Three entertaining experts take us behind the scenes as the holidays get into full swing at Wynn Las Vegas.
Holiday confections lined up awaiting delivery to Wynn's restaurants and guest rooms
With its lavish botanical displays, decadent dishes and a casino that glows with red plush and shimmering crystal, Wynn Las Vegas always feels like it’s ready for a celebration. But when the holiday season arrives, it becomes a full-scale, kinetic holiday production, from a cookie house the size of a town car to a Lilliputian village that would thrill Jonathan Swift.
“It’s that time of year when we get to design, not for adults, but for children. That’s great fun,” says Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design at Wynn. Each year, Thomas oversees tiny details and big gestures, while master cake artist Flora Aghababyan builds an extravagant gingerbread house for the Wynn buffet and floral manager Evelyn Herrera creates sumptuous displays. The three met over late-afternoon tea and macarons at Tableau to discuss the creation of December magic.
Las Vegas has bright lights and big shows year-round. How do you make that even more special for the holidays?
Roger Thomas: Nothing exceeds like excess, but you need to concentrate it in areas or it’s just wallpaper.
Evelyn Herrera: Roger gave us the color story of gold, white, ivory and some Champagne—so we brought it to life on a tree that is 500 pounds, and that’s our focal point. It is nearly 30 feet tall and has more than 2,500 lights and over 450 ornaments. That’s pretty over the top. We did a couple of test runs with the trees, once we figured out how many lights we wanted to put up. The electricians were not quite ready….
RT: There’s another that matches it that’s 10 feet tall that’s being built near Hong Kong, in laser-cut gold-leafed steel, with layers and layers of goodness. It will require a crane to erect this tree. It’s a Christmas gift to Las Vegas.
Flora Aghababyan, Roger Thomas and Evelyn Herrera discuss the coming holiday season at Tableau.
When do you start planning?
EH: We start bringing things in to refurbish and replace at the end of summer. That’s usually when we start bringing in the Christmas music and everybody’s just in a good mood.
Flora Aghababyan: We have projects—the drawings, the ideas—ready and approved by Aug. 1. Each time there is something to do with the engineering, the electrical, the carpentry shop, so it involves a lot of advance planning. Every year we make a giant gingerbread house. Children love it. We always have the signs telling them where they cannot go, because it’s sitting there for a month—they cannot take something and put it in their mouth. But they can’t not, even when their parents say, ‘No, you can’t touch it.’ They break this, they break that; I come in each morning with my chocolate, my royal icing and see how I’m going to fix it up.
RT: Do you have a holster that you can carry your royal icing in? Pockets with the gold sugar beads? [Laughs] We must have extras of everything, though. All over the hotel, we have over 40 trees, along with garlands and villages. Parts of them move, and there is a train running through one, and little parachutes going up and down. So you see families standing in line, waiting for the parachutes to be at the right level to take a picture, and the kids are just really anxious to get in there. And the poinsettias… we have to replace them often. It’s an everyday task. We have golden poinsettias grown especially for us—no one else gets them.
EH: Because if it’s going to be gold and silver, we want everything to be gold and silver, including the poinsettias. And this year we also have tiny little white poinsettias. They’re very special and beautiful.
The festive holiday decor at the Buffet at Wynn
How important are nostalgia and childhood holiday memories when you design, whether they’re yours or the guests’?
RT: When I was a little boy, every year my mother would put a miniature village on white cotton snow under the Christmas tree. Putting the village together was my job, and I’ve loved that ever since. This year we’ve had an especially grand one made for the Encore atrium. We only had room for one, so it had to be a super village. This one has flying machines!
FA: For the gingerbread house, we want to make a story about our company, our hotel, about the people. We want to tell a new story every year.
RT: When you come for Christmas, even the villages have lots of layers and surprises and depth. I made up the storyline for each village as kind of the direction that each village would take as it was being designed. So on each one, there’s a beautiful little scroll, with elf writing on it, and there are ink splotches because elves are not very good with their quills…. There’s a kid in all of us, but I think if you design for a 6-year-old, a 7-year-old, and you really amaze them, everybody else catches the spirit.