Named after no other than the founder of Singapore himself, Sir Stamford Raffles, the Raffles Hotel is part and parcel of the Lion City’s history. What began as a 10-room, bungalow-style building by the sea in 1887 has become an icon of Singapore, and serves as the flagship property of the Raffles hospitality brand, which has since expanded globally.
To enter this colonial masterpiece is to step back in time into an elegant era—one that harks back to the golden age of travel. Every part of this National Monument has a story to tell: from the making of the Singapore Sling at the Long Bar to the last tiger that sought solace at the Bar & Billiard Room; the hotel even has an in-house historian to regale guests with such tales.
Like any story, however, the Raffles embarked on a new chapter in 2017. As it celebrates its 130th anniversary, it has begun an extensive renovation process with a reopening planned for the first quarter of 2019. “We recognise that the building has to undergo change for it to remain relevant,” says Ho Weng Hin of Studio Lapis, a Singapore-based architectural restoration and research consultancy that specialises in conservation projects. The studio is working alongside global architectural giant Aedas and New York-based Champalimaud Design, the latter in charge of the interiors.
Almost 30 years ago, the Raffles went through a massive restoration that brought it back to its former glory, with a look that reflected its heyday in 1915. This time around, the priority is a condition survey and an overhaul of its interiors. “Our main concern is auditing the condition of the building—examining which parts are sound and which ones require work,” explains Ho.
The design phase required all three studios to do an exhaustive review, and for Studio Lapis to “correlate the design intent with the conservation requirement under the guidelines drafted by the National Heritage Board.” Restoration work aside, the main transformation would be in terms of decoration, which is in the capable hands of Alexandra Champalimaud, who was behind the refurbishment of other landmark properties such as the Waldorf Astoria in New York and The Dorchester in London. As tastes and hotel norms evolve, the Raffles never rests on its laurels, but continues in its quest to delight a new generation of discerning guests.
In an inspiring showcase of French craftsmanship and savoir faire, the Hôtel de Crillon—which reopened in July 2017 after a four-year facelift—masterfully balances its 18th-century heritage with state-of-the-art luxuries.
When the hotel closed its doors in 2013 for extensive renovations, two key principles guided the project: the conservation of the hotel’s history and classified landmarks, and its transformation into a modern palace for the 21st century. The building dates back to 1758 as a façade built by famed architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, who was commissioned by Louis XV to beautify the Place de la Concorde—where the French Revolution reached its bloody climax just a few decades later. With the addition of surrounding buildings, it became a luxurious private residence before opening as a hotel in 1909.
The architect Richard Martinet, who specialises in the restoration of historical properties, led the meticulous 21st-century revamp, with special attention paid to the hotel’s protected heritage monuments—including the Corinthian-columned façade and trio of remarkable salons, whose six-metre-high ceilings, gilded pilasters and cornices date back to 1776. Aligning itself with the expectations of today’s discerning traveller, the hotel, part of the prestigious Rosewood portfolio, also needed a revitalised look and attitude. And if it had to break tradition—plus a few walls—in order to achieve that, then so be it. “We want this iconic hotel to offer something different and very Parisian,” says General Manager, Marc Raffray. “We have to break the codes, deconstruct them and make things fresh.”
To transform the outdated interiors into a modern haven of luxury—channelling the look of a chic Parisian residence rather than a hotel—artistic director Aline d’Amman enlisted the talents of four designers, each responsible for particular areas. Tristan Auer took charge of most of the public spaces, such as the new men’s grooming area featuring leather chairs fashioned from vintage Aston Martin seats, and the main lobby, where he raised the ceiling by one metre for a more spacious feel. Chahan Minassian oversaw the brand-new subterranean swimming pool and spa level (which required digging two floors deep), as well as three of the four F&B outlets, converting Les Ambassadeurs from a fine dining restaurant to a buzzy cocktail bar to draw in the locals.
Cyril Vergniol tackled the corridors and 114 guest rooms, filling them with contemporary furniture, mirrored bars, curated books, and objets d’art. The total number of rooms was also reduced from 147 to 124, allowing more space for the brand’s 10 signature suites. Lastly, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld was commissioned to design two of these exceptional suites, named Les Grands Appartements. His lavish residences are outfitted with pastel-toned bespoke furnishings, two-tonne marble bathtubs, textured dove-grey walls and design work by some of the same artisans enlisted for Lagerfeld’s own Parisian home.
“Every single detail has been thought out by the designers to maintain this respect for the past, while giving it something of this century,” says Raffray. “It brings life back to these monumental rooms.” With a total team of 147 artisans and craftsmen working to bring the vision to life, the end result is a palatial property fit for royalty, yet equally appealing to hip Parisians and refined travellers alike. A living testament to the French art de vivre, today’s Hôtel de Crillon embodies a contemporary spirit that never forgets its historic soul.
3. Hotel de Eden Rome
The roads of Rome are paved with so much history that century-old buildings are considered new, which probably isn’t surprising for a city often described as an open air museum. While the Colosseum, Pantheon, and dozens of other ancient monuments draw in the tourists, there are a host of other places that have also become an important part of the city’s fabric.
Although the structure that houses Hotel Eden only dates back to 1889, it holds an extraordinary, yet open secret—it is here where one can witness the most stunning panoramic views of the city of seven hills. Just a stone’s throw away from the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, the hotel offers a unique vantage point to take in landmarks such as the Vatican and Il Vittoriano, as well as Rome’s lush, golden-hued landscape.
Sitting on a side street, Hotel Eden’s unassuming façade conceals a gem of a space. After a thorough 18-month-long restoration, the esteemed Dorchester Collection hotel reopened in April 2017 to much fanfare. The design was a collaborative effort of two revered firms: Bruno Moinard and Claire Betaille of 4BI & Associates, and Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku of Jouin Manku.
Through a careful study of colours and materials, Hotel Eden’s new look has a lighter, fresher appeal without undermining its history. There’s an underlying domestic character to the decadence proffered here—each area looks like an abode of a well-travelled tastemaker and every nook is decorated with soul. It’s this renewed direction that sets it apart from the overly formal style of other heritage hotels in the neighbourhood.
The high-end yet homely ambience is carried throughout the rooms and suites, which are decorated with bespoke pieces including Murano glass lamps, and clad with hand-picked marble imported from Pakistan and finished in the Italian city of Carrara. Moinard and Betaille, who were tasked with designing the lobby, rooms and meeting spaces, were enamoured by the city’s distinctive natural light and sought to bring this indoors.
Perhaps it is this guiding principle that made them rethink of the allocation of space itself. Cutting the number of accommodations from 121 to 98, each room and suite is more spacious and, via the high ceilings and expansive windows, is bathed in the Rome’s wonderful light. Coupled with a neutral palette and a considered approach to decoration, the rooms feel modern but have that gravitas of a space that’s more than a century old. The prize pick is the Bellavista Penthouse Suite, which is styled in a contemporary manner that puts the expansive view of Rome front and centre.
The extensive refurbishment has introduced first-time offerings, namely the intimate Eden Spa, as well as infused a dynamic energy to its rooftop dining outlets: fine dining restaurant La Terrazza and the more casual Il Giardino. Having an aperitivo at the rooftop bar one summer evening, we were all enthralled when the picture windows automatically open up to create an al fresco space. The view may be millennia old, but at the new Hotel Eden, there’s always something surprising in store.
(See also: Where To Eat, Stay And Play In February)