The lobby of Playa Largo Resort & Spa. (Photo: Courtesy of Playa Largo Resort & Spa)
Breeze into the lobby of Playa Largo Resort & Spa in Key Largo, Florida and find yourself immersed in a modern twist on the Florida Keys’ nautical island vibes. Guests immediately encounter a circular, compass-shaped fountain, comfy hanging basket chairs and smatterings of sea shells atop tables amidst a soothing neutral color scheme. It’s a design that immediately cements the idea of place.
“We cater to the special; we had to create an experience,” explains Mark Calibo, Director of Sales and Marketing for the recently opened 144-room Playa Largo Resort & Spa — the first new build in the Florida Keys in more than 23 years. “Playa Largo embraces the Autograph Collection’s image, while still insuring that everything at our resort has a story and is totally unique to our concept and indigenous to the area.”
Despite the resort’s easy ambiance, Calibo and his team faced certain challenges on their quest to create these relaxed resort vibes. Among their concerns: Florida Keys architecture guidelines had to be considered and environmental precautions taken to protect the Keys’ delicate ecosystem.
Look beyond the lobby’s floor-to-ceiling windows, past the sparkling blue pool, and toward the resort’s tree-shaded pathways, its stretch of white beach and placid, turquoise Gulf water. The landscape reflects the efforts Calibo and his team took to help guests connect to the island’s rare local flora and fauna, and protect the creatures who call this land home.
“We brought in environmentalists to conduct more than 1,000 surveys on the property to study the indigenous plants and animals and offer recommendations for how to protect them,” say Calibo.
More than $300,000 was earmarked for environmental preservation. With that money, environmentalists surveyed indigenous animals, like the Monarch butterfly, endangered Stock Island Tree Snails and Key Largo wood rats, then took pains to insure the new resort’s buildings wouldn’t disturb their habitat. The result? A series of nature trails wind through the property allowing guests to enjoy their protected neighbors.
The environmentalists also surveyed more than 5,700 trees on the property. “Clumps of gumbo limbo trees were everywhere,” says Calibo. “We built around them, and if we couldn’t, then we moved and replanted them.”
Playa Largo earns marks as the first commercial venture of any kind in the Florida Keys to invest in a Power Knot Liquid Food Composter, which reduces landfill waste by 35 tons per year. The composter decreases the resort’s carbon footprint by 147 tons annually.
To be sure, the environment was one of many factors which were considered as the resort’s design strategy unfolded. “As the first Autograph hotel to be built from the ground up, the question also arose of how to create historic value in a brand-new property,” says Calibo.
The much-lauded Gettys Group hotel design firm took the reins and focused their concept on a design that reflected Key Largo between the late 1930s to early ’50s. “Little fishing camps and homesteader bungalows were on the island at the time,” says Calibo. “Gettys took a fishing village concept with a nautical twist and integrated it into our decor.”
The property’s main buildings feature tin roofs, sprawling balconies with white railings, and what’s known as an eyebrow-style roofline, typical of Key West architecture. In the lobby lie the compass rose fountain and basket chairs — meant to emulate comfier, updated versions of hanging rope chairs found on clipper ships.
For guest rooms, the design team opted for a color palette of pale, tropical blues and neutral driftwood and integrated a number of details that reflect both the nautical theme and a sense of subtle luxury.
“We splurged on laying wood-washed porcelain floors — a $100 million project — and installing $400 Illy coffee makers in each room, as well as iPads” says Calibo. “We have wall decking behind the beds, as you would in a ship captain’s cabin, and sliding barn doors and peekaboo windows in the bathroom — which we call the water closet.”
Of course, environmentally friendly details also took priority. Nearly all of the resort’s rooms only have showers to help reduce the amount of water consumption. Plus, in an additional effort to eliminate plastic waste and further minimize the resort’s carbon footprint, each guest receives a reusable, glass water bottle in their room upon arrival which can be refilled at a Vero purified water station in the lobby. Despite the expense — the bottles cost the resort $6 each, as opposed to 35 to 40 cents for plastic — the environmental benefit outweighs the price, according to Calibo.
Adjacent to the main, three-story resort building lie 10 free-standing, two-story bungalows with living rooms and kitchens, as well as a three-bedroom beach house with private pool available for groups and events, like weddings.
The resort’s prime Key Largo location puts it in proximity to island attractions like John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, but guests may opt to spend ample time on the property, enjoying the zero-entry lagoon-style pool, manmade beach and waterfront hammocks. They’ll especially want to stick around as the sun dips into the horizon.
“We wanted to create a sunset celebration with a communal atmosphere, we wanted to bring people together,” says Calibo. “Our celebration starts with a ringing of an authentic ship’s bell, and features a mojito cart with drink recipes we acquired from the Bacardi factory.”
After sunset, guests can dine at a variety of restaurants, each of which nods to the resort’s design concept in its own way. The upscale steakhouse La Marea’s name translates to “tides,” which is reflected in its operating hours, open for breakfast and dinner. The Las Olas ceviche bar reflects the citrus-preserved fish eaten by the native indians who once called these islands home.
Finally, waterfront Sol by the Sea is built around a preserved boathouse, complete with chairs made from repurposed wood from boats and and walls covered in colorful, rescued buoys from across the Keys — another environmentally conscious decision.
“In the beginning we asked ourselves, how do we create something that keeps people here in Key Largo?” says Calibo. Playa Largo manages to gracefully mesh its sleek, new-world design with respect to Key Largo’s nautical history. The result has made it a standout property in the upper Florida Keys; it’s a destination in itself.