Sometimes you walk into a hotel room and immediately think, “I could live here.” At its best, that feeling comes from more than just a fabulous view, or a bigger bed or newer bathroom fixtures than those back at home. Instead, it stems from a recognition of both a unique sense of place and a livable style, one that can make a vacation seem like a way of life.
Sparking that sensation has become a calling card for award-winning San Francisco interior designer Nicole Hollis, the creative director and principal of NICOLEHOLLIS, a team of 70 interior designers, architects and furniture designers. This summer revealed her spare but welcoming signature in the long-awaited reopening of guest rooms of two iconic properties: Kona Village on Hawai‘i Island and Sea Ranch Lodge on the Sonoma coast.
Their debut followed her company’s creation of an ultra-sustainable aesthetic for 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, a dramatic metamorphosis of Kauai’s Princeville Hotel that opened earlier this year under the eco-luxury boutique hotel brand. The team had introduced similarly leafy public spaces in 2022 at 1 Hotel San Francisco, a makeover of the former Hotel Vitale. Two renowned Silicon Valley hotels also revealed new looks in recent years, thanks to the Hollis collective: Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, which benefited from a refresh to its lobby and guestrooms, while downtown Palo Alto’s El PRADO, formerly known as the Garden Court Hotel, received a welcoming infusion of Spanish-Mediterranean zest.
“Working on properties that guests have previously visited — and loved — requires a delicate balance,” noted Hollis, who trained in New York and moved to San Francisco in 1998 to work on the design of the then-fledgling W Hotels brand. With Kona Village and Sea Ranch Lodge in particular, she said, “our challenge was to keep that ineffable feeling of how that place made them feel in the past and make sure the essence of that feeling is retained, while bringing the design forward to meet the needs of the present day.”
Revitalized Hawaiian Idyll
Opened in 1965, and shuttered after a 2011 tsunami, the old Kona Village had a very loyal following, including the late Steve Jobs. His widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, is among the investors who helped reopen what some now refer to as Kona Village 2.0.
Bill Partmann, a Sacramento attorney and founder of two Facebook groups for former guests who lobbied to save Kona Village, was among the very first to visit the latest “release.” He praised the combined efforts of developer Kennedy Wilson, architect Greg Warner of San Francisco’s Walker Warner Architects and Hollis’ team.
“It’s a new resort, but it pays homage to the original Kona Village and that’s what I like, and most of my page members who go also admit that,” Partmann said. “There’s a sense of familiarity, even though it’s new, and that’s important, too.”
Although now part of the luxurious Rosewood Resorts brand, Kona Village still radiates rusticity, with scraped wood floors and Douglas fir walls and ceilings, albeit with modern touches such as a Bluetooth speaker tucked inside a coconut shell. The latter is also a shout-out to the coconuts that guests still place in front of their hale, or cottages, as a “do not disturb” symbol.
“Drawing from the site is my most important inspiration,” said Hollis, a longtime Big Island visitor who had spent time at Kona Village before its closure a dozen years ago. “We believe in connecting the built environment to the natural site and always reminding visitors that where you are on the outside should be reflected on the inside.”
It helps that most of the 150 hale at Kona Village, which range from one to four bedrooms, include a spacious lanai to link the outdoors to the indoors. Views from the wall-sized window in each also informed Hollis’ color choices for the interiors. In the area known as the South Village, blue and yellow hues play off the sandy beach and sparkling ocean nearby. The lava fields around the North Village, which also has views of volcanic Mauna Kea, inspired its rooms’ red and black palette. Hale by the lagoons, technically anchialine ponds, feature darker wood tones, deep greens and teal blues.
Since the resort was built on the site of the historic fishing village of Kaʻūpūlehu, Hollis’ team commissioned custom, handmade beds inspired by the shape of a boat. Decorative pieces, rugs and upholstery in natural materials also reflect traditional Hawaiian practices and arts, while the custom sinks and concrete soaking tubs evoke the lava flows around the resort.
A large collection of artworks by Native Hawaiian and Hawaii-based artists throughout the property includes pieces by kapa artist Roen Hufford, a 2023 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow; Pegge Hopper, the Oakland-born painter who moved to Hawaii in 1963 and gained fame for depicting serene (and often sleeping) Hawaiian women; and designer and kapa artist Jamie Makasobe, co-founder of the Kealopiko clothing line.
“Our design is intended to showcase the island’s rich cultural history, while paying homage to its natural heritage — all while raising up the many talented artists and artisans who call the Big Island home,” Hollis said.
A New Era on Sonoma Coast
The visionary architecture and landscaping of Sea Ranch, developed in the mid-1960s by Lawrence Halprin and others, took the native Pomo Indians’ principle of “living lightly on the land” to heart. One of the oldest buildings on the 53-acre master-planned community, the lodge reopened its remodeled public spaces, including a restaurant, in 2021. This summer’s debut of 17 guest rooms (two former lodgings were combined into a new meeting room) “ushers in a new era…that fulfills the architects’ original masterplan while adding touches of modernity,” said Kristina Jetton, the lodge’s general manager.
Jetton is former general manager of Ventana Big Sur and Carmel Valley Ranch, equally celebrated for their connection to their environment. She praised the “elegant yet modest design” by Hollis’ collective for combining simplicity, comfort and coexistence “with the natural elements that make Sea Ranch Lodge so special.”
Rustic and sophisticated elements alike emphasize craftsmanship, including custom closets, headboards and desks made by Santa Cruz Woodworks, mid-century modern Hans Wegner elbow chairs, Fireclay tiles, woven pieces by Berkeley artist Jess Feury and ceramic artworks by San Francisco’s Sasinun Kladpetch. Fireplaces and cushioned window seats allow guests to stay cozy while soaking in the Pacific Ocean views.
