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Mob-themed ‘Big Sleep’ suite wins El Cortez design contest

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Leila Navidi

The Big Sleep” designed by Tina Enard of Reno-based Urban Design Studio and the winner of the Design a Suite contest at the El Cortez in Las Vegas Thursday, February 3, 2011.

Updated Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 | 9:35 p.m.

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El Cortez Suite Winner

Designer Tina Enard of Reno-based Urban Design Studio reacts as she is announced the winner of the Design a Suite contest for her suite called Launch slideshow »

El Cortez: Competing to Redesign History, Part 3

After six months of hard work, the winner of the El Cortez Design-A-Suite contest has been announced. "The Big Sleep" has been chosen as the best design of the four suites that the historic 70-year-old El Cortez handed over to four Nevada-licensed design teams for complete makeovers - all for $20,000. The Sun has followed the designers on every step of the process. Now, see the big announcement and hear the reaction of the winner, Tina Enard of Urban Design Studio.

El Cortez: Competing to Redesign History, Part 2

For the past six months, four teams of Nevada-licensed designers - chosen from a pool of 32 applicants - have been designing suites in the historic 70-year-old El Cortez Hotel & Casino. The Sun has been there every step of the way, from renderings to construction to completion. Get an inside tour of each finished suite, which had to be designed on a $20,000 budget. Winners will be announced at an event at the El Cortez from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 3 - and the winning team gets to design six more suites in Las Vegas' oldest continuously operating casino.

El Cortez Suites

Mikel Patrik stands inside Launch slideshow »

It’s been months of designing, shopping and budgeting for four teams involved with the El Cortez’s Design-A-Suite contest, but in the end, a design reflective of the 70-year-old property’s mob ties won out.

Urban Design Studio’s “Big Sleep” suite took the top honor Thursday night in a competition that challenged four Nevada-licensed design teams to each revamp a 600-square-foot room at the hotel-casino for about $20,000.

The Reno-based design firm will get to expand their design to six more suites at the El Cortez over the next few months.

Tina Enard, lead designer and owner of Urban Design Studio, along with Breanne Antos and Lea Wilson have trekked from Reno to Las Vegas for the last six months to bring their design to life.

"It’s been a long process, but it's been a lot of fun. We’re excited to see our six suites come to life. It’s just really fun to be acknowledged for your work. As we were sitting in the suite, so many people came through and complimented us on it," Enard said.

Enard said the goal of her team’s suite was to merge contemporary elements with old Vegas charm to create “the perfect blend between crime and charisma.”

“We love it. It’s comfortable and it’s fun,” Enard said. “It doesn’t just look like your typical hotel room, and that’s something we always try to do — bring a little entertainment in. It’s got that old Vegas vibe, which is what this hotel is all about.”

Almost every piece the suite was carefully picked by Enard and her team to represent a piece of Las Vegas. An all-white sofa accented with colorful pillows is meant to evoke the bright lights of the Strip and the gray and black striped carpet is suggestive of a mobster’s pinstripe suit.

Across the room, the oversized yellow wingback chair behind a glass desk is where the big boss might sit, Enard said. A tumbleweed lamp and faux crocodile skull sit next a wall-sized mural of a desert full of secrets only Bugsy Siegel might know.

The bowl of bullet casings collected from a Las Vegas shooting range would seem odd in any other Las Vegas suite, but they fit naturally with the suite’s modern mob den vibe.

“It’s a really weird mixture, but I think it all comes together,” Enard said.

Urban Design Studio purchased the majority of its pieces from the World Market Center, a requirement El Cortez Executive Manager Alexandra Epstein built into the contest to help stimulate the downtown economy. Las Vegas Design Center executives said the competition has helped create awareness about the facility, which remains largely empty, except for the two weeks a year that the Las Vegas Market show hits the design metropolis.

