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Six Senses of sustainability: How Auckland's Space Studio helped design Fiji's newest eco-friendly luxury resort

Can stunning design and sustainability go hand-in-hand at a luxury resort? Yes, they can - at least when Auckland's Space Studio is a driving force helping to bring Six Senses’ new Fiji resort to life.

As anyone who's spent a fair bit of time wandering can attest, luxury travel and eco-friendly don’t always go together.

That's changing, of course - and in that sense, Six Senses’ new Fiji resort isn't the most unique joint around. But what does give it an edge is that Auckland design firm Space Studio was behind it - and it shows, once again, that Aotearoa is putting its mark on the worldwide design scene.

Six Senses Fiji on Malolo Island opened last month, and features a 24 villa resort at the centre of the development, which will also include 60 residences. Rose Kavanagh, Six Senses Fiji marketing communications executive, says sustainability and environmental awareness were key to the development, all while still providing a luxury, contemporary feel with a true Fijian flavour. “We wanted contemporary design but with a nod to the Fijian culture. Yes, this is five-star and luxury, but you know you’re in Fiji because we have managed to incorporate the cultural aspect, without compromising on the luxury and contemporary side of things.”

Space Studio was responsible for the interior design of the entire resort, including the 24 villas, two restaurants, lounge and library, welcome and guest services bures, and spa, along with handling the design for the majority of the first 11 private residences to be built.

Mahogany and rain tree furniture and grass cloth wallpaper feature throughout the resort, with bold traditional Fijian tapestries providing striking contrast. Also featured is handiwork, including placemats and hand-crafted tic tac toe games, from the local village and the Rise Beyond the Reef charity, which assists women in remote Fijian communities. Local artwork is also on display, with the resort’s Tovolea Lounge exhibiting work from the 21k art collective, with an artist-in-residence from the collective providing lessons at the resort.

“Anyone can structurally build a hotel or resort, or hotel room, but it is the fit-out that makes it individual and brings it all together, rather than just being four walls,” Six Senses Fiji director of sales and marketing Karen Morris says. “Anyone could have built these big residences and they’d be lovely, but they could have been any resort brand. With Six Senses working with Space Studio, the whole resort has evolved into a real homage to Fiji and something we are really proud of.”

Morris adds that, although many hotels are emphasising sustainability, that doesn't make being eco-friendly any less important. "Worldwide everyone is talking about global warming and the need for education on protecting the environment and not leaving rubbish and the importance of recycling. That’s where two of our key design elements of the resort come into play, with the fact we are completely solar powered and we do not have single-use plastic bottles in the resort.”

With its own water filtration plant on site, the resort bottles its own water in glass. An on-site gourmet deli sells products in reusable containers, with customers encouraged to return with the container and reuse it. Food waste is composted and used in the resort’s gardens, a worm-based septic system is active, and a 'recycling corner’ within the resort sees all waste sorted and any recyclable items shipped to Denarau Island on the return barges which bring food supplies twice a week. The resort also has its own farm and garden, reducing the need to ship in supplies and cutting its carbon footprint.

The resort’s sustainability is such that during the recent cyclones in Fiji, staff at the resort remained on site because it was deemed to be one of the safest places to be, thanks to the strength of the buildings and addition of its own water system and solar power. “We also try to have as little waste as possible by creating a lot of our own home-made tonics and bitters using local produce and shrubs, so there’s no waste to begin with,” Morris says. “We’re growing our own kombucha, so we don’t need to ship it in, and we’re creating our own tepache, a fermented pineapple drink.”

The focus on the environment has resulted in one area of the resort looking a little less landscaped than might be expected. “The area behind the spa is quite a jungle area, maybe not the most landscaped and attractive to look at, but it homes 17 endangered Fijian crested iguanas,” explains Kavanagh. “For us, it was a no- brainer to leave the area untouched. We didn’t want to disrupt their habitat at all.”

Vee Kessner, Space Studio director, says clients are increasingly seeking environmentally friendly design. “We’re seeing growth in the number of clients who are working to ensure their hotels and resorts are more environmentally friendly and sustainable, not just in the materials they use, but in how they operate.”

Adds Morris: “We really believe in looking after the environment. It is not just something there as a tick box.”

Eleven of the resort’s 60 residences have been completed, with work continuing on the remaining 49 – many of which Space Studio will do the interior fit-outs for.

Morris notes that all of the residences, which are privately owned, have different layouts and bedding configurations, in keeping with their individual owners, though the character of the resort flows through them thanks to Space Studio’s design work.

“Fiji is often seen as a family destination, but the residences allow us to cater to different markets,” she says. “We’ve got family friendly residences, and other more sophisticated, adult offerings, including one which is five individual pavilions with a common shared area – perfect for groups of friends heading away for a birthday celebration, for example.”

Kavanagh says: “And throughout all of the villas and residences, the Fijian touches ensure you know where you are in the world. You might be enjoying a five-star luxury holiday, but you still know you’re on a beautiful South Pacific Island with this amazing culture surrounding you. And that’s down to Space Studio and their incredible attention to detail and dedication.”

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