Urban Cabins Part 1: You can get there from here

The El Moore seen from Cass & Willis. (Nope, that chrome silo isn’t for grain, it’s a 4500 Gallon Cistern!)

Now that the first wave of residents have moved in and are beginning to make the El Moore a home again after all these years, attention is turning slowly and surely to the Lodge. I will admit to a certain level of anticipation about the next task: Lodge design and appointments. Figuring out how everything will look and work, finding suppliers, gathering materials and options for review, and finally procuring pieces is exciting–especially for the Urban Cabins. Don’t misinterpret me,  it isn’t that I favor the cabins (though the views are stupendous) it is simply that they are really very different from the the rest of the building and so present unique challenges.

The El Moore makes an undeniable statement on Alexandrine with its Lake Superior Red Sandstone facade.  That statement, that mood, that history isn’t only skin deep. Amazingly, despite all of the abuse twenty years of vacancy have brought, and due in large part to its loving renovation, the El Moore retains many of its original details. Preserved, these details reach all the way from the turn of the last century and land with a distinct viewpoint in this one. The cabins on the other hand are brand new. They were built high atop the El Moore in this new 21st century. They don’t have that anchor, that heritage, that time signature the original El Moore carries so effortlessly.

The Cabins atop the El Moore: A chip off the old block.

Way-way back in March, when I first signed on to the project,  I remember spending time in between research and fledgling policy designs looking up the kinds of things you might think are a natural step for someone involved in helping design these kinds of interiors: headboards (will they be tufted or metal?), appointments (will they be repeated or unique to each room?), and furniture (will any of it be custom-made or should I open up a Pottery Barn account now?) Will there be chairs? Window treatments? A mini bar?

Oddly, as exciting as it was to be involved in this kind of exploration, it was unsatisfying. I felt that I wasn’t getting anywhere meaningful and I often didn’t like what I was seeing. There was no connective tissue. With the level of thought and care that went into deconstructing the El Moore, then the design and, finally, construction of the cabins, all the mass produced, slick furniture and high-end Hotel gear just didn’t feel right. The spaces were begging for something more rooted, more soulful, more…well, just more. It wasn’t until we were gently instructed to take a huge step backwards that we began to make some headway into how they would feel and function. It was at that time, looking at our team’s progress nailing down the look or design philosophy of the cabins, that Tom Brennan supplied what would become a kind of compass for us–the Lakota Sioux Medicine Wheel.  A complex and powerful ancient symbol, the medicine wheel represents the four cardinal directions and along with it, the cyclical nature of the seasons as well as all life and death, and represents, if that wasn’t enough for you, all of the knowledge of the universe.

In Part 2, I’ll delve a little deeper into the traditional meaning of the Lakota Sioux medicine wheel and begin to describe the process by which we are taking “direction” from it. Stay tuned!