“We were honored to be stewards for the guest room design of such an iconic and historic property, especially in our own home of Northern California,” said Hollis. “We always take cues from nature and architecture in our work, and Sea Ranch provides an incredibly inspirational backdrop.”
Sustainable Luxury on Kauai
Speaking of inspirational backdrops, the gorgeous sandy crescent of Kauai’s Hanalei Bay, flanked by green mountains and the distinctive peak nicknamed Bali Hai, may be unsurpassed in the Pacific. But all the previous incarnations of the flagship hotel of Princeville, which sits on a bluff overlooking the bay, never showcased it in the intimate way 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay has.
“We set out to blur the line between interior and exterior, to create an environment where guests are transported to a place of solace and serenity,” Hollis explained to Field Guide, 1 Hotels’ online magazine.
Instead of alighting under an imposing porte-cochere, guests now arrive in what feels like a tropical garden, with indoor-outdoor walkways marked by low lava-rock walls, eucalyptus poles and teak joists. They lead to this reporter’s favorite new spot for sushi in Hawaii, Welina Terrace, an open lobby bar and lounge that draws throngs for sunset and “most evokes the spirit of 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay,” according to Hollis.
“Essentially a covered outdoor space, it utilizes low-level native plantings and a central bar to divide it into various smaller intimate areas while never obstructing the views of the bay,” Hollis told the Field Guide. “Walls painted with lime wash from Portola, reclaimed teak ceiling joists, a raked-concrete bar, and natural limestone flooring with a subtle nod to kapa patterns provide a richly textured backdrop for guests to comfortably lounge and enjoy fresh sushi or a locally inspired cocktail.”
The hotel’s main restaurant, 1 Kitchen, has its own stunning vistas of Hanalei Bay, bracketed by a new adults-only infinity-edge pool and rooftops now planted with native grasses, culinary herbs and other foliage. In the 252 guestrooms that descend down a hill to the beach and saltwater pools, the understated design of soft, natural forms and materials in a neutral palette — including woven abaca fibers, local basalt and reclaimed teak and other woods — further serve to highlight the emerald and azure panorama outside.
Although both feature “biophilic” (plant-loving) design, the Kauai hotel provides an intriguing contrast with the public spaces Hollis’ company designed for its San Francisco counterpart, which is intended to be “a calming haven located in the heart of a bustling urban area,” she observed. “However, with 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, its entire surroundings are an oasis, so our objective was to draw from that soothing energy by incorporating the property’s serene backdrop into the design.”
Mi casa es su casa
Downtown Palo Alto is a far cry from Kauai’s North Shore, but its scale is also more residential than 1 Hotel San Francisco’s Embarcadero neighborhood. Unveiled in late 2021, Hollis’ design for the public spaces of the former Garden Court, a four-story hotel with 62 guestrooms that has been a go-to gathering place for Stanford and Silicon Valley honchos since the mid-1980s, both enhances the verdancy implied by its original name and emphasizes the formal-yet-gracious Spanish heritage of its new name, El PRADO.
Dark forest greens, mineral blues and pops of terra cotta lend a cool, dark contrast to the light streaming in from two-story windows in a new solarium. Stately highback chairs, a long window seat with crimson velvet cushions and intricately patterned club chairs provide distinctive seating areas. Fringed with hanging plants or other greenery, the hotel’s inset tiled walls, cozy courtyard spaces and “discoverable lounges,” as Hollis calls them, inspire exploration — and more than a few wedding planners.
Rosewood Sand Hill was already a kind of living room for Silicon Valley wheelers and dealers, but Hollis’ 2022 refresh of its lobby and guestrooms brought more intimacy as well as a sense of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the bold backdrop above busy I-280 just west of the hotel. More comfortable couches and tables tall enough for laptop use encourage guests to “set a spell” if they’re not too busy networking, while brushed granite and reclaimed oak floors subtly invoke the outdoors. In the guestrooms, Hollis’ frequent collaborator on custom hospitality furnishings, C2C Designs in North Carolina, produced the sleek four-postered bed, matched set of semi-circular coffee tables and stone-topped dining tables.
Of course, Hollis’ portfolio is brimming with stylish interiors for actual residences, from vintage Haight-Ashbury and contemporary Mill Valley abodes to vacation oases in Cabo San Lucas and Lake Tahoe. But checking into one of her revitalized spaces relays her effortless sense of home and place — without your having to worry about the upkeep.
Get a closer look
Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort, 72-300 Maheawalu Dr., Kailua-Kona.
From $1,695. (808) 865-0100, rosewoodhotels.com/en/kona-village
The Sea Ranch Lodge, 60 Sea Walk Dr., Sea Ranch.
From $395. (707) 579-9777, thesearanchlodge.com
1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, 5520 Ka Haku Rd, Princeville, Hawaii.
From $1,114. (808) 826-9644, 1hotels.com/hanalei-bay
1 Hotel San Francisco, TK
El PRADO, 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto.
From $305. (650) 322-9000, elpradopaloalto.com
Rosewood Sand Hill, 2825 Sand Hill Rd., Menlo Park. From $895. (650) 561-1500
‘Get the look’ book
Published in 2020, coffee-table tome Nicole Hollis: Curated Interiors ($60, Rizzoli) includes striking photos of her team’s work at residences in Tiburon, San Francisco and Kona, among others. It’s available online at rizzolibookstore.com.