The design of the Santarena Hotel underscores the entire experience within the hotel with thoughtful choice of materials, color, furnishings, lighting, and spaces. Andrina Fonseca, founder of D’Aqui Design, was the interior designer of the hotel, and offered an in-depth look at the details and interior design of Santarena in this sit-down interview.
The Hotel’s Design Vision
The Journal: What was the interior design concept and inspiration for Santarena?
Andrina Fonseca: The inspiration for Santarena came from the concept of a “gentleman surfer”, which applies to women as well. It is a place that’s a little bit more elegant than the rest of our town, in the sense that you can come here all dressed up for dinner, enjoy a date or special occasion. However, it’s still a hotel within a beach town, and you’ll feel comfortable and walk in with your flip flops full of sand.
We accomplish this by having a space that transforms from day to night. It is very welcoming during the day, very bright and airy. Then, at night, it becomes more intimate and the light will dim. The music will also change and the atmosphere will invite you for evening activities.
TJ: How would you describe the influences and style of Santarena Hotel?
AF: Santarena was inspired by classic coastal towns. Havana, Cuba, Cartagena, Colombia, and Casco Viejo in Panama. We did a research trip to those places to get some inspiration and understand the elements of the architecture and interior design in those towns. Then we used those inspirations to create a true and authentic modern concept.
This is the 21st century, so we wanted to take those influences, those elements of design, and adapt them to new technology and the comfort that our guests will look for while keeping an old soul. And you feel that when you come into the building. As soon as we finished Santarena, people said, “oh, it feels like it’s been here forever”. So that was mission accomplished I would say.
TJ: And what would you say is Santarena’s relation to the rest of town?
AF: Santarena is the town’s living room, because it is a gathering place. Once the town is completely developed, Santarena will be in the heart of it. It will be the center of town. So, the hope is people, as they walk around town and explore, will come upon this jewel and stay, and gather, and enjoy it as well. People can arrive for dinner or just casually have a cup of coffee, a drink, or wander around and enjoy its view from the top.
Santarena also fits into the town landscape very well. Ricardo Arosemena, the hotel’s chief architect, was able to position the hotel so it doesn’t look massive within town. It blends in with the residential atmosphere around it, and each side of the hotel has something special to offer.
Embracing the Outdoors
TJ: What is the relation between indoors and outdoors in Santarena?
AF: It’s a really fine line, because from the moment when you walk into the lobby you constantly have these glimpses of the beachfront, the mountains, the surrounding town. There are these magnificent floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, in the bedrooms you have big doors that let you admire town, and even at the building’s heart there’s a connection to the outdoors through the open-air Atrium.
The design also makes the most out sunlight, breezes, and the outdoors because of the big openings that are within the architecture. Here in the tropics it’s hot all year around, but the architecture welcomes the breeze, and there are cool colors throughout. So when you walk into the hotel, immediately you get a sense of freshness and it cools your body down.
Color in Santarena
TJ: What color palette was used in Santarena and why?
AF: The most notable color for Santarena is the blue-green found throughout the hotel’s interiors and exteriors, like the doors and accents on the facade. This color was inspired by the ocean just a few steps away, which is sometimes blue, sometimes green depending on the light that is shining that day.
On the facade itself, a prominent off-white was used which presents a neutral tone that complements the blue-green.
Once you enter, that white changes into a very subtle gray, a naturally cool shade that feels very refreshing. The blue-green and the white are still present, but they take the role of accent in the interiors, and can be found in the furniture, the woven textiles, and in the concrete tiles.
To warm these tones we added rich, dark woods, and an occasional touch of forest green, which add a bit more elegance to the space, really embracing the idea of the gentleman surfer. We also added gold accents, like those you see in the metal elements, the lighting, the bar fixtures. These also added more of an upscale feeling.
All together, the balance of the blue-green and white exteriors with the cooler, gold and wood interiors is a big part of what makes Santarena adaptable to any time of day.
TJ: Can you go a little further into the patterns found around Santarena?
AF: Just like with color, we started playing with the patterns, and the idea of fireworks on the balconies really inspired us. When you come into the hotel, there’s a natural cooling and calming in the design as you arrive, but then the balconies welcome you back out to these amazing views with these bursts of many different colors.
That same pattern is used in Ponciana Restaurant but when you change the colors, the pattern looks completely different. That same kind of burst pattern is also present in the different weaves of the chairs. If you look at the seating areas there are intricate patterns that kind of overlap with each other but they are all made into a form of graphics that resemble the stars, or the explosion, or the fireworks.
In a way, the patterns are all integrated, especially the floor tiles. Not one tile is a pattern of its own, and when you actually put them together the pattern keeps going, which makes the feel grand and draws your eye to the end of the space. In the bedrooms, they draw you towards the balcony views, and it’s the same for the floors throughout the hotel, where these stars sort of guide your way through the spaces.
The Spaces of the Hotel
TJ: What can you tell us about the spaces of Santarena?
AF: I think the spaces in Santarena speak for themselves. Each one has something special and maybe even unexpected. For example, as you walk into the building from the road you get a glimpse of the ocean all the way through from the Lobby.
Our job was more to give Santarena a little bit of life in terms of the furniture, and help support how people will interact in those spaces. You’ll see different atmospheres in Ponciana, The Atrium, and Cuatro Calle la Ronda, even though they’re just a few steps away from each other, and then an entirely different atmosphere again when you come up to the Rooftop Terrace pool and sunset cocktail lounge area.
TJ: Could you do a short walk through of the spaces as you enter?
AF: When you arrive into town at Santarena, you arrive on this beautifully-crafted road made of patterned pavers. I always tell people to pay attention to these because they’re true artistry, with each one set so that they look like scales.
Then, as you walk into Santarena, you are greeted by our Lobby, which is in a sense an old postman kind of office, and has friendly faces to greet you. You get a glimpse of the restaurant as you walk in, but you are not necessarily in the restaurant, and you’re left with the choice as to where you explore.
You can choose to go outside because you also get a glimpse of the ocean from The Lobby, you can choose to stay in Ponciana or have a drink at our bar, or you can choose to walk into The Atrium, where you can transition to The Conservatory and Study or head to your room.
The journey down the hallways is a cooling one, as the vibrant accents of the lobby fade into a steady and more muted color scheme. Then, once you arrive into your room, you are greeted by these beautiful hardwood floors, and a comfortable private space of your own to relax or step out onto the balcony and take your surroundings.
After that, you’re ready to explore all of Las Catalinas has to offer around you in this beautiful, walkable town.
The Santarena Hotel
TJ: Thank you kindly for taking the time to speak with us. Is there anything else that you would like to share about Santarena or the Hotel’s design process?
AF: Santarena is a jewel within Las Catalinas with a very special and unique design process. In collaboration with Ricardo Arosemena, our studio really enjoyed all we did here. The pride and the love put into each accent is seen in each of the elements of the hotel, and we’re so happy with how it turned out.