Hotelier Profile: Shangwen Chiu Kennedy and Mike Kennedy

“While I was growing up, my parents owned and operated hotels in Taiwan. I never wanted to do what they did, and instead went far away to study landscape, architecture, and urban design in the U.S. at Cornell and Harvard. Over my twenty years of practice in the field of building places, I became increasingly interested in creating environments and communities that support well-being such as co-living houses and intergenerational housing. I had no idea that this would lead me back to owning and operating a hotel.

The purpose of our inn is unique. It is an environment created to foster the joy of connection one has with nature, with others, and with oneself. At the same time, it pushes the envelope on how a building performs and elevates how hospitality could be done. I am passionate about creating communities and building environments that nurture well-being. This project just happens to be a hotel, and it provides us an opportunity to connect and share our lifestyle with the local and global community. The inn also brings the world to us, during a period of life I choose to stay close to home with our young children and don’t get to travel as often.” –Shangwen

The Inn at Moonlight Beach recently became the first lodging establishment in the world to achieve WELL Certification—and at the Platinum level no less. What does it mean for a building to be WELL Certified at the Platinum level and what is involved in achieving this impressive accomplishment?
More and more people are becoming conscious of the importance of eating clean foods, having an active lifestyle, managing stress and cultivating peace of mind. People value connecting to something bigger than themselves. In turn, travel habits are becoming less about indulgence and escape, and more about connection and nurturing self. The notion of the ‘Conscious Destination’ is new to the lexicon and is something we are proud to provide.

The WELL Certification reflects this shift in values. As you may know, it is a performance-based certification system that marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based scientific research. The Inn at Moonlight Beach earned the distinction based on seven categories of building performance and 100+ features—air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind—and achieved a Platinum level rating.

Some of the features that helped us achieve our Platinum rating include:

  • Advanced Air Purification: High quality air filters in every suite and the shared guest lounge.
  • Water Treatment: Purified water from every tap with the inn’s whole-house water filtration system.
  • Food Advertising: Signage that encourages guests to select from the fresh, healthy, organic foods provided daily in the breakfast basket and as snacks in the guest lounge.
  • Right to Light: Over 75% of all regularly occupied spaces are within 7.5 m (25ft) of view windows.
  • Fitness Equipment: The inn provides cardiorespiratory and muscle-strengthening equipment to encourage guests and employees to engage in exercise.
  • Thermal Comfort: Occupants are able to adjust the temperature according to their preferences, which positively impacts mood, performance, and productivity.
  • Biophila: Each room was designed for the guest to experience dwelling in nature, and the California environment allows for an indoor-outdoor living experience of the biodynamic urban farm featuring ten distinct garden areas.

What motivated you to pursue WELL Certification?
When I first learned of the WELL Building StandardTM through a friend who develops top tier luxury hotels (Aman and Six senses), I got really moved at the thought that there was a building standard that is already created with the commitment to guide environment on improving human health that I would have devoted my life to creating, if it didn’t already exist. I immediately began my work to become a WELL AP in 2016. When we purchased the Inn at Moonlight Beach later that year, I jumped at the opportunity to implement WELL on this property. It was surprising to learn we were the first hotel committed to be a Well Certified project.

I was inspired and grateful for the effort that was put into the creation of the WELL Building Standard. The concept of WELL aligns with the intention of our boutique hotel, which is to nourish life and encourage people to experience the joy of connecting with nature, one’s self, and the broader local community.

What challenges did you face during the design and certification process?
At first, the WELL standard was created primarily for office buildings and new constructions. The Inn at Moonlight Beach, as a renovation of an existing hotel, was a completely different building type and had limits on ceiling heights and other building configurations. Many of the original requirements were seemingly impossible to accomplish. However, we stayed in close communication with IWBI and ended up working with them to think through what might be appropriate for hospitality buildings and became IWBI’s pilot project for hospitality buildings. In the end, this initial “disadvantage” resulted in a very fruitful partnership with IWBI, which contributed to them branching out into a new building category and with us becoming the first hotel in the world to be WELL certified.

The size of our property also presented a challenge in many cases. For example, our facility is not sufficiently large to accommodate some amenities such as fitness equipment, let alone a dedicated gym or pool, making it difficult to achieve the measures of WELL’s Fitness concept. We got creative and were able to utilize nearby natural hiking trails and beach workout offerings that guests could take on at their leisure. Moonlight Beach itself is a short walk from our inn. We like to say that we are a unique resort destination, and Downtown Encinitas is our resort.

As the inn’s designer, along with the owner, what were the most exciting amenities or features you incorporated into the property?
Given my background in landscape architecture, it was important to me that in addition to the building itself, the land surrounding it should also be “well.” Our implementation of the biodynamic urban farm is the fulfillment of that vision.

It envelopes the property and creates a unique environment for the building to sit within. Biodynamic farming treats the entire land area as a living organism that is self-sustaining and generates its own vitality. This enables our WELL project to be more than just a building—it is a whole environment that extends the elements of WELL outward.

The productive landscape directly offers food that supports WELL’s Nourishment concept. At the same time, it provides a powerful sensory experience: the beautiful scenery, the shifting aromas of various medicinal and traditional herbs, even the surprising sounds of frogs that have made our fountain a home. One of the reasons the inn really works as a wellness destination is the immersive experience of biophilia that it creates.

The maker’s station, where guests can create planters with herbs, vegetables and succulents is an unusual concept for our industry and enables people to engage the creative process and create wellness-supporting items that they bring back to their home. Most importantly, we want them to not just experience wellness here, but to bring wellness into their own homes.

From check-in to check-out, what can a guest expect to experience at the Inn at Moonlight Beach?

  • They experience something authentically Encinitas.
  • They get to quiet their mind and connect with their souls.
  • They experience joy of connection with nature, other people and their conscious selves.
  • This place (garden and rooms) is alive and awaiting you to enter. Your five senses are awakened as soon as you arrive.

With a simple, modern, functional design aesthetic, guests experience tranquility from the moment they arrive on property. Japanese boxwood, lavender, rosemary, and bamboo greet guests from the formal entry garden. In the ceremonial hallway, flickering lanterns cast a soft glow on the white stucco and vertical wood-slat walls.

At the far end of the hallway, a large circular opening representing the moon overlooks a private garden. The calming influence of the environment promotes peace. Each room is minimalist in its design with a soothing neutral color palette offset by the fresh-cut flowers from the inn’s gardens.

Guests are greeted upon arrival with a freshly brewed cup of tea and fresh fruit, as well as the soothing scents and sounds from the in-room aromatherapy diffuser and sound-therapy machine. Most of the inn’s five suites offer full or partial ocean views with private decks designed for yoga, meditation, and relaxation.

What advice do you have for other hoteliers interested in pursuing WELL Certification?
My advice would be, trust and use the WELL Building Standard and the support of IWBI.

This was a leap of faith for us, and no financial analysis could have told us it would make sense, because it hadn’t been done before in our industry.

The world is transforming rapidly, and people are becoming more conscious and awakened day by day. Well-being conscious travel is what people want, today, and in the near future; the industry needs to recognize this and adapt. But WELL is good business now, and this is just the beginning. 