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Alexandra Champalimaud

The Dorchester Terrace Penthouse living room

The Dorchester, where style will always conquer over fashion

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
The Dorchester, where style will always conquer over fashion

The new challenge for traditional luxury hotels in London – aside from navigating the obvious pandemic – is confronting the demand for a new era of contemporary luxury hotels. Editor Hamish Kilburn checks in to one of Mayfair’s finest establishments, The Dorchester, to understand the power of style over fashion in hotel design. Inside the 250-key hotel, he investigates how heritage luxury hotels are sensitively remaining relevant in modern times…

The Dorchester Terrace Penthouse living room

London, which to many is regarded a capital city of worldwide hospitality (at the very least a major hospitality hub), is entering a new era: the luxury lifestyle market is answering to the demand of modern travellers and, as a result, a new wave of contemporary hotels is approaching the city on an unprecedented scale.

According to the data analysts at STR, pre-Covid, 2020 was expected to become the year with the highest number of hotel openings that the city has ever seen, which was fuelled somewhat by the fall in the pound against other currencies in the on-going Brexit saga. Although this can only be seen a positive for the holistic hospitality industry in London, it no doubt puts into question the demand for – and therefore the role of – traditional luxury hotels that are dotted around Mayfair.

If we were to personify these illustrious jewels in a theatrical manner, think of them as the headline acts; their roles so impressive and unique that they have earned the right to a residency following countless standing-ovation and headline-grabbing performances.

Within this cluster of legends is The Dorchester, a 250-key luxury hotel that shelters a distinct classic English residential style, which has stood proud on Park Lane – majestically on the fringe of Hyde Park – for nearly nine decades. Within that time, it has managed to build and retain a legacy while effortlessly leading London’s premium hospitality scene to rank itself time and time again as an award-winning luxury hotel.

To truly understand what sets The Dorchester aside from other luxury addresses in London, I invited our official videographers at CUBE Video along with me to check in and capture luxury hospitality meeting stylish design. Here’s how we got on:

Since first opening in 1931, after being built in record time over just 18 months (which is the equivalent to the speed of completing one floor per week), The Dorchester has been favoured by royalty and celebrities alike. It was here, in the Park Suite, where HRH Prince Phillips famously spent his last night as a bachelor – and down the corridor where Queen Elizabeth II was spotted on the day of her engagement.

> Since you’re here, why not read our ‘In (Lockdown) Conversation With’ Robert Whitfield, The Dorchester Collection’s Regional Director (UK) & General Manager of The Dorchester.

The hotel’s style was originally created by Oliver Ford, who also handled the decoration for the Queen Mother’s residence at the Royal Lodge in Windsor and Clarence House in St James. Ford introduced details such as handmade carpets on each floor in different floral patterns.

One of the most iconic, and most photographed, areas inside The Dorchester is The Promenade, which is adorned with rich coral coloured silk draperies, custom gold-framed mirrors and striking chandeliers. Rumoured to be as long as Nelson’s Column is high, The Promenade is a clever use of space that stretches right down the hotel’s spine and is aptly decorated with sumptuous seating and striking floral displays that feature ‘The Dorchester Rose’, which was dedicated to the hotel by award-winning rose breeders Meijer Roses. The hotel’s in-house designer florist Philip Hammond explains how a small detail like a rose can compliment the hotel’s design scheme. “This specially selected rose is blousy in composition and has a pale blush colouring, with the pink tone gaining more colour as the rose gradually opens up,” Hammond says. “When you see it against the backdrop of The Dorchester, you really appreciate how it complements our timeless interiors.”

The Promenade at The Dorchester

Image caption: The Promenade at The Dorchester, which features stunning floral displays using the signature Dorchester rose| Image credit: The Dorchester

The Grill has been an integral dining outside within the hotel since it opened. However, with the recent appointment of head chef Tom Booton – who at just 27 years old happens to be the restaurant’s youngest ever head chef – the restaurant has been led into a new chapter (and the critics love it!).

As well as serving up a creative and playful menu that was designed by the man who, in his own words is, “all about fine dining without the formality”, everything about The Grill’s modern personality is surprisingly applauded by the hotel’s luxury status. The lobster thermidor tart, for example, has become somewhat of a signature dish for The Grill: a cheesy cheddar tart with thermidor foam and a rich lobster bisque, topped with a roasted lobster tail.

