The hotel industry has seen an uptick in extreme makeovers among venerable hotels. In Paris there’s the soon-to-reopen L’Hotel on the Left Bank, The Ritz on Place Vendôme and the much anticipated Hotel de Crillon, a 1758 landmark. In the Americas, tech billionaire Larry Ellison spent US$450 million making over the Four Seasons Hotel Lanai in Hawaii while Richard Meier retouched Miami’s 1930 Surf Club for Four Seasons. Not to be overlooked, Asian hotels have had their own notable renovations. Here are some to check out.
What does HK$1 billion buy in a renovation? You can find out at the Peninsula Beijing, which opened in 1989 as China’s first luxury international hotel and was overhauled for that amount last year. You’ll first notice the triple-height lobby with a dramatic new staircase. Upstairs, the number of guest rooms has been slashed from 525 to 230, each now better described as a suite, with a sliding door separating bedroom and living areas. Sustainable mahogany furniture camouflages added technology, such as the speakerphone by the bathtub.
Then there’s the art. Chinese artist Zhang Du’s pair of five-metre bronze sculptures are just two of the hotel’s 800-plus original art works curated in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Beijing. The hotel also has a programme inviting artists to take up residence at the hotel for three months to work in a studio that guests can visit.
With a prime location next to the Imperial Palace Gardens in Marunouchi district, this hotel was rebuilt from 2009 to 2012 to meet modern luxury standards. The result is accommodations showcasing Japan’s traditions, craftsmanship and natural resources. Pure spring water from the Takanawa and Ishizuchi mountains flow into the guest room taps, and super-soft Imabari towels line the bathroom racks.
Premium Jugetsudo green teas offered in-room are brewed in Nambu cast-ironware teapots crafted using 400-year-old techniques and served in traditional Mashiko-yaki handmade teacups. At the spa, you’ll find seitai trigger point therapy. Among the 10 dining venues here, the Royal Bar serves as a glamorous anachronism, with velvet high-back chairs and red leather banquets arranged beneath walls lined with vintage spirits.
‘The finest hostelry East of Suez’, wrote British author John Murray in his 1911 Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma and Ceylon. He was describing The Strand 10 years after it was built. One wonders what former guests like Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and Lord Mountbatten would say about last year’s refresh.
Returning guests will be relieved to know the ornate chandeliers, rattan furniture, and original marble and teak floors remain. They’ll also appreciate the 21st-century upgrades to the pre-existing 31 suites, including better air-conditioning and new tech features like speakers. A swimming pool, gym and spa are being added and will be ready later this year.
Park Hyatt Siem Reap
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Renovations don’t usually lure top architects, but Bill Bensley called this a dream project: it was his chance to revisit the first major hotel he designed, Hotel de la Paix. The task was to redo the urban resort, which combined Khmer and art deco design elements, under the Park Hyatt banner. Bensley enhanced all 108 rooms, placing vibrant, tropical-hued pillows on the new saffron daybeds. In the spacious Italian marble bathrooms, there are now shiny dual vanities and a powerful shower to wash away the dust of Angkor Wat temple tours.
The sunlit Living Room is an ode to Indochine with its playful punkah fans, rose-coloured velvet love seats and curvaceous central bar poised on legs resembling elephant tusks. The most heartwarming aspect of this room’s redo must be the striking two-metre-long Weaves of Cambodia textiles, hand-loomed by landmine victims turned world-class artisans.