The big interview: Sarah Hartman, director of interior design, Sandals Resorts

Imagery courtesy of Sandals Resorts International.

Sandals Resorts International is well known for its luxury beachside properties in the Caribbean. So what does it take to create the perfect atmosphere for couples to enjoy these five star escapes?

TOPHOTELNEWS exclusively quizzed Sandals’ director of interior design, Sarah Hartman, on how she forges high end yet authentic spaces within her hotel portfolio.

What does your role at Sandals involve?

As the director of interior design for Sandals Resorts, my role involves designing and furnishing many of the luxurious rooms, suites, restaurants, spas and other public spaces at the resorts. I direct the design team and make decisions on styling each space, thinking about colour, furniture type, artwork, soft furnishings and many other features. We always think about how we can ensure all guests have the most luxurious, romantic, and authentic Caribbean experience.

My role has changed over the years, I started at the company in 1995 as an interior designer, when there were only two of us on the team. I worked my way up to where I am now, where I get to make the majority of decisions when it comes to design and furnishing. We now have 20 people working on the design team.

Is there a template for interior design at Sandals or does each resort have an individual theme?

Each resort does have its own unique personality, however the design is kept consistent throughout the portfolio to maintain the ‘Sandals’ experience. We add subtle tweaks here and there to make each resort unique, for example – a commonality between all Sandals resorts is romance. We are always working to make sure that the rooms and public areas at each resort allow couples to have the most romantic holiday together, from placing Tranquility Soaking Tubs for two on many guest patios or balconies to placing large hammocks around the resort, or private outdoor pools in select suites.

How do you work with the architects on each project to create an overall concept?

There are architectural differences at each resort, so the process is always different depending on where in the Caribbean we are working. Whether it’s designing a suite, restaurant or spa, it is crucial to utilise all of the space well and to offer guests a combination of luxury, relaxation and romance. We always focus on bringing the interior and exterior together, to showcase the beauty of each destination and offer a true Caribbean experience.

Does Sandals have preferred suppliers?

We have a list of preferred suppliers, however it often depends on the architect and what we’re able to ship to that particular island in the deadline we’ve been given. We work with the best possible suppliers with the highest quality materials – that has always been very important to Sandals. We don’t scrimp on the furnishings and decor, we want to create designs to last that will stand the test of time.

What attributes do you look for in suppliers that you work with?

Trust is extremely important to us. Once we have an opening date for a new resort or a resort refurbishment, we need to know that suppliers will provide us with the materials we need in plenty of time. We only work with trusted suppliers that offer the best quality, as our main focus is to provide a visually beautiful concept and a practical, thoughtful experience, for ultimate guest satisfaction.

Which Sandals project are you most proud of so far and why?

I’d have to say the brand’s newest resort, Sandals Royal Curaçao, which opened 1 June. The design of the resort is much more European-feeling than our other properties, as the country used to be part of the Dutch Antilles, so it still has a lot of that influence. The interiors compliment this – I went for a very modern, light and airy feel with lots of light wood, pastel colors and tropical print wallpaper. The furnishings are light-coloured, featuring materials like wicker, bamboo, marble and gold-plating to keep the guest bedrooms looking spacious and contemporary. We added plants inside and outside the suites to bring in some greenery which is something we started doing with the Tranquillity Collection of suites at Sandals Royal Barbados last year.

What is the biggest interior design challenge you’ve overcome?

Global shipping delays have been challenging as most design schemes are based on specific items, some of which were harder to source during the pandemic. I also work hard to ensure that each type of guest room and suite offers a unique experience, which can be challenging with such a large portfolio of resorts. However, I welcome each new resort design as a positive challenge and enjoy finding new ways to add touches of personality to each one.

How would you sum up your design philosophy?

My design philosophy can be summed up in a few words – luxury, romance and Caribbean cool. These aligns with the Sandals brand and are the themes we prioritise and focus on when designing a resort.

What interior design trends are proving popular at the moment for Sandals?

Innovation is a big trend – guests are wanting more from their holiday experience than ever before and are consistently looking for something unique. Our focus is always to enhance the guest experience through design. The two-level infinity pool at the newly-opened Sandals Royal Curaçao is a feature that we think guests will really love, along with the resort’s brand-new Kurason Island Poolside Butler Bungalow Suites which are beautifully arranged around a heart-shaped pool. Artwork is also a popular trend. So as not to detract from the picture-perfect views at each resort, we aim to keep artwork in the rooms and suites to a minimum, with specially selected pieces.

Can you give us any hints as to where Sandals is looking at for upcoming hotel developments?

There are plans for two new Sandals Resorts in Jamaica (Sandals Dunn’s River and Sandals Royal Dunn’s River), as well as new Beaches Resorts planned for Jamaica and St Vincent. Sandals Resorts International recently announced plans for an exciting development at two of the existing Sandals resorts in St Lucia – Sandals Halcyon Beach and Sandals Regency La Toc. The executive team also recently made an exploratory visit to the Dominican Republic, after being invited by the Ambassador of the Dominican Republic in Jamaica.

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