Reimagining history with the Lodge at Marconi

Alongside the stunning coastal cliffs of Northern California’s Tomales Bay region lies Lodge at Marconi, a reimagined historic retreat that seamlessly blends mid-century modern design with the rugged natural beauty of its surroundings.

Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Stephanie Lee, Senior Project Manager at Oliver Hospitality that manages Lodge at Marconi, who was previously on the visionary design team behind this multi-million dollar renovation project – the celebrated design studio Home Studios, based in New York.

In this insightful interview, she unpacks their design philosophy, explores how they paid homage to the region’s iconic architectural styles while infusing modern elements, and reinforces their commitment to sustainability practices which transformed Lodge at Marconi into an authentic and luxurious destination getaway.

DNN: As a Brooklyn-based firm designing a project in Northern California, how did you ensure a sense of authenticity and connection to the local context and environment for the Lodge at Marconi?

Stephanie Lee: Before starting the design of the project, Home Studios went out to the property to spend time getting to really know the destination and Marconi State Park. This included a walk with the grounds team, who has an incredible depth of knowledge of the buildings and the site’s rich history.

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The team also spent time at the iconic Sea Ranch – only a couple of hours north of Lodge at Marconi – which is an incredibly important entity in the architectural language of the region.

Between our time physically on site and ongoing research both into Third Bay architecture and the history of the area, the Home Studios and Oliver Hospitality teams spent a lot of time together talking and sharing and collaborating until we felt that we were beginning to understand the spirit of the site.

DNN: How did you balance honoring the property’s rich history with creating a modern, luxurious retreat? 

Stephanie Lee: The property’s history lent itself easily to the building of spaces rich in material, color, texture, and geometry.

The idea of creating luxury wasn’t necessarily the explicit goal of our studies, but rather the idea of creating layered spaces that felt both authentic and exciting in a new way.

At the core of any design lives the experience of the end user, and that should lead every decision that is made. It absolutely can be tricky to solve for both the guest’s experience and integrity of design, but the teams were extremely collaborative and dedicated, and spent a lot of time and energy making sure that everything was taken into account when making decisions.

DNN: The guest rooms feature a blend of custom Home Studios designs and modern amenities. What were the primary considerations in creating a cohesive, luxurious and comfortable experience in the guest rooms? 

Stephanie Lee: Cohesion was actually something that wasn’t a primary consideration. One of Home Studios’ leading design concepts for the project was the idea of a growing and living collection, which was a nod to the tapestry of history of Lodge at Marconi, and they really wanted to evoke the feeling of a space that was built up over time.

If you pick two of any of the pieces in the rooms and put them next to each other, you might not feel like they go together. But in aggregate, the curated objects, furniture, lighting, materials and art all add to the magic of the overall composition.

DNN: How have things like AirBnB and a global pandemic where everyone stayed home for a couple of years impacted hospitality design from a business and aesthetic standpoint? 

Stephanie Lee: We’ve found that people are longing for new experiences that are often less activity-focused but more about settling into a new place for a little while and just enjoying the area.

Because people can work remotely, they are finding that they can take these longer, low-key trips. Often they’re looking for a way to connect with nature, or to spend a lot of time outside.

The impact of this new type of traveler is a mix of multiple things, including creating more comfortable places on-property for people to spend time to enjoy the outdoors (or their room!) and the introduction of spaces throughout both the rooms and public spaces which welcome travelers to spend time eating, drinking, working, or spending time with friends and family. 

DNN: Can you highlight a few of your favorite design details in the Lodge at Marconi?

Stephanie Lee: Yes! There are so many. I absolutely adore the striped couch in the Reception Lounge, and the gorgeous deep brick-red Heath Ceramics tile in the spaces accenting the reception area and door openings.

One of my favorite moments in the entire project is in the restaurant, where we have an incredible custom communal bluestone table that people can gather around, under a custom canvas and wood light fixture which was designed specifically to complement the table.

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It’s a really striking moment, and the table and light design feel exactly right for that space. In the guest rooms, there’s a lot to love – I’d call out the little sheer striped desk lamp with its wood ball pull chain as one of my favorite custom lighting pieces. There is so much design packed into the Lodge at Marconi and so many special moments to discover. 

DNN: Sustainability was a priority for this project. How did you approach sustainable design practices throughout the lodge? And is sustainability still top of mind for clients and consumers? 

Stephanie Lee: Sustainability was tackled in a few ways. One example is that the original structures of the guest room buildings were kept intact, so there wasn’t any waste created there.

Another was that, where we could, we tried to source vintage furniture in the lobby and some of the other spaces to reuse things that already exist and have their own history.

Ultimately, working with the site rather than against it is usually what ends up being the strongest for sustainability.

As designers, sometimes the impulse is to try to make the building fit what you want it to be, but we embraced what was interesting and quirky about all of these buildings, and worked with it, and that feels like practical sustainability to me.

On the allure of designing a boutique hotel

DNN: I often ask designers what their dream project is. A common answer is ‘boutique hotel,’ even from residential interior designers. First, what do you attribute the allure to? And secondly, what insights or advice would you offer those designers based on your experience with Lodge at Marconi project?

Stephanie Lee: I totally understand that answer. Boutique hotels are exciting as they have a lot of design opportunities, you can be a little more experimental with your work, and it’s significantly less personal than residential. 

That said, I think that regardless of your background, the best skills which will transfer to hospitality are the same ones that make you a great designer regardless – attention to material, construction, context, and experience – and are transferable between industries.

DNN: Lastly, what’s next and what is your dream project? 

Stephanie Lee: Since we wrapped the design at Lodge at Marconi, I joined the Oliver Hospitality team because I recognized the excitement and respect that they have for finding and lovingly renovating special buildings. We’re working on projects on many of our hotels, including the restoration of more of the structures on the Marconi site, and there’s a lot of exciting design coming down the pipeline.
Learn more about Lodge at Marconi here,  about the designers Home Studios here, and Landscape Architect Dune Hai here

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