Where modern and minimalist meet. Where wilderness and nature come together. That’s when you know you are at Ambiente Sedona. We talked to boss sisters Jennifer and Colleen and they told as all about Ambiente.
Can you share the story of how the idea for Ambiente Sedona came about and what inspired you to embark on this project together?
Our father had just finished a restaurant project on a nearby property that has gorgeous views and we loved seeing people come to enjoy the beauty of what Sedona is. A family friend owned the only other piece of land near that first development that had those same views and he had decided not to develop it after all and offered it to us. He’d already had a hotel concept designed for that piece of property but had decided not to pursue it, so when we went to walk the land, realised the views were the same and saw the beauty of the property, we decided to take it on, but also wanted to create something unique and different rather than a standard big box-style hotel. The topography of the land was beautifully unique and that led us to come up with the idea of separating the 40 rooms out into individual atriums on stilts so that we would be able to control the height and direction of each of them independently. This meant we could offer the best views with the maximum amount of privacy.
What roles did each of you play in the development and management of Ambiente Sedona, and how do you think your individual strengths complement each other in running the hotel?
The project started over eight years ago and initially it was just my father Mike Stevenson and I. My sister Colleen was living in Phoenix at the time and finishing raising her kids before moving up to join us a few years ago. Dad was very involved in the entire process and helped with the construction side of things, which was amazing because he was in construction years ago and knew so much about all things related to the nuts and bolts of building. The interior design was a “sisters” job and we spent many hours shopping for everything related to interior design and also for the operations of a hotel. I have a huge amount of respect now for people who run large construction jobs and are able to keep everything straight and on time.
Building a hotel is a significant undertaking. Can you describe some of the challenges you faced during the development phase, and how you overcame them as a family team?
We encountered many difficulties in the process. The design was so unique and new that the City of Sedona wasn’t quite sure what to do with us, but they did fully support the project and were excited about it. They were working on being the second city in the United States to join the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance and we were exactly the flagship property development that they wanted to see. Probably the biggest hurdle we encountered was that we literally started the construction process and a month later COVID hit, which seriously impacted almost everything from meetings with the city to supply chains, etc. Sourcing was a challenge because rather than going somewhere to physically shop, a lot of it had to be done online and by email and that was a huge challenge to overcome, but it all worked out beautifully. Any of the items we had already started to order that were coming from overseas were held up due to shipping issues and so many times we had to go back to the drawing board and re-source things to replace those items.
Ambiente Sedona is known for its unique and eco-friendly architecture. Could you elaborate on the design philosophy behind the hotel and how it integrates with the natural beauty of Sedona?
Our concept was to marry modern, minimalist design with earthy, organic elements to literally bring the outdoors into the spaces, but also to create these atriums so that they look like they floated down from the sky and gently dropped into place without disturbing the beauty of the land. So many hotels design and build out the environment you go to visit and it’s all been “created” for you. We wanted to flip that entire concept inside out and let the beauty of the ancient land be the focal point. The atrium is your private theatre to the natural world around you and it is your Sedona on IMAX view the minute you open the motorised curtains in the morning.
Collaboration is crucial in any family business. How do you navigate the dynamics of working together as siblings? Are there any unique advantages or challenges you’ve encountered?
Thankfully we are a very close family and work very well together. The biggest part of that is having mutual respect for each other so we can share ideas and hash out disagreements in a productive way, and that is really key. This experience has actually brought us closer together in many ways and we are so excited for the future and to see where it leads us.
As entrepreneurs and hoteliers, what advice would you give to others looking to follow their dreams in the hospitality industry?
Never give up. You will hit many roadblocks and things will never go as smoothly as you had hoped, but every challenge makes you stronger and when you overcome those challenges, the satisfaction is even greater.
Looking to the future, do you have any expansion or new projects in mind for Ambiente Sedona?
Absolutely! I think what we have created is a “brand” that will stand the test of time, will fit into many beautiful places and we have created a culture that truly resonates through our staff to our guests. All of our guests have said that they feel like family when they come to Ambiente and that our staff truly seem happy to be here. In fact, we have had several guests who have already returned for their third trip, which speaks volumes. The truth is, our staff are truly happy to be here and we make sure that they feel very appreciated, because they are.
Photocredits: Jeff Zaruba, Kyle RM Johnson, Jenelle Bonifield