Get a 360-degree peek: Raffles Hotel enters next chapter after two-year renovation

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After a two-year renovation, Singapore's iconic landmark reopened its doors on Aug 1. The Straits Times takes a look at the newest additions.
The grand lobby with new white flooring. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The Jubilee Theatre was turned into a ballroom that can seat 300 guests. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The revamped hotel boasts nine types of suites, including the presidential suite (above). ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Though the iconic Raffles Hotel underwent a nearly two-year revamp, designer Edmond Bakos says it would be a compliment if visitors do not feel like too much has changed.

The managing director of New York-based Champalimaud Design, the design firm in charge of the restoration and renovation, says this would mean they have achieved their goal of refreshing the hotel while retaining its classic charm.

Speaking to The Straits Times last week, Mr Bakos says: "The goal was to bring the hotel to the next chapter, not to completely change it."

But of course, there have been many changes.

It now has 115 suites, up from 103, and a host of new dining options, including La Dame de Pic by renowned French chef Anne-Sophie Pic, French chef Alain Ducasse's BBR by Alain Ducasse and yi by Singaporean chef Jereme Leung. A suite at the Raffles Hotel starts at $1,300 a night.

The hotel declined to reveal how much was spent on the restoration.

Asked about the challenges of renovating a historical building, Mr Bakos says things were not as simple as they seem.

For example, the whole building needed repainting. But before that, the old paint had to be scrapped off because it was "destroying the fabric of the walls".

In the lobby, the white marble flooring is also new.

He explains that in the previous renovation, damp-proofing in the floors was not done and this led to moisture being drawn up through the floors and into the marble. The iron content in the marble rusted, creating brown streaks in the tiles.

The hotel's air-conditioning system was also upgraded.

"We had to re-think how the duct work would pass through the building without destroying it. So it sounds simple to say that the building was restored, but the solutions were quite complex and took time."

The revamp also included the transformation of the Jubilee Theatre into a ballroom that can seat 300 guests, the upgrading of the hotel's digital capabilities and the commissioning of customised furniture and fixtures.

It also aimed to bring back a social quality to the hotel.

"In the days of the Sarkies brothers (the Armenian brothers who established Raffles Hotel in 1887), it was a more social place where everyone came together," says Mr Bakos, adding that after the last renovation in 1989, the hotel became more exclusive and less welcoming of members of the public.

"I think every great hotel becomes part of the fabric of its neighbourhood, so we wanted to create places that pull Singapore's residents into the dining rooms, bars and event spaces here," he says.

While the hotel still caters to its high-paying guests, new additions aimed at bringing in the public include co-working space The Great Room and more than 30 retail, dining and lifestyle offerings, including popular restaurant Burger & Lobster.

When the hotel opens its doors today, Mr Bakos says: "I hope that everyone's first impression is sort of a gasping wow. And a sense that nothing has changed and yet there are so many nice new things for them to find."

The hotel is already expecting quite a crowd in its first few days.

According to Raffles Hotel Singapore's general manager Christian Westbeld, the hotel will be at 65 per cent capacity on opening day and 85 per cent capacity tomorrow. The hotel started taking reservations in October last year.

On the current focus of the hotel, he says: "I think it's important that we are known for having preserved the hotel's colonial architecture, that we have not forgotten our heritage but have used that to set us up for the next few decades."

He hopes the hotel is seen as a destination many will want to experience.

"We want to evolve and go with the times and we always want to be relevant. With this restoration, we have achieved that for this moment. But it's about how we continue to grow our perception globally and in Singapore."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2019, with the headline Get a 360-degree peek: Raffles Hotel enters next chapter after two-year renovation. Subscribe