The Big Sleep Suite
El Cortez, Las Vegas
OWNER: Kenny Epstein
DESIGNER: Urban Design Studio
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $250,000
When you are a smaller, independently owned casino, you have to be more creative and resourceful. At Downtown Las Vegas’ venerable El Cortez casino hotel, the renovations begun several years ago have made a huge difference for a reasonable investment. Last year’s Building Excitement entry, the Cabana Suites, were a case in point.
But when El Cortez executives decided to renovate space in the main tower to develop 10 suites, Executive Manager Alex Epstein came up with a unique idea: hold a contest and let design firms and freelancers compete for the right to design and build the suites.
Epstein’s Design-a-Suite brainstorm attracted 32 applicants, of which four finalists were chosen. But it wasn’t your typical Las Vegas suite. For example, designers were limited to a budget per room of $25,000, a fraction of what suites generally cost casinos in Vegas. Ironically, the overall budget for the 10 suites was almost the same amount used to build the entire hotel in 1941.
Each contestant was given a palate of 600 square feet. While the budget was constraining, the only other requirement was that the designers buy 80 percent of their products from the Downtown-based World Market Center and Las Vegas Design Center, which Epstein hoped would help revive the Downtown economy.
The results were interesting. From a retro “rec room” concept by the Worth Group to the “Hint Suite,” a contemporary take on understated luxury, and the “El Contempo” suite, judges had a difficult time picking a favorite.
But when the smoke cleared, the winner was clear too. The mob-inspired “Big Sleep Suite,” designed by Urban Design Studio’s Tina Enard, took home the prize. The suite design, which draws upon the big, bad history of Las Vegas, features a long mural of a parched desert along one wall, with a faux movie light as illumination and grey-and-black striped carpet that recalls a mobster’s pin-striped suit.
The six-month project was a shot in the arm for the El Cortez, not only with the excellent design results but also from the free publicity that the contest garnered in the local and national press. In this case, it paid to think outside of the box