For dessert, The Grill’s twist on tradition now challenges the very nature of conventional dining, subtly, by introducing The Pudding Bar, which is the perfect way to finish off Booton’s dining experience. By pulling up a stall (quite literally), guests can break away from their tables to watch their sweet treat, such as the rich Double Decker (it is as delicious as it sounds) being prepared. Not only does this create a welcome disruption to a standardised dining formula – not to mention putting apt emphasis on what is, let’s face it, the best part of any meal – but it also tactfully injects a healthy dose of theatre within the experience, with guests able to interact with the chefs.

The Pudding Bar complete with artefacts on a feature wall inside The Grill | Image credit: The Dorchester

Image caption: The Pudding Bar inside The Grill | Image credit: The Dorchester

There is no doubt about it, the public areas and F&B outlets inside The Dorchester are breathtaking, and operate smoothly under awe-inspiring original design features. But public areas aside, what about the private areas within a hotel where guests demand modern flavour; the guestrooms and suites?

With such a bold and distinctive design narrative comes great challenges and enormous responsibility when the time inevitably approaches to renovate; finding the balance to create the right level of contemporary flavour while staying true to the hotel’s traditional leafy design scheme is an ambitious and somewhat arduous task for any designer, regardless of previous credentials.

Image caption: The bedroom inside The Dorchester Suite | Image credit: The Dorchester

In 2002, the hotel underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment with an all-encompassing renovation of guestrooms and suites, including the addition of a custom-built, high-tech entertainment and business console in each guestroom and a remarkably advanced telecommunications system.

In 2007, award-winning design firm Alexandra Champalimaud, design studio that created the interiors for Raffles Singapore, The Carlyle and Monkey Island Estate, was given the responsibility to refurbish a handful of the property’s most prestigious suites: The Audley, Terrace and Harlequin Penthouses. And with the studio’s ability to effortlessly transform these areas to become tech-savvy yet timeless abodes, the design plot for The Dorchester thickened and a new era for the hotel was born. Whilst these suites stayed true to the hotel’s classic English residential style, the design within them fused contemporary comfort with timeless glamour.

In 2012, Champalimaud Design returned to sensitively renovate a further 22 suites. As well as redesigning the bedrooms and living areas, the design team also remodelled the statement marble-flooded bathrooms, which feature a separate stall shower with large drench shower head and what are said to be London’s deepest hotel bathtubs.

An all-marble bathroom inside one of the finest hotels in London

Image caption: The Dorchester bathrooms are said to shelter London’s deepest baths | Image credit: The Dorchester

Having now secured landmark status, The Dorchester’s majestic glow is physically protected from change. In terms of its secret to remaining relevant nine decades since first opening to the world, the answer is perhaps unclear. What is transparent, however, is the hotel’s ability to evolve with meaning into modern times while also retaining and celebrating the building’s history, which has become its legacy.

What’s more, by consistently choosing style over fashion, The Dorchester remains a much-loved and integral part of history in British hospitality, and stands as proud today as it was in 1931 as one of London’s most refined headline acts.

[Cue The Dorchester’s post-lockdown curtain call.]

Main image credit: The Dorchester

A legend reborn: Raffles Singapore reopens

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
A legend reborn: Raffles Singapore reopens

Raffles Singapore has announced its highly anticipated reopening. With interiors by the acclaimed Alexandra Champalimaud, the hotel’s sensitive design heralds an exciting new chapter in the iconic property’s rich history and heritage…

The infamous Raffles Singapore is now open, following the iconic hotel’s careful and sensitive three-phased restoration, which first began in February 2017. The meticulous restoration project, led by acclaimed interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud, was also supported by Aedas.

“There are few hotels in the world whose names have become virtually synonymous with the cities in which they are located – and none more so than the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The newly restored Raffles will provide an experience like no other,” said Christian Westbeld, General Manager, Raffles Singapore. “It is our wish and desire that our guests will continue to create treasured memories at the hotel, while rediscovering what makes it so special – the distinctive architecture, heritage and legendary service.”

Discerning travellers can expect new levels of unrivalled comfort and inimitable service with enhanced suite experience, brought to life by the fabled Raffles Butlers, while enjoying the new and reimagined spaces at Raffles Singapore.

