Meda Kesslar 2016-04-27 01:11:01
Mary Alice Palmer While her heart is in Fort Worth, her talents take her around the globe and back as she reimagines some of the world's leading hotels and resorts. On any given day, Mary Alice Palmer's work schedule might take her to Midland. Or maybe a trip to Madrid is on her to-do list. Other days she's commuting from her home in Fort Worth to her Dallas office — and back after a 10-hour workday, hoping there are no traffic jams. As design director of interiors for HKS Hospitality Group, a global architectural design firm, Palmer leads a staff of 20 in reimagining spaces in some of leading hotels and resorts in the world. Her latest project, the much buzzed-about Hotel Saint George in Marfa, opened recently (and has been the subject of speculation since construction began in 2014). She's no stranger to the West Texas getaway town.Fortunate to have friends with homes in Marfa, she's typically set for lodging. For the rest of us who like to play there, there's now another option, one Palmer designed to emulate and pay homage to the wide open spaces there. "The Saint George is about minimalism. The design was simple, and we wanted to use reclaimed materials: brick, the original concrete floors. It was the Donald Judd style of using an existing structure and celebrating it in its own inherent beauty." (Judd, of course, helped put Marfa on the art world map with Chinati.) "We wanted simplicity and to not overdo anything. It needed to be honest. The Saint George had to appeal to everyone: ranchers, families visiting Big Bend, locals. Everyone should feel comfortable." The accommodations have a minimalist aesthetic along with an industrial feel: a headboard is layered in thick felt; rooms are stocked with wool blankets and skins. And while the rooms are fairly standard, one chair is different in each. Unique touches include an open closet system. There's no door but lots of shelving and retail-like display with mini fridges and leather boxes. With HKS since 2011, the Fort Worth native's diverse career has taken her from • Texas to New York to California, where she worked as a set designer and decorator on films such as James Cameron's The Abyss, a challenging job that made her realize that Hollywood was not for her. While in California, she started crafting tooled-leather handbags. Eventually, she found herself back in Texas with a line that had been picked up by Stanley Korshak, Barneys and Neiman Marcus. Though she's long retired from the fashion world, the bags live on via eBay and online resales. Another career move took her to the architectural design firm of Seifert Murphy in Dallas, but a downsizing led her to answer a headhunter's call and join HKS. "It was a fantastic opportunity to start a boutique studio inside a large company." Palmer transitioned easily to hospitality design. "It's different because you're working with significantly important budgets and large committees — owners of hotel brands, developers — and lots of personalities and opinions. But business decisions mean there's a logic you can latch onto.Residential is so personal.With commercial projects, I get a chance to expand what I do well, plus I love working with a team and putting the right people together to make a project successful." In addition to her work on the Saint George, Palmer has been touted for her redo of Esperanza, an Auberge Resort, in Cabo San Lucas. Wracked by Hurricane Odile two years ago, the hotel is back with a design that's also a reflection of its incredible setting on the Sea of Cortez. Palmer used a soft palette, locally made textiles and accessories as well as native artwork in the public spaces, pool, restaurant and casitas. She talks of the challenges of working in Mexico. "Ifs unique, so you have to be flexible in the architectural design.You need to trust and control in just the right way. With Esperanza, we were given a lot of free rein by Auberge." Her projects right now include everything from the new Santa Rita in Midland to helping Fort Worth's Press Cafe get its rooftop deck open this month. And of course she hopes to squeeze in more personal travel to check out little places she finds interesting, a wanderlust inspired by her work.And she's bought a house in Fort Worth. While she considered moving to Dallas, she opted to be close to friends and family. She left a '50s modern rental for Fort Worth's more traditional Westside neighborhood, but she plans to give her new place a facelift. "I'm thinking of painting it black. I have a little bit of the rebel in me."
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