October 1, 2010

Bling and Cha-Ching: MarkZeff Designs Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Mark Zeff is no gambler. But he was quick to take a chance on a mega-project, one with a scope that far exceeded anything that his firm, recently renamed MarkZeff, had previously designed. His two towers for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas connect to the famous—some might say infamous—original Hard Rock, which had built its reputation on sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Despite Zeff’s extensive hospi­tality experience, the call from the Hard Rock’s new owner, the Morgans Group, came as a surprise. More surprising still was the speed of the process. Within a week, Zeff interviewed with Morgans executives, toured the site, and sealed the deal at the airport before flying home. That was in 2007, when it seemed like every investor in the world was betting on Vegas.

His first task was to evaluate the master plan, already developed by Klai Juba Architects. “The big issue was that Morgans, the operator, and the bankers all had different thoughts on what the hotel should be,” he begins. “To galvanize the three groups, I put together a 15-minute branding movie on a day-in-the-life of HRH 2010.” The DVD showed a hotel that would appeal to an all-inclusive clientele demographic. From the fashionista to the club kid and the business executive, everybody would find something to love in this new interpretation. 

In total, Zeff’s two towers, plus the existing hotel, have a 1,200 key count. The Paradise tower is an annex to the original building. The all-suite HRH tower stands on its own, with enough amenities to let guests get into whatever mischief they desire.

Here’s the layout. Composing the ground level at the Paradise are reception, the bar Luxe, and a high-limit gaming room that “threads the old and new hotels together,” Zeff says. A nightclub vibe, a living-room feel, a memorabilia cache, they’re all there. So are patterns-a major effort. All told, Zeff designed 450. Most of them, such as the red-and-black carpet at Luxe, hint at his current fascination: “Gothic meets tattoo.” 

Ceilings in general are a “big deal,” he notes. A dome-within-a-dome reinforces the round shape of the room occupied by Luxe. He strung chains from the outer dome’s perimeter to the chan­deliers hanging below the inner dome, then channeled Goldfinger by spraying them with automotive paint. Equally gold are the curlicues that cover the ceiling in the casino’s high-limit zone. The spa’s pool area owes its old-world feel to bronze-framed vaulted skylights inspired by Budapest’s 1920’s Danubius Hotel Gellért.

White lacquered panels run along the ceiling of the serene promenade that leads to the second story’s spa, hair salon, café, lounge, and nightclub. Each presented a venue for bold strokes. Not one timid move. This is Vegas, baby. In the men’s locker room in the spa, lyrics from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” emblazon a charcoal-gray wall. Silvery nail heads stud the salon’s cabinetry of ebonized oak.

On the 16 guest floors, suites range from 350 juniors, mostly identical, to the seven penthouses, each unique. Their names and decor hark back to the Hard Rock’s raucous past, yet Zeff brought a gloss of refinement to the fun palace. The living room of the Provocateur penthouse has lipstick red on the walls and tobacco brown leather on the seating. In a bedroom, meticulously rendered lizards and iguanas cavort on the wallpaper. But that’s nothing compared to the fully equipped S&M orgy chamber off the foyer. 

The Sex & Pistols penthouse is tame by comparison, only hint­ing at debauchery with studded leather-covered walls in a bedroom and erotic photographs in the living room. Right in the middle of the living room of the Ultra Lounge penthouse is a plunge pool surfaced in gold mosaic tiles. Venetian plaster brings a platinum shim­mer to yet another penthouse, Stones-as in diamonds, not Rolling. “I was thinking rapper bling,” Zeff explains. 

There’s nothing truly outré about the seven spa villas built near their own reception lounge. That’s not to say they’re minimal, however. A sofa-daybed extends 15 feet through each living room, while a strip of latticework runs across the ceiling before con­tinuing outside as a canopy over a private pool. 

Did we mention the high level of customization? Virtually everything is a Zeff design made in the U.S., Mexico, or China: the onyx reception desks, the chain-mail chan­deliers, the seating upholstered in leather, suede, or velvet-the list goes on. What about the apparatuses in the S&M chamber? Those were purchased.

Photography by Eric Laignel.

Jorge Porta; Stacie Meador; Javier Rojas-Rodriguez; Catherine Kidder; Corey Chapman; Mercedes Bracero; Liv Riemer: MarkZeff. Graham Downes Architecture: Architect of Record. Kugler Ning Lighting Design: Lighting Consultant. Lochsa Engineering: Structural Engineer. FEA Mechanical Engineering: MEP. Kimley-Horn and Associates: Civil Engineer. Northwestern: Woodwork. M.J. Dean Construction: General Contractor.

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