Friday, Feb. 20, 2009 | 2 a.m.
A man who, as much as anyone, changed the way people look at Las Vegas was recognized recently for a lifetime of contributions to the interior design industry.
Roger Thomas, executive vice president of Wynn Design and Development, was honored as a design icon at the World Market Center Las Vegas’ Winter Market.
“It is a special pleasure for us on a national stage to honor a local talent,” said Robert Maricich, World Market Center Las Vegas chief executive. “Roger Thomas speaks to the incredible creativity that there is here in Las Vegas that we can draw upon.”
Previous honorees include internationally renowned designers Vladimir Kagan and Larry Laslo.
Thomas, who was born in Salt Lake City but has lived most of his life in Las Vegas, said it was an honor to be in the same company with people he considers to be among the greatest interior designers of this generation.
“Vladimir Kagan has been one of my great design heroes for my entire career, and Larry Laslo has been an inspiration for a very long time,” Thomas said. “I don’t think you know that you’re a member of that group until someone else tells you that you are a member of that group. I’m just as honored as can be to join that august company.”
As director of interior design for Atlandia Design, a subsidiary of Mirage Resorts Group, Thomas designed the interiors of the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio on the Strip and the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. During that time Thomas was also the principal of Thomas Design Group, an operating unit within Atlandia.
His efforts at Mirage and Treasure Island help changed the image of Strip properties from casinos with hotel rooms to luxury resorts. The Bellagio took the concept to a whole new level and became the standard by which all subsequent Strip resorts have been measured.
At Wynn Design and Development he is credited with raising the bar yet again with spectacular interior designs at Wynn Las Vegas, Wynn Macau and Encore, which opened in December.
“I have had one client for really all of my career,” Thomas said. “That client is Stephen Wynn, really Stephen and Elaine Wynn, have really acted like the Medicis to me. Because of this extraordinary relationship, he’s always challenged me to accomplish more than I thought I could.”
At the ceremony, Thomas focused on his recent accomplishments with Wynn Resorts, including the design of the many spectacular restaurants at Wynn and the challenge of designing an overseas resort.
“In Macau we had to create a casino for almost entirely baccarat games, so it was a different design problem than we have had before” Thomas said. “Before we had created casinos with mostly slot machines.
He also discussed creating a luxurious presentation at Encore that was distinctive, yet complementary to its adjacent sister property.
“Luxury is not a knockoff, it’s not a copy, it’s not like something you’ve done before,” Thomas said. “It creates an emotional experience.”
Thomas spoke of the personal involvement Steve and Elaine Wynn have in the design process and the challenges of working for clients who are willing to spare no expense to get results, but also have extremely high expectations.
Thomas, for example, has been allowed to spend millions to create a scale replica of a casino floor in a warehouse, but has also been instructed to redesign a restaurant weeks before an opening because Wynn was not satisfied with the results.
Elaine Wynn said Thomas has been an integral part of the luxurious image envisioned by the Wynn brand.
“I think that whenever anybody credits the Wynn name or brand for building the modern image of Las Vegas, that Roger Thomas is embedded in that brand,” Wynn said. “The talent, the education, the taste — everything he has built in his life — represents the iconography of the best modern resort properties in his world.”
Thomas frequently used the phrase, “We didn’t know it couldn’t be done,” to explain how he managed to achieve results that exceeded his, and the Wynns’, high expectations, often on incredibly tight schedules.
The ceremony was followed by a reception at which people from the design community gathered to congratulate Thomas.
Leslie Parraguirre is the owner of Colours, a Las Vegas interior design firm and the self-described president of the Roger Thomas fan club, Las Vegas chapter.
“I have known Roger for more than 20 years — he grew up here, I grew up here — and what he has accomplished is just incredible,” Parraguirre said. “He truly deserves the recognition he is getting.”
Rocky La Fleur is a sales representative for Kneedler-Fauchere, which has worked with Thomas on several projects. He said Thomas is a creative genius who is successful because of his passion for his projects and is not tied in to convention.
“He never saw a piece of furniture he couldn’t redesign or tweak or make it better,” La Fleur said. “If you design in a vacuum nothing happens.”
La Fleur described the partnership between Thomas and the Wynns as a match made in heaven.
“Roger is inspired by Steve because Steve is relentless,” La Fleur said. “If a restaurant runs a year, and it doesn’t work, he does it again. There is no other hotelier in the world who would do that.”
Thomas said he thinks the reason his partnership with the Wynns has been so successful is that they share his passion for design.
I don’t care if it’s a handbag, a ring or a hotel, it has to create an emotional experience,” Thomas said. “We don’t say, ‘Let’s do a casino with this many games or this many slot machines.’ Designing emotionally evocative spaces is what we do.”
Mark Hansel covers retail and marketing for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at 259-4069 or at [email protected]