"I’ve talked to a lot of our showroom managers who say people have come in asking about the contest, if the designers purchased pieces from here, where can they find that white leather sofa in featured in the ‘Big Sleep?’ It’s created some buzz among locals in the design community," said Cain Brodie, brand manager of the Las Vegas Design Center.

Enard said team members stretched every penny of their budget to the get the high-end look they were going for.

“The budget was really tough. Normally, you’d have $40,000 for a suite this size,” Enard said. “But we are very proud of the fact that we can make something look like a million dollars on a budget. We just know where to put the money so it makes the biggest impact.”

The four design teams — selected from a pool of 32 applicants in July — have spent the last six months turning the outdated accommodations into their version of a chic and modern suite. The results were as diverse as the city’s downtown.

Jamie Thomas and Bryan Hamlin with the Nevada and Colorado-based Worth Group turned their suite into a midcentury-inspired “Rec Room,” complete with a bar for vintage cocktails and paintings of the El Cortez once owed by Jackie Gaughan.

UNLV graduates and freelance designers Charles Mais and Nidia Settembre blended vintage, contemporary and luxurious-feeling pieces to create their “Hint Suite.”

Mikel Patrik and Patrick Peel’s “El Contempo” suite is the biggest departure from the El Cortez’s traditional style. The designers brought in sleek white furnishings, gold flooring and a matching gold ceiling, which they knew was a design risk.

But the risk paid off for the Las Vegas-based designers. The contest has led to other opportunities for Patrik and Peel, including a contract to remodel one of the El Cortez’s lounge areas.

"It’s a little bittersweet because we wanted to design six more," Patrik said. But as Peel quickly reminded his design partner, "more people will see the bar, anyway."

The contest was Mikel's and Peel’s first design job since they lost their jobs at two separate Las Vegas design firms in 2009. Partnering up to design the suite led them to a business venture of their own. They've started a design consulting company together.

“A lot of people haven’t seen mine or Mikel’s work, so the contest adds an element of excitement and curiosity of what else we can do. That is what is going to pique people’s interest and lead to more jobs for us,” Peel said.

For Enard, the contest was about keeping the creativity flowing in a market that has been battered by the recession.

“This was really fun. It came at a good time because there wasn’t a lot going on, so it kind of reminds you what you love to do,” Enard said. “We just wanted to remind people that design is fun and creative and to get our names out there to let everyone know we are still here.”

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  1. Sounds like a winner. Congrats.

  2. I haven't stopped by this joint in years and have never stayed here... maybe it's time to check it out and keep an open mind.

  3. I love that they've embraced Downtown's romanticized, noir past. I love the retro, 20th century style, and I really LOVE the clever double-entendre of one of my favorite crime fiction novelist's, greatest work.
    (Raymond Chandler!)

    Bravo to the trio of ladies from Reno who designed this, bravo to the wise-beyond-her-years Alex Epstein (the 26 year-old executive manager of the El Cortez who thought up this contest), and Bravo to the El Cortez.

  4. I'm ready to stay at EC!

  5. @poppaD
    I agree why? The Romanticizing, Thirty years from now will we be doing this for tooky you know the guy that started the crips and has since been executed for his crimes. It is AMAZING isn't it.

  6. Chunky says:

    Congratulations to the Cortez for making sure they only considered "Nevada Licensed Designers". Now if the big casinos would fall in-line legally, do the same and quit skirting the requirement. All the unlicensed consultants should take note and the State should take action.

    Congrats as well to the design team(s) for their hard work and success.

    Chunky isn't a designer but the only comment he has is it is not so smart to put white anything in a hospitality environment; the longevity and on-going maintenance makes white a deal killer. Except for rare boutique hotels with the budget to clean and frequently replace it you'll never see a white sofa in a hotel. Someone should have caught this hospitality design mistake early on; HD 101 mistake.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  7. I STAYED THERE (53) YEARS AGO. IT WAS OUR HONEYMOON.

  8. Great idea EC! Keep up the good work.