“Raffles Singapore reinvents emotional luxury.” – Jeannette Ho, Vice President, Raffles Brand and Strategic Relationships, Raffles Hotels and Resorts

Striking chandeliers hang down in modern nd contemporary restaurant

Image caption: La Dame de Pic. Credit: Raffles Singapore

“We are very pleased to be part of the reopening of the iconic Raffles Singapore officially returning to the city, refreshed, reimagined and revitalised,” commented Jeannette Ho, Vice President, Raffles Brand and Strategic Relationships, Raffles Hotels and Resorts. “This is where it all started and faithful to its roots, Raffles Singapore reinvents emotional luxury. As the hotel concludes its restoration and embarks on the next chapter, the return of this flagship property to Raffles Hotels & Resorts paves the way for the expansion of the brand as we deliver this same level of unparalleled service and sublime experiences to new destinations in cities such as Udaipur, London and Boston.”

The revitalised hotel offers luxurious all-suite accommodations, across nine distinct suite categories: State Room Suites, Courtyard Suites, Palm Court Suites, Personality Suites, Residence Suites, Promenade Suites, Studio Suites, Grand Hotel Suites and Presidential Suites. Residence, Promenade and Studio suites, are the three latest additions to the hotel’s existing line-up. The total suite count increases from 103 suites to 115 suites.

The Raffles Arcade has been newly outfitted with a charming Raffles Boutique and various bespoke retail brands. Guests and locals will also delight in exploring the worldly restaurants and bars at Raffles Singapore, including restaurant collaborations with Chef Anne-Sophie Pic, of the three-Michelin star Maison Pic in Valence, France; venerable French Master Chef Alain Ducasse; and Chef Jereme Leung, known for his innovative Chinese cooking. At the refreshed Long Bar, travellers will continue to enjoy the hotel’s most famous cocktail, the original Singapore Sling, along with the timeless tradition of tossing peanut shells on the floor.

Westbeld further added, “Raffles Singapore is one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels in the world and its restoration has been carefully designed to preserve its unique historic charm, while creating extraordinary experiences for our esteemed guests – a dedicated commitment from all of us at Raffles Singapore and also from our owner, Katara Hospitality.”

First opened in 1887, and declared a National Monument a century later by the Singapore Government in 1987, Raffles Singapore has through the years, gained both local and international recognition as an oasis for the well-travelled. It is a national treasure among Singaporeans who deeply value its historical significance and unique heritage. The last restoration was conducted from 1989 to 1991 where the hotel closed for two and a half years.

Main image credit: Accor/Raffles Singapore

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MINIVIEW: The Academy, London

1024 576 Hamish Kilburn

Editor of Hotel Designs Hamish Kilburn joins Alexandra Champalimaud herself to take a closer look of the new London boutique hotel that is on everyone’s lips at the moment…

Located in London’s more literary neighbourhood of Bloomsbury, The Academy Hotel, has revealed details of its million-pound interior design refurbishment. The hotel, which is part of YTL Hotels’ UK portfolio, has been designed by Alexandra Champalimaud and her skilful team whose portfolio includes The Gainsborough Bath and Spa and soon-to-open Monkey Island in Berkshire. The team worked close with the hotel group to convert the five Georgian townhouses into a charming, sophisticated and historical experience for guests who are checking in.

Inspired by the Bloomsbury Set who lived and worked there in the early 20th century, the interior design of the newly completed hotel is a tasteful blend of modern and vintage. The design team have perfectly balanced giving a nod to the building’s past while also drawing on inspiration from modern-day London.

The guestrooms

Each of the 50 elegant guest rooms have been designed to celebrate 240 years of the Georgian hotel’s history. High ceilings and sash windows give light-filled rooms an immediate sense of calm, which en-suite marble bathrooms and high king-sized beds (something I have noticed Champalimaud to love) add to the luxury. The soft furnishings of each guest room have been meticulously chosen to combine timeless glamour and fresh, contemporary city style. Statement walls feature fanciful wallpaper from Cole & Son, which arm chair, cushion and curtain fabrics have been sourced from Lee Sofa, a company that has been producing prints and fabric since 1823, and British brand Osborne & Little, among others.

Quick-fire round

Hamish Kilburn: What is your favourite colour this season?
Alexandra Champalimaud: I favour classic colours that don’t abide by trends. Rust orange, rich shades of blue, and green.
HK: What’s your advice to emerging designers?
AC: Believe in everything that you do.
HK: What is your number-one travel essential?
AC: Floracopeia Aged Patchouli oil
HK: What’s the secret to success in this world of hotel interior design?
AC: Challenges are opportunities to create something more awe inspiring than you may have initially thought – there are always changes, change in budget, change in schedule, perhaps the entire project gets scratched – but these are opportunities to bring more to the table. Charisma and good humour will also take you far.
HK: Biggest inspiration in your career?
AC: My team. At Champalimaud we have an unparalleled group of individuals in our New York based office, they make coming into work an absolute joy.

