How Slow, Thoughtful Design Is Elevating The Consumer Experience One Detail At A Time

History shows us that when a big change happens in culture and tech, it reflects in the arts and design. A draw to particular colors, architecture, shapes, and materials that evoke a mood often bubbles up to counter or compliment the time we are living in. Good design can help us feel better, find peace, invoke energy, and be the backdrop for an inspired moment.

In the current era of revising how we consume, reevaluating what types of spaces reflect the life we want to experience, and the pieces that fill them are being re-defined. The types of products, their sustainability, and discovering and supporting artisans are becoming more front of mind for people in all aspects of life.

Consider that back in the late 80s; the Slow Food Movement began in Italy by Carlo Petrini and a group of once seemingly starry-eyed activists to defend regional traditions and artisanal products. It seemed so radical and niche once upon a time. The approach was – and still is- to embrace food that recognizes the deep ties between plate, planet, people, politics, and culture. What was once seen as a radical belief is now widely understood and cultivated in over 160 countries.

So how can design be an extension of this philosophy? How can it help us feel centered and potentially improve the day-to-day for people and the planet? “By creating a balance between stimulation and pause,” explains Rachael H. Grochowski, award-winning Architect, Architectural Historian, Founder, and Principal Architect of RHG + Architecture and Design. Grochowski’s design evolves with her clients but is often grounded in natural elements, including meticulously sourced one-of-a-kind artwork and materials to elevate a space. “Through a design lens, that means creating the simple yet elegant combination of both filled and blank space. Space in a room allows your mind and body to rest and immediately makes you feel calmer.”

After two difficult years for the global collective, there has been a palpable sense for a need to have sustainability and ethical objects. There’s a responsibility in knowing what types of goods adorn spaces. As a result, there is more discussion around objects and materials, where they come from, where they’ve been, and what cultural history they may hold. Some resorts are now focusing their guest’s experience on the intersection between heritage, design, and history.

Mauna Lani in Hawaii for centuries was a place that was home to where Hawaiian royals would go to relax. “It was once the playground for Hawaiian royalty to enjoy. The property was recently renovated and has now become an oasis,” says Sanjiv Hulugalle, Regional VP and General Manager of Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, located on the Big Island of Hawaii. Through this restoration, the resort better retains the historical and cultural roots of the area, the design helped to capture that mood.

One of the most significant activities that brings people together, Hulugalle says, thanks to design is through the Hale’i’ke, or “House of Knowledge.” A circled enclave on the resort hand constructed in local wood reserved for moments of cultural exchange and discussion. “When you are part of the circle, we are all one. So we are all equal and our knowledge is equal. A lot of our talk stories happen around the circle. We discuss many things, including history, and our own experiences. The goal of Hale’i’ke is the philosophical translation of this house of knowledge. House of knowledge is what we call that area. Most of the time, it’s to discuss the significance of where we are, Hawaii, the big island, the natural land, the ecology, the dolphins, and the connection to our natural surroundings,” says Hulugalle.

The value natural elements bring to a space is also making its way into spas, wellness centers, and community spaces to fulfill the need to feel closer and more grounded to the earth. “Natural elements remind us not only to breathe, but that nature gave us a gift of its beauty,” explained Grochowski, who has designed several spas and wellness centers throughout the country. “Natural elements can include stone, cotton, linen fabrics, or natural woven fibers. These natural elements can be complemented with human artisan elements,” she says. In the various projects Grochowski has created, she often incorporates natural elements into the design signifying the interconnection between the earth and human craft.

Thoughtful design is also about creating experiences and a sense of comfort for anyone who enters the space. Post-pandemic, Grochowski says that many community spaces like theaters and concert halls have redesigned their spaces to make them feel more welcoming. Last Fall, Grochowski was called on to redesign the historic Claridge Cinema in Montclair, NJ. “The way we design now is by creating a sense of familiarity and wonder/magic at the same time,” said Grochowski of the theater which was built in 1921 and was designed by esteemed theater architect William Lehmann.

Mauna Lani’s core identity is founded in nature. It works to remain timeless, with sleek design but thoughtful nods to the ancient cultural references the resort meticulously cultivates. There are ocean sports available, or experience the thirty year marine life exhibition that Mauna Lani is active in preserving. In partnership with Oahu-based marine and wildlife center, Sea Life Park, on the contingency of education and conservation where guests can see the sea turtles grow. Thousands of researchers, students and guests from around the world visit Mauna Lani to observe and learn through programs.

Through all of these things, “the design, the gastronomy, and the activities, we tell the story of the place. It’s a lot of heart and soul and a real ecosystem. It’s a bigger purpose for us than just a job,” says Hulugalle.

There are many thoughtful partnerships with Mauna Lani resort that believe in the same ethos. Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP has also made a permanent home at the Mauna Lani resort. Featuring clean beauty, wellness, athleisure and resort fashion with beach for guests visiting Hawaii. The GOOP shop within the resort was designed with interior designers Kate McCollough and Max Zinser and takes inspiration from Parisian paneled boutiques, with a nod to the island. Gentle hues of pale greens and blush tones reminiscent of a Hawaiian sunset.

“I often say to clients that if everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful. In an over-decorated room, there’s no space for gratitude – you’re just over-stimulated,” says Grochowski. “Just like when we’re going through our busy lives, multi-tasking, and juggling tasks, we often miss the beauty right in front of us. When done well, inserting blank space into a room makes a room more understandable and peaceful.”

Perhaps influenced by the last few years of uncertainty, pandemic lockdowns, and social unrest – the escapism of settings that allow our minds to travel and at the same time ground us and find calm have become increasingly popular — even if that’s in our own homes. “By nature, design is experiential. But at this particular moment, design is being called to do more, to create unique experiences, not just familiar ones. The way we design now is by creating a sense of familiarity, wonder, and magic at the same time. This is achieved by focusing on two layers of the experience: design and service,” says Grochowski.