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How Raffles Hotel’s refurbishment strikes a balance between the new and old

Design firm Champalimaud has combined luxury with great respect for the property's legacy.

The beauty of an icon lies not just in its physical attributes, but also in the intangible qualities – history, tradition, culture and symbolism – woven into its fabric. When it comes to a property of priceless value, such as national monument Raffles Hotel, it takes awareness and sensitivity to strike the perfect balance between old and new; nostalgic charm and modern luxury. Over the past 18 months, New York-based design firm Champalimaud has refurbished the heritage establishment – one of the oldest hotels in Asia and among the few great 19th-century hotels remaining in the world.

Renovating such a distinguished, storied building as Raffles Hotel requires a thoughtful and mindful approach. The design firm aimed to imbue the interiors with freshness and a contemporary edge, while preserving and enhancing the original colonial architectural elements. With the hotel’s old world charm drawn out through modern expressions, the result is a setting that’s familiar, nostalgic and timeless, yet relevant to current hospitality standards, trends and ideas. Its traditional interiors are now updated to a modern classic style, with specially made furnishings breathing new life into the spaces.

“The look and feel of the hotel is elegantly sophisticated and chic,” says Jon Kastl, partner at Champalimaud. “The iconic colonial interiors have been further refined, and are a stunning backdrop for bespoke furniture, art and objects.” He adds that Champalimaud also rectified any “unfortunate alterations” that were made in the past, to bring the building closer to its origins.

  • Raffles Hotel pool

    01 Urban Escape

    Tropical greens encircle the rooftop swimming pool.

A big change is the lobby’s new design. The reception zone has been relocated to the rear, which allows the front section – a glorious atrium- like space – to be maximised for F&B. Now, it is a place for people to gather and socialise, be it enjoying a light breakfast, afternoon tea, or evening cocktails. “The goal was to bring social energy and conviviality to the lobby and adjacent public spaces,” says Kastl. Aesthetics-wise, the original signatory black and white scheme has been maintained but is subtly enlivened by sophisticated shades of green and creamy neutral tones. A bejewelled chandelier, the finishing touch, adds refined glamour and grounds the space. Additionally, Jubilee Hall, a performance theatre that was added in the 1990 renovation, was converted into the Jubilee Ballroom. “The new ballroom is stunning and surely the loveliest space in the city,” says Kastl.

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In the guest rooms, the characteristic three-part layout – defined parlour, bedroom and bathroom zones – is retained. Two large presidential suites were created, each boasting a spacious floor area with oversized terraces overlooking the famed Palm Courtyard. They feature bespoke chandeliers, custom bas-relief wall panels, as well as distinctive artworks, and are “very residential in feel”. The existing suites were given tasteful revamps, with the implementation of patterned Peranakan flooring for the bathrooms, colour schemes inspired by the spice trade, and contemporary art that references Singapore’s progressiveness and relation to the international art scene. This, Kastl explains, is a translation of the inspiration drawn from the location and context. “Singapore has historically been a cultural and geographical crossroads influenced by various communities,” he says.

The hotel’s clientele – “a truly international set of travellers and explorers with a worldly point of view” – was also a big factor in the aesthetic direction.

“The hotel’s design speaks to these clients by ‘layering’ a contemporary attitude towards luxury and how one desires to live today,” Kastl says. He adds that this is reflected in the details, for example, the juxtaposition of contemporary handwoven rugs against historic wood floors, and strikingly bold chandeliers punctuating spaces defined by colonial architectural elements. Other key materials and elements incorporated in the overall design include Italian white marble slabs, Tasmanian oak flooring, and custom-made bronze decorative panels (seen in the lobby).

“Respecting the legacy while making the hotel relevant for not only today’s travellers but also the next generation of travellers was surely our most important task,” says Kastl.

Indeed, a stay at the Raffles Hotel is an undisputed choice and on the bucket list of many. And with the growing appreciation for experience-centred travel, and for preserving heritage while embracing the future, the hotel will continue to maintain its stature and significance in the luxury hospitality landscape.

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