Location Rancho Santa Fe, CA
Size 130,000 ft²
Completed 2012
Program Resort, spa, office space

Tucked away in the hills of California’s Rancho Santa Fe lies the intimate Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, a full 45 acres of spa-land that creates the perfect indulgent getaway. For 22 years, the resort has been the go-to spot for those in need of a getaway, and the resort’s long-standing commitment to sustainability has been an added bonus. Some tend to consider eco-friendly design ‘rough around the edges’ or too ‘granola,’ but Rancho Valencia is out to change all of that. In March 2012 the resort began a massive, six-month, $30 million renovation, and when gb&d got the scoop, we discovered that it can be called only one thing: eco-chic. Here, general manager Simon Chen and director of marketing Nicole Sharp walk us through the makeover.

Rancho Valencia uses a humidity-controlled landscape-watering system that can monitor whether or not plants need to be watered.

Many who regularly visit Rancho Valencia have said that the renovation seemed unnecessary because the property was already so beautiful. Why did you decide to move forward with the overhaul?
Simon Chen: For many years Rancho Valencia has been known as one of the top resorts in the country, but it’s sort of a hidden gem because of the privacy it provides. In order to keep that reputation we have to continue improving. The property was built in the late 1980s, but it was purchased by four investors in 2010, and they always planned to renovate it. Essentially, it hadn’t really been changed since the ’80s. We want to keep the same feel of the resort while fixing some issues and making it more modern.


Client Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa
Architect R. Douglas Mansfield Architect
Construction Management Campbell-Anderson & Associates
Interior Design ABA Design Studio, Mr. Important Design, Diarq

The landscape of the resort is a big part of its allure. Will you be making any changes to it during the renovation?
Chen: It was never our goal to have manicured gardens. The buildings are very much informed by the natural landscape, so we’ve always carved out the space we’ve needed but never done much more than that. It’s simple, natural landscaping and the plants and trees that surround the resort are found in the surrounding habitat. Even our watering methods are green. The landscaping water system is humidity-controlled, so if plants don’t need watering, they won’t be watered.

How has the resort’s commitment to sustainability evolved over the years?
Chen: When you make your way into the resort, the natural beauty that surrounds you is amazing, and we want to protect that. Our approach has always revolved around respecting the local environment. When you think of luxury hotels, they usually don’t go hand-in-hand with being green, but we’re here to prove that you can be sustainable while being luxurious.

Nicole Sharp: Every year we add more and more sustainable practices. Eighty percent of our food and beverage products come from California. We’ve started a new initiative that has us donating all of our used cooking oil to a local school district, so that they can use it to fuel their new school buses. We’re adding six beehives and a chef’s garden, so more of our food can come directly from the resort. Pretty soon we’ll be doing away with plastic water bottles entirely.


Certification Not applicable
Water Humidity-based sprinkler system, low-flow fixtures
Landscape Native bougainvilleas and rosemary, and orange, olive, and pepper trees
Energy Dual-pane windows, energy-efficient kitchen appliances

Tell me about some of the resort’s newest green practices.
Sharp: We’re currently developing our own line of all-natural, organic bath-and-body amenities for exclusive use at the resort. We have an on-site composter and a recycling program. We have a green committee that ensures all of our environmental initiatives are in place.

Who was on the building team and how did they help the resort’s vision come to life?
Chen: R. Douglas Mansfield was the original architect of the resort, and he also designed the spa that was added in 2000. It felt very natural to bring him on board again because he’s responsible for the Hacienda style of the resort, and we wanted to keep with that design. Campbell-Anderson & Associates are our project managers, and they keep us on track for our big reopening. It’s very much a working partnership. If we have an idea and they don’t agree, they let us know, and we figure out the problem together. They challenge us to take things to the next level so that we can remain iconic for the next 20 years.