Soothing the Spirit

Janet Wiens

The new El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa® provides an elegant setting for those seeking rest and relaxation within an environment that celebrates sustainable design.


Soothing the Spirit
The new El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa provides an elegant setting for those seeking rest and relaxation within an environment that celebrates sustainable design.

By Janet Wiens

We live in a fast-paced world. Family responsibilities, work and community involvement can make for harried schedules. Everyone needs times of quiet and pampering to soothe the soul and rejuvenate the spirit for the days ahead. The new El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa in Taos, NM, offers such a place. Luxury abounds in this $50 million property graced by sophisticated architecture, and it has already started to win wide acclaim in the travel industry. Yet for all its beauty, the resort is also a testament to the owner's environmental philosophy and the design team's commitment to sustainable architecture.

Sargert Design Associates, Inc. (SDA), Taos, was responsible for the interior architecture, furniture design, lighting and project management for the resort's main building, which houses restaurants and a bar, a library, a boardroom, administrative offices, the resort's kitchen and guest services. The main building lies on the resort's Sacred Circle, a green space that is the heart of the resort and is filled with 80-year-old cottonwood trees, waterfalls, stone water sculptures, a wooden footbridge, a trout-stocked pond, and regional flora and foliage.

Developer Tom Worrel Jr. envisioned a property that would reflect the principles of eco-tourism—destinations that are built with a sustainable focus. Worrel is also the founder and owner of Dharma Living Systems, Inc., a company that specializes in water, energy and green building systems integration, whose services were featured in this project. "The El Monte Sagrado is a world-class sanctuary for those seeking a luxurious refuge from a hectic world," Worell says. "But this architecturally unique and innovative resort is also a 'living' testament to what we can now achieve in sustainability. El Monte
beckons us all, both guests and developers, as a genuine example of humanity and nature at peace."

David Sargert, principal and founder of SDA, says that working with Worrel enabled his firm to incorporate not only outstanding architecture into the project, but also sustainable design approaches. "More than half of the total development cost for the resort is in one-time R&D, which is significant," Sargert says. "As a LEED-accredited professional, it was a joy for me to work with a client where sustainable design is the driving force, not something that I had to sell."

The journey through the building begins in the two-story entrance, where guests are welcomed into an elegant environment created through the space's stone walls, mosaic floor and custom wrought-iron gas torches. The same stonework as well as custom-made cherry- and petrified-wood desks, which were designed by SDA, are found in the adjacent reception area. The ceiling above the entrance pays homage to the sun and sacred geometry via an oculus, patterns from the "Golden Mean," and 6,000 points of fiber-optic lights that work together to create an element that draws the eye upward. A wrought-iron "sacred corn" railing was also designed by SDA.

In the design, it was important to Worrell that the resort paid homage to all major world cultures and religions—including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Tao, Santeria, and the Pueblo and Plains Native Americans. This was achieved with forms found throughout the main building that reflect architecture or symbols used by the aforementioned religions and cultures. "Some of the architecture related to the cultures and religions represented in this project is very subtle," says Sargert. "Guests may not readily identify the forms, but they do appreciate the warmth and calming touch that the design elements that we used bring to the main building." One example is the gallery. The eye is drawn upward to the graceful lines of the cathedral-style arched ceiling, which reflects Christian religious spaces typically found in France or Spain. Natural plantings and stonework prevalent throughout the building further enhance the gallery's warmth.

In the main building there are three areas for dining and refreshment—the De la Tierra Restaurant, The Gardens and The Anaconda Bar. De la Tierra offers an elegant dining experience for more formal gatherings and includes an adjacent, well-appointed wine room. It was included among the Top 66 New Restaurants in the World as ranked by Conde Nast Traveler in May 2004. The Gardens is more casual and, as its name implies, has a lush garden atmosphere complete with extensive plantings and a running-water feature.

The Anaconda Bar is in many ways dramatically different from other spaces within the main building. Handcrafted gold tiles represent the scales of the anaconda, which is sacred to the Amazonian people. The serpentine bar features ebonized ash and gold mica arranged in an anaconda pattern, and is illuminated from below with fiber-optic lights; however, the pattern can only be seen at sunset when the bar's ambient lighting diminishes. The snake appears to wind its way through the bar up into the ceiling, where it appears to exit the space. Behind the bar is an aquarium that can also be viewed in the adjacent Garden Restaurant.

The boardroom provides seating for 14 around the custom table, which SDA crafted with book and sequenced custom-matched Macassar ebony. Two 60-inch plasma screens and full video-conferencing capabilities provide a room that is appropriate for any meeting.

Eco-friendly materials used in the project were specified and competitively sourced both locally and from around the world. Materials used include granite, local sandstone, marble, travertine, mica walls, wood and plaster ceilings, and millwork carved from
sapelli, cherry, white oak, Brazilian rosewood and Macassar ebony. Sargert says that the materials are environmentally friendly while also being timeless and durable—important considerations for any hospitality project. The resort features a Living Machine® by Worrel's Dharma Corp. The system treats the resort's potable water with natural filters and purifiers—no harsh chemicals are used—and the treated water is then used to help maintain the resort's lush environment.

The El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa exemplifies the beauty that sustainable design can bring to a project. The commitment of Tom Worrel, the SDA team and other project partners have resulted in the completion of a project that offers important lessons for others in the hospitality industry. Travel & Leisure magazine perhaps identified it best when it listed the resort as one of "15 to watch" in its 2004 World's Best Awards—and more accolades are sure to follow for this premier eco-tourism resort.

"Many of the sustainable design practices that went into this project will be unnoticed by most guests," says Sargert, "yet they contribute greatly to the resort's soothing and welcoming atmosphere. This project successfully illustrates the many benefits that sustainable design brings to a project."

Sources Project Team


The Loveless Company

Benjamin Moore

Sargert Design Associates

Sargert Design Associates

Sargert Design Associates

Scott Cohen

Dharma Living Systems

Dharma Living
Systems, Inc.
125 La Posta Road
Taos, NM 87571
(505) 751-9481
Tom Worrell Jr.,
founder and owner

Douglas Patterson, LEED, AP Architecture,
Project Management

Ady Artime Managing Director—
Interior Design

Joan Duncan
Interior Design— Hotel Units

Rhonda Ferrie
Interior Design— Spa

Sargert Design
Associates, Inc.
122C Paseo del Pueblo Sur Taos, NM 87571
(800) 206-3030
David Sargert,
LEED AP, IIDA, ASID, MIES, CSI, founder and

Jim Coupland, PE

Don McCornack, PE

Peter Reinke, PE

Richard Burton, PE

William Hutchinson, ASLA