Beyond the guest rooms the hotel is brimming with personality and thoughtful design touched. On the ground level, the cosy Alchemy Bar which feature stunning olive-green velvet armchairs, marble-top tables and statement Liberty wallpaper, which leads out onto a sunlit-flooded garden, a rare feature for a hotel located in the centre of London. “Tapping into Bloomsbury’s storied past, we were inspired to create a space that is intimate, fresh and rich with charisma and narrative.”

 

 

Checking in to The Gainsborough Bath and Spa

800 537 Hamish Kilburn

Editor of Hotel Designs Hamish Kilburn checks in to the only hotel in Bath that taps into the natural thermal springs of the city, designed by the one and only Alexandra Champalimaud…

“First and foremost, the location is what really sets this project apart,” says Alexandra Champalimaud who, to me, looks far too composed and relaxed for two reasons as we meet for breakfast. For starters, although her soft English accent would suggest otherwise, Champalimaud is actually based in the loud, sleepless city of New York. And secondly, we are catching up at the same time of London Design Festival, when more than 450,000 designers, architects and creatives from around the globe descend onto the capital to catch the latest trends, discussions and product launches. Never before has the analogy of a duck above water been so apt than in this situation right now, and it’s inspiring to watch. “Bath is an actual treasure, a world UNESCO World Heritage Site, and frankly I think it’s one of the most magical places in the UK,” she says passionately as we begin to talk about The Gainsborough Bath and Spa, the five-star hotel that stole both of our hearts.

A few weeks before, I was checking in to the hotel for the first time. The precious interiors and renowned spa that are housed within The Gainsborough Bath and Spa are on a need to know basis. Tucked away from the rest of the town, yet very central in its address, the hotel among the locals is known for its luxury edge over the rest of the hotels in the area.

Just a two-hour drive from London’s thick smoke (and even quicker on the train), the feeling of tranquilly is immediately apparent upon arrival. “I can always tell if a guest is from London,” said Brian Benson, the hotel’s general manager as I arrived through the doors and into the large, open lobby. “Our guests from London always arrive in a hurry and look stressed. What I love about my job, and this hotel, is that guests always leave calmer than when they arrived.”

The lobby at The Gainsborough

Image caption: The lobby at The Gainsborough

Like many buildings in the hilly town of Bath, the hotel was once a Georgian-era hospital. The British painter Thomas Gainsborough had spent time there, which inspired the name. “The building itself looks grand, but it’s actually quite cosy,” says Champalimaud. “There’s an intimacy there that’s unmatched by other hotels in the area. The building is also Grade II listed; visitors will find that there are a lot of original details throughout the hotel.”

“Champalimaud and her team have created several dramatic scenes within the hotel’s public areas.”

The hotel’s look and feel is – like its staff – inviting, warm and naturally comfortable to be around. Deliberate attention to detail has been given to ensure that the modern hotel gives an appropriate nod to its storied past, with several references of traditional items evident in the public areas. Such as the Turin Portantina Seden Chair, which once in the 17th Century was used to carry royalty and now sits at the bottom of the main staircase in the lobby, creating a lasting first impression. The artefact is one of around 50 known to exist of its shape.

-The Gainsborough Restaurant

Image caption: -The Gainsborough restaurant

Champalimaud and her team have created several dramatic scenes within the hotel’s public areas. “We realised that we didn’t want to detract from the building’s historical charm, but simply enhance it,” says Champalimaud. “Whenever possible, we highlighted some of the hotel’s original features by employing design details that were reflective of the Roman and Georgian history of the city. Overall, the design is transitional – weaving in the classic English cosiness with a contemporary point of view.” One of these moments is the dynamically obscure chandelier that hangs in between the large main staircase. Another example of drama is quite literally written on the walls. Several pieces of contemporary art around the hotel, at first, look impressive and well placed. However, when learning that the artists are in fact local art students, the walls all of sudden have a different dimension. “What do you think it is,” said the waiter as I stood in front of a large abstract art piece which was full of dashes and colour. Tilting my head, I saw it. The piece of art, again imagined and created by local student artists was a contemporary representation of the restaurant we were actually stood in.

