champalimaud partner Winston Kong says. “We wanted to create a residential aesthetic with the timeless sense of luxury that is uniquely Bellagio.”
The Rise of the Boutique
Las Vegas’ first bonafide boutique property, the 74-key English Hotel opened in 2022. Architect Brett Robillard, who is now studio director at Gensler’s Las Vegas office, designed the Marriott Tribute Portfolio property, which gets its name from celebrity chef Todd English, who is behind the onsite Pepper Club restaurant.
Located in the culturally rich Arts District, the English is an escape from the Strip without being too far away. “In many other cities, this hotel wouldn’t be boutique,” Robillard says. “For Las Vegas, it’s tiny. We wanted to create a hotel that had efficiency in the rooms but a level of sophistication in the public spaces.” Thus, guestrooms are intentionally about 20 percent smaller than the city’s average-size accommodation. “[It’s] subconsciously driving people into the public areas and the Arts District.”
Just a few miles away, the 64-room Lexi from Arizona-based Elevations Hotels & Resorts will debut this spring. Formerly the Artisan Hotel, the Lexi is the first cannabis-friendly property in Las Vegas. (Elevations president and CEO Alex Rizk is also behind the cannabis getaway Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix.) The Lexi’s rooms and suites are getting a makeover and the entire fourth floor will be designated as cannabis friendly. Lobby amenities include a restaurant, bar, and lounge; European-style pool; and a reenvisioning of the Artisan’s infamous Chapel Room. Eventually, the Lexi will offer memberships to Elevations Nation, a community of cannabis travel enthusiasts.
Also opening late this year, with just over 200 rooms, is the Durango Casino & Resort. (Local firm Friedmutter Group is the project’s architect of record.) The first luxury resort to be built in the southwest valley, the Durango will welcome guests with a light-filled lobby featuring natural stone-clad floors and walls. There are four signature F&B outlets, including the 25,000-square-foot Eat Your Heart Out Food Hall by Costa Mesa, California-based Hatch Design Group, as well as the Bel-Aire Lounge and Bel-Aire Backyard, both crafted by Avenue Interior Design. “Durango will be a statement for Las Vegas,” says Avenue cofounder Ashley Manhan Justman. “The desert color scheme of neutrals, caramels, and other hues are picked up from the local terrain. I hope this aesthetic brings a new language to Las Vegas and it helps expand the design aesthetic.”
New and Notable F&B
Earlier this year, Avenue Interior Design also transformed the off-Strip Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa’s former Cherry nightclub and Crimson event space into the 5,345-square-foot Rouge Room, a Parisian-style indoor-outdoor lounge from LA’s Wish You Were Here Group. Gilded double doors draped in velvet curtains form the entrance to an arched tree-lined tunnel that leads to the lounge. “[The original] venue was from the 2000s nightclub heyday with a classic DJ booth, a huge ceiling, and all the inner workings from the lighting,” says Manhan Justman. “The idea was to create an intimate, moody, supper-club vibe. There is a surprise element that anything can happen here.”
In the back of the room, the main bar is nestled under a canopy of chandeliers. Plush velvet upholstery, tufted details, and fringe accents play among handpainted murals and walls adorned with gold antique mirror eglomise. Outside, eight cabanas act as the centerpiece for the adult pool experience.
Also part of the Red Rock transformation, Hatch crafted the 280-seat Lotus of Siam, Greek island-inspired Naxos Taverna, and the 13-seat Kallisto Oyster Bar. At Lotus, guests feel as though they have been transported to Northern Thailand thanks to an abundance of greenery and natural bamboo elements, native Thai redwood, more than 230 hanging rice paper and bamboo lanterns, and fabrics sourced from markets in Thailand. The ambiance extends into a garden atrium with wrought-iron windows and Las Vegas’ first retractable corrugated-steel roof spanning the 60-foot ceiling, allowing natural sunlight to flow in.
For decades, Rockwell Group has been leaving a mark on Las Vegas hospitality, having completed ambitious projects such as the five-acre Tao Beach Club at the Venetian and Illuminarium, a virtual theater designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group. The firm’s latest endeavors include the just-opened Stanton Social Prime at Caesars Palace and the forthcoming Cathédrale Las Vegas at ARIA, both from Tao Hospitality Group. At Stanton Social Prime, guests enter through a velvet curtain into a 200-seat dining room featuring bold ruby red, sapphire, and gold tones with textures and patterns found in costume design. “The design was inspired by the dramatic showmanship and spectacle of Las Vegas performance and theatrics, accentuated by Art Deco elements and architectural details,” says Rockwell Group partner Shawn Sullivan.
