With a name like The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, and the fact that the $1.8 billion project was built next to the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, one might think that the developers would be aiming for an Italian feel for their new operation.
However, Kevin Wirsch, senior art director of KHS&S Contractors, the Tampa, Fla. company hired to handle the interior work of the Palazzo lobby and casino areas, says his team chose not to embrace the Italian influence directly.
"The idea that was put to me (by resort operator Las Vegas Sands Corp.) was an old Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive kind of feel," says Wirsch. "If you went into the Beverly Hills Hotel, you'll see the same kind of architecture."
Palazzo project manager Jana Mead of Dallas-based Wilson Associates says that's exactly what Las Vegas Sands wanted. Her company was in a prime position to know the tastes of Las Vegas Sands, having worked on the Venetian in Las Vegas as well as the Venetian Macau, which opened in China in 2007.
"They wanted something different than the Venetian," she explains. "That's when they decided to go with the feeling of driving up to the Beverly Hills Hotel and to make that into resort."
KHS&S' duties at the site included the lobby and casino areas, Mead says, and encompassed everything from the baseboards to the ceilings. Other contractors handled the exteriors and upper floors.
The work in the lobby included embossed Venetian plaster and vaulted ceilings with gold-leaf profiled moldings, Wirsch says. KHS&S also installed the casino's noted two-story fountain below a domed ceiling in the lobby.
"The intent was this fountain was supposed to look like lilac crystal, which the ownership used elsewhere on the project, on the columns in the casino and on vault ceilings in the casino," he says.
KHS&S installed a number of murals with gold-leafed backing. They feature painted pictures of Bougainville villas with bamboo trellises in the background, he says. Other paintings featured egrets and herring.
To help achieve the look that Las Vegas Sands was seeking, Wirsch, Mead and other contractors traveled to China to look for vendors to manufacture materials that would be needed for the project. Purchasing materials from Chinese companies proved too expensive in KHS&S' case, but the trip did provide Wirsch with ideas.
"We went for the Venetian (plaster) to China to try and find cost-effective means and methods," Wirsch recalls. "We ended up buying locally."
Mead says that even though the Chinese suppliers could almost exactly match the finishes that were needed, there just was not enough time for them to manufacture the finishes to meet the construction schedule.
Wirsch says a prime example of the ideas he brought back from the trip to China is highlighted in a circular mural on the ceiling of the casino. That mural, with a host of chandeliers hanging from its center, is 24 feet in diameter and framed by gold with silver leaf backgrounds. The mural features birds around a trellis.
"The more inspiration we were able to get from that (trip), the more we were able to introduce and put a little bit of flair into (the project)," he says, crediting small sightseeing excursions he was able to make during his time in Hong Kong and rural southern mainland China.
Wirsch says the piece, which took about six weeks to assemble, was particularly challenging since KHS&S had to work with the casino's lighting designers to get just the right effect, and that had to be done while the mural was put together in pieces brought over from the company's studios.
The pieces were painted with hand-mixed paints before being transported to the site, in larger pieces than needed, to make sure there was overlapping that could easily be cut to fit. That also allowed for repainting if the pieces didn't quite line up as intended.
For the wall near an elevator lobby, KHS&S installed a striking 5-foot-by-20-foot mural featuring an egret among bamboo trees. The bird and trees are on a gold leaf background. A cast product made to resemble a random mix of shell and limestone was created entirely in studio before being moved to the casino, Wirsch says.
"You still get some of the same elements as the Venetian (casino), but it has a more refined and more tailored look than the Venetian," Mead says, pointing to the neoclassical columns in the Palazzo that resemble those found at landmarks in Beverly Hills and neighboring Bel Air.
The company also installed a large mirrored wall with a mural at the registration desk. Wirsch says KHS&S considered doing the work, but Las Vegas Sands wanted to use its own New York-based artist. In any case, the border around the mirror and mural match two-toned railings of replicated white bronze and silver finishes elsewhere in the lobby.
Wirsch says his company was able to do small and large-scale mock-ups of the work at KHS&S's local studio before installation at the resort. Las Vegas Sands was heavily involved in every aspect of what KHS&S was assigned to do.
"It was designed by them, and then we took that and put it into fruition," he says. "It almost turned into a design-build with them. They had great input in it. By no means did we do everything ourselves."