The Canvas Room at The Gainsborough

Image caption: The Canvas Room at The Gainsborough

On the lower level, the hotel’s main unique selling point is another classy reference to the town’s infamous past. The spa, which I have read about – and have wanted to experience – since it opened, is incomparable. It’s truly world-class, a feeling that has recently been shared by Condé Nast Traveller readers who have just voted it the second-best spa in the UK. That may well be because it is the only hotel spa in the city that actually taps into the natural thermal springs, meaning that the several therapy pools are all organically heated. “The spa is a dream,” says Champalimaud. “Located near one of the town’s thermal reserves the spa pool inside of the hotel contains the sought after precious healing waters that made Bath so famous.”

suite

Image caption: The Gainsborough

Although much of the attention at the hotel in the press is focused on the spa, the guestrooms and suites are equally as striking and impressive. Dressed to feel appropriately residential, with a colour palatte of duck egg blue, white and soft browns. My suite (room number 310) was defined as a junior suite, complete with a large living area, modest bathroom and a large bedroom. “Georgian design references are very much present in the guestrooms,” explained Champalimaud. “We wanted the rooms to feel comfortable, yet rich, so we focused on creating delicate layers with the tones, textures, and furnishings within them. The colours are contemporary and alluring while maintaining an air of subtlety – conjuring a sense of quiet. A number of the guestrooms have high ceilings that we accentuated with long curtains trimmed with a Roman inspired border, which complements the ornately patterned carpet. The furniture is all contemporary with a classic familiarity.”

guestroom

Image credit: The Gainsborough

Despite the design project running relatively smoothly, as with all grade II listed structures, unexpected delays in the design process were almost inevitable. “Since we were working with a Grade II structure, we had to be patient with the construction phase of the project,” explained Champalimaud. “The building had to be excavated as ancient artifacts were found while they were breaking ground – which was unexpected. From an interiors perspective, the hotel’s listing made us very mindful of maintaining the building’s original integrity with every design decision we made.”

Since experiencing the hotel in all its finery, The Gainsborough Bath and Spa has entered a special place in my heart – which is the same, it seems, for among many of its visitors who walk through its calming entrance. A little more than 100 miles from the centre of London, it is a South west gem, and certainly gives five-star hotels in the captital a run for their money. I checked out of The Gainsborough Bath and Spa and left with a much lower heart rate from when I arrived and a new-found appreciation for Georgian heritage buildings that shelter stunning hotels spas. The answer, perhaps, is in the waters.

 

 

 

Luxurious spa at The Gainsborough

The Gainsborough Bath Spa voted UK’s second best spa

800 516 Hamish Kilburn

The announcement came at the the Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Travel Awards 2018…

YTL Hotels has announced that The Gainsborough Bath Spa has been awarded three prestigious placings in the 21st Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Travel Awards. The five-star Bath hotel, YTL Hotels’ first to open in the UK, placed second in Top UK Hotel Spas, placed ninth in Top UK Holiday Hotels and included in The World’s Top 100.

The annual Readers’ Travel Awards ranks the best hotels, resorts, cities, islands, airlines and cruise lines in the world. The longest running of its kind, the Awards are one of the most prestigious recognitions of excellence in the travel industry and are commonly known as “the best of the best of travel”. With millions of reader submissions and tens of thousands of comments this year, The Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Travel Awards allows travellers to submit hotel and resort ratings, which are subsequently compiled into a list of winners.

With interiors by Alexandra Champalimaud, the 99-key hotel is ideally located in the renowned city of Bath, which placed fourth in Top UK Cities. This delightful hotel is just minutes away from the city’s attractions, shopping and restaurant districts. As well as the award-winning Spa Village Bath, the hotel features Dan Moon at The Gainsborough Restaurant, which has received three AA Rosettes and featured in the Tatler Restaurant Guide in the past year.

The only member of The Leading Hotels of the World in the South West England, this holistic landmark is one of YTL Hotels’ most significant openings to date. Today, The Gainsborough Bath Spa stands as YTL Hotels’ first Classic Hotel in Europe, as well as the sole hotel in the UK to have exclusive access to Bath’s natural thermal mineral waters.

Editor of Hotel Designs Hamish Kilburn recently checked in to The Gainsborough to review its interiors. Review coming soon.