Cathédrale clones the DNA of the French-Mediterranean restaurant’s New York location. “Our concept for the original restaurant was inspired by the music scene of the surrounding East Village, with its soaring ceiling and underground spirit,” Sullivan adds. “The new location extends the spirit of that layered, urban decadence and grit, while celebrating the architectural drama and grandeur of Las Vegas.”
Upstairs at ARIA, Clique Hospitality’s Proper Eats Food Hall is a fresh take on the moribund buffet. Inspired by international marketplaces where locals and travelers connect over food, the curvilinear layout invites exploration. Muted pops of color and design-centric focal points celebrate individual vendors as unique destinations.
Across the street at the Shops at Crystals mall, the 220-seat Toca Madera Las Vegas comes courtesy of hospitality group Noble 33’s in-house design firm, Monochrome, in collaboration with local firm Bergman Walls & Associates. The focal point of the 10,000-square-foot restaurant, lounge, and speakeasy is an immersive art piece that draws guests into its bird nest-like structure with trees and a reflecting pond. “The previous restaurant had patio seating and we thought it was a great opportunity to create this intriguing element inspired by woven branch structures that you see in Mexican coastal cities,” says Monochrome director of design Cheryl Pavia. (Noble 33 plans to open eight additional restaurants by the end of 2023.)
At Wynn Las Vegas, Todd-Avery Lenahan, president and chief creative officer of Wynn Design & Development, conceived two new cocktail destinations. “Aft Cocktail Deck is inspired by the parties hosted on super-yachts, while Bar Parasol is inspired by an intimate grotto in a fantastical garden setting,” says Lenahan. Located on an outdoor patio overlooking the water with terraced seating, Aft sports a classic nautical color scheme of blue, white, and periwinkle complete with swivel deck chairs, banquettes, and nautical flags. With its garden-inspired color story, Bar Parasol showcases rock crystal lamps, couture passementerie, and tiles gilded in 24-karat gold.
In the Works
Every year, a handful of under-development Las Vegas projects appear in the headlines—many of which never make it to opening day. Recent additions include the financing-stalled Dream Hotel, under construction on the south end of the Strip; the Convention Center-adjacent Majestic Hotel, which never broke ground; and the gamer-themed Atari Hotel, planted for eternity in Web 1.0. Yet there are some big ideas on their way.
Late 2023 will usher in the second new resort to open on the Strip in the last decade, the 3,700-room Fontainebleau Las Vegas—originally announced in May 2005 and topped off in 2008. The tallest building in Nevada at 67 stories, the project features the handiwork of dozens of architects and designers. Bergman Walls & Associates is the architect of record, while David Collins Studio, Gensler, and Rockwell Group all contributed as well. The building was constructed nearly two decades ago and never completed due to funding fallout. Now, after various owners, it is back in the hands of its creator Jeff Soffer and Fontainebleau Development, in partnership with Koch Real Estate Investments. It features 173,000 square feet of gaming space and a two-level, 90,000 square-foot luxury shopping district.
The world’s largest spherical structure, the MSG Sphere at the Venetian, is nearing completion on an 18-acre footprint at the corner of Koval Lane and Sands Avenue. Designed by architectural firm Populous, the Sphere will host concerts, residencies, corporate events, and select sporting events like boxing and MMA.
The state-of-the-art venue has nine levels and 875,000 square feet of interior space. A network of ring beams lines the circumference of each level to support the domed structural-steel roof. Inside, the world’s largest LED screen clocks in at 160,000 square feet, the equivalent of three football fields. Featuring a capacity of 17,500 seated guests, the Sphere incorporates 15 full-service and 14 quick-service experiential F&B venues, all crafted by New York design studio ICRAVE. Outside, a 580,000-square-foot fully programmable LED exterior commands attention, while a 1,000-foot-long pedestrian bridge connects the Sphere to the Venetian.
“Everyone comes to Las Vegas, nothing is out of place, and everything can be larger than life,” says Rockwell’s Sullivan. “It is ripe for reinvention, innovation, and experimentation.”
Hear more about the city’s development during the Preserving and Reimagining Las Vegas panel on Tuesday, May 2nd at 4 p.m. at HD Expo + Conference 2023. Register to attend today!