When the W South Beach debuted on a prime swath of oceanfront real estate in 2009, it pumped fashionable energy into Miami Beach with a moody cosmopolitan aesthetic and high-gloss nightlife venues that soon attracted pop culture’s bold-face names, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Lenny Kravitz to Lebron James. Now, like a hard-partying rock star that discovers Kundalini yoga, a $30 million facelift has infused the property with a sense of calm that feels in-tune with the moment.
“I think we all changed and the people who travel today want more of a grown-up mindset. Don’t bring me back to a different era,” says Aby Rosen, the real estate magnate who is part of the ownership group and curates the art program with his personal collection.
W South Beach 2.0 arrives to a much different landscape than it did in 2009. Even before COVID-19 spurred mass migration to Miami from places like New York, San Francisco, and L.A., the city’s cultural clout has grown significantly over the past decade.
Art Basel Miami Beach accelerated its ascent, becoming one of the marquee fairs in the world. The relocation of The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) to a triumphant public structure by Herzog & de Meuron, in 2013, furthered the redevelopment of the downtown waterfront on Biscayne Bay. The Institute of Contemporary Art followed suit in 2017, unveiling an Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos–designed home in the newly minted Design District, joining a number of galleries and high-end boutiques whose gravitational force resurrected a previously defunct neighborhood.
The makeup of the city’s visitors and residents has changed, too. Something that was top of mind when local studio Urban Robot Associates took on the project. “The ask was to reimagine the hotel for the new Miami—cultured and sophisticated—without abandoning the edge factor,” says principal Justine Velez. “It has always attracted celebrities and fashionistas, but the beauty of the new W South Beach is that it suits every guest and still maintains the panache that it always had.”
Velez and the team infused a sense of calm into the 357 rooms and spa, trading dark tones and shiny finishes for natural light, warm oak, and a neutral palette animated by splashes of color endemic to the sea (coral, teal). Intuitive circadian lighting, French photographer Jean-Philippe Piter’s seascape prints, and hand-painted murals in the powder rooms by local artist Juan Manuel Rozas are a few of the new touches that coalesce to render a blissed-out vibe. “We worked to strike a balance between elegancy and comfort: Although the new guest room design provides a very elevated taste level, it is warm and inviting. The finishes are touchable; nothing feels off-limits,” says Velez.
Once an afterthought, the spa is now a central attraction. The space has been transformed from clinically monochrome into a sanctuary with beige and blush hues, slatted wood walls filtering natural light, and powder rooms outfitted with eucalyptus-infused limestone steam showers and Chanel-inspired vanities.
New director Kristen Laukaitis takes a modern approach to the spa experience, eschewing isolation and dark rooms for light and airy environments and ritualistic moments. In the lounge, detox elixirs, chlorophyll-infused water, and botanical cocktails are offered up alongside treatments at the four-seat beauty bar. Outside on the private terrace, a farm-to-table lunch menu crafted exclusively for the spa is served in between meditation and healing classes. Thoughtful touches make all the difference: skin brushes for guests to take home, in-room Bluetooth connections for personal playlists, and cell phone sleeping bags for digital detoxing.
In many ways, the W remake reflects the shifting tastes of the past decade toward wellness and well-being. But it hasn’t abandoned all of its decadence. The buzzy Mr. Chow is still there. The pool, re-skinned and sporting new cabanas, still attracts a scene. The refreshed art collection in the communal spaces, under Rosen’s direction, maintains its pop-art appeal while honing its focus on the iconic duo Andy Warhol and protegé Jean-Michel Basquiat, who Rosen says “is still on fire more than anyone else.”
Rosen notes that while some of the hotels in Florida are stylish, diverse, and well designed, they often lack personality. “When you walk into the W, you feel a combination of South Beach and New York City. It’s all about the graphics, colors, and the energy that comes from the paintings. It’s always refreshing to be in an environment like that,” he says, comparing it to another one of his properties, the storied Gramercy Park Hotel. “You walk in and feel that you’re in an energetic art field, a New York institution. That’s what we’re trying to keep at South Beach.”
After closing the property at the onset of the pandemic, the W has reemerged for its second act a little more mature, tasteful, and serene. It seems acutely positioned for the After Times, as does the place it calls home. “If you look at all the new love for Miami, it’s quite amazing what has happened,” says Rosen. “Coronavirus had an impact, but people see Miami as a real cosmopolitan, world-class town. A lot of people in financial management and the hedge fund world are moving there, as is tech. Miami is here to stay.”