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The James Royal Palm Hotel
TRAVEL
The James Royal Palm Hotel
Local inspiration fuels the revival of a Miami icon
by Evan Orensten
on 18 January 2013

"Design is always a collaborative process," says Lauren Rottet, the founder of Rottet Studio and head designer of the freshly minted The James Royal Palm Hotel. The subject of a recent $42 million renovation, The James' latest property has tapped into Miami's local and extended community of hospitality, design, art and culinary talent.

Rottet headed up the interior redesign that defines the hotel, mentioning the need to reconstruct the old Royal Palm exterior exactly as part of the city's conservation efforts. The James Royal Palm is an example of when restoration goes well, marrying timeless architecture with of-the-moment details suited to the context of place.

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As we toured the property with Rottet and fellow collaborator Katie Stamaris, the Director of Brand Standards and Product Development at the Denihan Hospitality Group, the owner of The James, it becomes apparent that a handful of touch points help form an overall impression of the space. First on the list is the interactive "Art Game" table by Troy Stanley, an artist and mill worker out of Houston who created the long, interactive table featuring a map of Miami Beach under the theme "An Ocean Apart." A series of wood and glass cubes sit on the table; when they are placed in specific locations on the table's map they light up, revealing images specific to those physical places. The table isn't the only piece custom-made for the interiors—nearly every piece of furniture was designed by Rottet's studio or commissioned by it specifically for its place and use in the hotel.

The Hotel's open, airy lobby level transitions from the front entrance all the way to the beach, first welcoming guests, then providing coffee and snacks, then lounge and bar (which hides behind tall swivel panels during the day), extending into the elevator lobby, meeting rooms, restaurant and beach access. It's a long, but not overwhelming, space. "I really wanted the space to be just kind of white and empty, with the staircase being the only focal point," says Rottet of the expansive lobby. Everything fits together in a comfortable, Miami vibe and effortlessness that exemplifies The James' reputation for inviting modern design, interpreted for beach.

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"When I design a hotel such as this, I create a script or movie clip in my head and even assign it characters," relates Rottet. "In this case it was Virginia Woolf and Jean-Michel Basquiat—different times of course, but I imagine them meeting casually while walking on the beach and engaging in a conversation about art and poetry and ending up at the hotel in The James' club, having a drink and talking the night away."

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"It's a little bit of a throwback to late '40s Miami, after Prohibition and at the start of Miami Modernism," Rottet says of the furniture. "The proportion of [the pieces], the two-tone upholstery was very popular back then." It's a testament to Rottet that the balance between progress and traditionalism never tips too far one way. The original Royal Palm hotel was landmarked, and what was to be a renovation of the property ended up being a reconstruction—the building was rebuilt according to its original design, and materials (including iron work and tile) were salvaged and reused whenever feasible.

Art is a major aspect of The James Royal Palm, pulling work from notable talent such as Alex Prager, Charles Arnoldi and Michael Dweck, as well as Miami locals Patricia Gutierrez and Gavin Perry. Liora Manné even designed a surfboard-themed textile pattern for the upholstery. "Pretty much everything is customized," explains Rottet, pinpointing The James' style as "liberated luxury." The rooms feature 400 original works, a nice change of pace from the same room, same art that's more often the norm.

Many of The James' simple, fresh rooms come with beach views. Tables with bench seating and a chair make in-room dining or working more comfortable. Two bedroom suites, something that is tough to find in Miami, make for a great party weekend with friends or more comfortable family housing. The hotel is pet and child friendly, adding to the hotel's, and the city's chill vibe.

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Recognizing Miami as a hotspot for health, beauty and vanity, The James' gym is given prime real estate on the first floor, facing the beach. Pilates sessions are held on the deck in full ocean view. Less motivated guests might prefer the adjacent News Cafe and the casual atmosphere offered at the poolside cabanas, beachside lounges or the South Shore bar, which features a great vibe and ocean views. If that sounds too stressful, The James' superb spa offers treatments along with an outdoor relaxation area.

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Florida Cookery, the hotel's main restaurant, is helmed by local chef Kris Wessel, who took inspiration from his grandmother's own recipes for the menu, featuring the ingredients and flavors of southern Florida served alongside the casual elegance that has been a staple of Miami since its Art Deco heyday.

Rooms at The James Royal Palm start at around $350. For more information, visit the website.

Images courtesy of the hotel, portrait of Lauren Rottet and Katie Stemaris by Evan Orensten

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