Posted On Aug 18, 2014 By Matt DeFrain

Capturing the essence and allure of a luxury resort in a highly competitive branded hospitality market is no small task. Grant Design Collaborative has had the privilege of designing brand strategy and positioning for some of the most exclusive properties in the country. Our brand roadmaps provide a unique master plan to promote and market these destinations through captivating narratives that connect emotionally with prospective guests.

A critical role in this storytelling process is the visual documentation of the spaces with which our clients create experiences. As such, we define an overall strategic approach, style and plan for location photography as a cornerstone of the master plan. The results are designed, yet respectful of authenticity—piquing curiosity, but not revealing too much of a location’s true romance. 

Little Things that Matter

Grant’s positioning for Blackberry Farm—a consistenly-ranked, world-class retreat in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee—articulated the simple pleasures of grassroots luxury. We worked with Maria Robledo—a photographer whose magnetic images of food, jewelry and still lifes have captivated longtime collaborators like Ralph Lauren, Bergdorf Goodman, and Martha Stewart—on a series of intimate private and public space vignettes to capture “enriching moments” within the property’s unique, rural setting. The series evokes the brand’s upscale yet rustic lifestyle in a beautiful, designed environment while encapsulating what the owner articulated in our first encounter: “for us, its the little things that matter the most.”

Authentically Grand

We've also developed brand strategy for the landmark Rhode Island resort, Ocean House—voted #1 hotel this year by Travel & Leisure readers. Messaging, context and form were meshed in a way that allows residents and guests to insert themselves into the enchanting lore of the resort's past, present and future. We worked with Warren Jagger to capture the new, old-world luxury of the suites and public spaces. Natural light captured the historical context in a warm, inviting and theatrical manner—achieved by monitoring and mapping optimum lighting conditions within every space. From this endeavor we matched the light’s character and location to each space's function. For example, we used the dawn light from an early Rhode Island sunrise to add vigor to the indoor/outdoor lap pool. And the glow from a grand sunset illuminated every original beach stone of the carefully reconstructed 1868 fireplace—the beloved centerpiece of the main lobby.

Exurban Oasis

Architecture and geography can play a large part in determining a destination’s signature image, thus defining icons that become synonymous with the resort. For Blackberry Farm, it’s the back porch view overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. For Ocean House, it’s the yellow, period architecture nestled against the deep, Atlantic blue. For Walden—a 1,000 acre, pastoral haven located in Ohio’s Western Reserve—it was an elusive icon. Walden’s unique property package includes a AAA Five Diamond Inn, world-class spa, made-to-measure residences, dining and private golf—all spread amid a lush, green campus. And Walden’s oversized interiors were built to bring nature indoors as defined by the exacting architectural doctrine of Walden’s visionary founder (I remember walking into one of their 2,000-square-foot loft rooms and thinking that you could fit five New York City hotel rooms inside). So we collaborated with renowned architecture photographer Steve Hall of Hedrich Blessing for the task of making the enormous feel intimate. Steve composes photographs that allow viewers to imagine themselves within these expansive places. The resulting images are classic, clean, comfortable and still true to the grandeur of space.

Collaborating with talented location photographers is one of my favorite aspects of developing comprehensive brand design at Grant. Charting the course for genuine storytelling means honoring the integrity of these idyllic destinations by coaxing out their true spirit and culture. Working with these exceptional photographers has taught me that strategy, preparation and planning provide the right structure for achieving the most creative results. And yet they’ve taught me something even more: to remain flexible and receptive to new ideas and changing conditions as each situation requires. Because sometimes it’s those unscripted moments that push photography to an even higher level of greatness.