Putting emphasis on bathroom helps win El Cortez contest

The Big Sleep could just as easily been called the Big Splash.

As Tina Enard conceived her entry for the El Cortez suite redesign competition, she dropped in elements that would evoke the Mafia’s heyday in Las Vegas, particularly a wall-sized black-and-white photo of the desert, where people who fell out of favor were sent for “dirt naps.” But she also paid more attention to the bathroom than any of the other three finalists.

The latter factor helped tip the decision in her favor as a three-member committee of El Cortez executives announced Enard, a partner in the Urban Design Studio in Reno, as the winner on Thursday night.

“They did a wonderful job with the bathroom,” said hotel executive manager Alexandra Epstein. “It was a real change from what it was before.”

The bathroom, said Enard, “was one of the places we wanted to concentrate our money on.” That meant new faucets, a vessel sink and a granite counter. “We felt strongly that the pedestal sink that was in there was not something you would see in a true suite,” she said.

Runner-up MP3 Design went in exactly the opposite direction, paying little attention to the bathroom in order to spend more on furnishings. Each designer was given a budget of $22,000 for fixtures and furnishings to freshen up suites that were last redone close to a decade ago.

Although the contest originally did not include a second place finisher, Epstein said she, general manager Mike Nolan and Chairman and CEO Kenny Epstein created one to recognize how close MP3 came to winning.

Enard will get a chance to redo at least six of the hotel’s 13 suites, while MP3 gets a shot at the lobby bar.

One thing all the entrants did was to use visual tricks to try to make the rooms look larger than their 650 square feet, about the size of a regular room in some of the newer Strip properties. The suites had walls that separated the beds from the sitting areas.

As the El Cortez moved ahead with revamping the suites to try to move them upscale and replace the blandness of its current decor, management decided in June to generate fresh ideas and free publicity by opening up the design process. Out of 32 who initially responded, 18 fit the qualifications and four were chosen to go the distance. Besides the budget, they were asked to incorporate concepts reminiscent of the hotel’s 70-year existence, including a brief ownership stint by mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky.

Besides Enard putting her stamp on at least seven suites, the other three will remain as is.

The other finalists:

■ The Hint, by freelancers Nidia Settembre and Charles Mais.

They also focused on the bathroom with a new sink, vanity mirror and new towel racks.

They mixed in contemporary furnishings with some from the ’60s, while tearing out the closet built into one wall and installing an armoire-style one in a different spot.

■ The Rec Room, by the Denver office of Worth Group Architects. The firm, with an office in Las Vegas, came up with an unabashed paean to the Vegas of the ’50s and ’60s, including an angular wood divider between the sitting and sleeping areas and vintage posters of the El Cortez.

Alone among the entrants, they installed a bar in the entry area. “People can come back to the room and still keep partying, have a drink,” said Worth director of interior design Jamie Thomas.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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