Kris Lajeskie Design (KLD) has announced the opening of its latest cultural hospitality design project, Hotel Chaco, in the historic Old Town neighborhood of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The new hotel is owned and operated by Heritage Hotels and Resorts. Inspired by the storied Great Houses in Chaco Canyon built by the Ancient Puebloan peoples over a thousand years ago, KLD’s design of the ultra-luxury Hotel Chaco captures the mystery and grandeur of Chaco Canyon and transforms it in a contemporary setting.
The architecture for Hotel Chaco is by the world-renowned architectural firm Gensler, fusing ultra-modern design with sustainable building strategies.
KLD is an award-winning boutique interior design firm specializing in cultural hospitality and luxury residential projects. Kris Lajeskie, the firm’s principal, is known for her masterful, artisan-driven creations that deliver a strong sense of place and, beyond the tangible, an experience for the senses.
Much of her work in New Mexico and the West has been inspired by living among and studying the Native cultures of the Southwest. She has resided with Pueblo people and studied their traditions extensively for the past 30 years. Chaco Canyon has been a particular focus of her anthropological interests, which have inspired many of her high-end residential projects, incorporating materials and building techniques used throughout Chaco.
In preparation for this project, Lajeskie was allowed an unusual entry into the sealed vaults of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where the immense Wetherill collections from Chaco Canyon are hidden away—unfortunately never displayed to the public. Of particular interest were the Chacoan ceremonial cylinders and the black jet frog effigy with turquoise eyes, both incorporated into design elements at Hotel Chaco.
Hotel Chaco is the sixth culturally-inspired interior design Lajeskie has completed for Heritage Hotels and Resorts, New Mexico’s largest owner of luxury hotels. KLD’s other projects include the award-winning redesign of the Hotel Saint Francis, Hotel Chimayo, and the Eldorado Hotel’s CAVA Lobby Lounge all in Santa Fe, as well as the Garduno’s indoor and outdoor restaurants at Hotel Albuquerque, one of Old Town’s landmark properties. Hotel Chaco is the first hotel in forty years to be built from the ground up in Albuquerque’s Old Town.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled about KLD’s interior design for our new flagship hotel,” said James Long, CEO and Owner of Heritage Hotels and Resorts, whose family (Aragon) goes back in Albuquerque for centuries. For many years Long has been involved in historic and cultural preservation efforts. “I’ve always been captivated by Chaco Canyon. It’s exciting to see the ancient Puebloan aesthetic so exquisitely transformed in the Hotel, in a way that is so true to the culture and spirit of Chaco. I especially love Kris’s use of natural materials, which really sets off the world-class collection of Native art she commissioned and presented throughout the hotel. Her interior design beautifully complements the clean, contemporary architecture of Gensler.”
“Our goal as architects,” said Andy Cohen, CEO of Gensler, “was to create a new vernacular in contemporary Southwest design, incorporating the elements of stone, wood, and steel. The structure is laid out in solar alignments identical to the ancient buildings at Chaco. Kris Lajeskie, in collaboration with Gensler’s team of interior designers, has expertly balanced the ancient simplicity with contemporary comfort and amenities. Her deep knowledge of Chaco and Puebloan culture has created a truly moving and impressive experience.”
In a recent interview, Lajeskie explained her design vision. “From the moment you enter, your senses will be engaged in a transformative experience,” she said. “You will immediately be transported to another culture.” The guests first pass through the hotel’s circular vestibules, which include elements of fire and water tucked in alcoves of Chacoan stacked stone. “I recreated the experience of entering the sacred rooms at Pueblo Bonito,” she recalled, referring to the largest of the Great Houses in Chaco Canyon. The entryway then opens into a spectacular circular lobby, evoking the round ceremonial building known as Casa Rinconada, with stone doorways facing the four sacred directions and stone benches. “When you attend Pueblo ceremonial dances,” Lajeskie noted, “what you hear first is the beat of the drum. Guests will encounter that same gentle beat immediately upon entering—reminiscent of the heartbeat of Mother Earth.”
The soaring lobby features the dry-stacked stonework so distinctive of Chacoan architecture, with a domed ceiling of massive timber-vigas laid in a traditional hogan pattern, opening to a dramatic glass oculus embossed with prehistoric Puebloan motifs, the work of Santa Clara artist Tammy Garcia. In the center of the lobby stands a masterwork commissioned from the Jemez artist Joe Cajero, while high on the wall, observing the activity below, sits a pensive sculpture by famed Santa Clara sculptor, Roxanne Swentzell, called “The Guardian.” The use of elemental materials is extensive— multiple types of stone, adobe finishing, wood, steel, and agate.
One of the highlights of Hotel Chaco is Lajeskie’s engagement with Native American artists, which turn the public spaces of the hotel into a virtual museum of Native masterworks. This extends to the guest quarters: every room, for example, features an individually commissioned, hand-woven Two Grey Hills rug from the Toadlena Trading Post, in native sheep’s wool, each one created by a master Navajo weaver. The commission took three years to complete and it supported the livelihood of many traditional Navajo weavers. The same calming Two Grey Hills organic palette of colors extends to the rooms themselves, creating spaces of warmth, repose and harmony.
Lajeskie commissioned celebrated Acoma potters Leland and Flo Vallo to re-create many Chaco Canyon black-on-white cylindrical pottery vessels. These vessels were originally made to contain the sacred cacao drink enjoyed by the rain priests at Chaco. In the same spirit, Lajeskie, working with Santa Fe cacao wizard Mark Sciscenti, commissioned an exclusive elixir as the welcome drink for the hotel.
“When I met with the artists,” said Lajeskie, “my main message to them was to evoke the spirit of Chaco through their creations—as many of them are, in fact, direct descendants of the Chaco people.”
Because of her longstanding relationships with the Pueblo and Navajo communities, Lajeskie has become a cultural ambassador for the hotel, advising on Native culture and symbolism to insure the respectful, sensitive and accurate representation of New Mexico’s indigenous people.
“My intention was for Hotel Chaco to take people way beyond the usual hotel experience,” shares Lajeskie, “and transport each guest and visitor into a new cultural dimension. I especially wanted to instill reverence for the local indigenous peoples. Hotel Chaco immerses the guests in the austere beauty of the ancient Southwest, embracing them in a timeless experience inspired by the most amazing prehistoric site in America—Chaco Canyon.”
Owner: Heritage Hotels and Resorts
Interior Design: Kris Lajeskie Design
General Contractor: Klinger Constructors
Landscape Architecture: Mimi Burns, Dekker Perich Sabatini.
Additional design and building development: Interior design teams at Gensler, Heritage Hotels and Resorts, Richard Martinez Architecture, and Wolf Corporation.