The suite smell of success

When one grand door closes, an even grander door opens. Or so it seems in the luxury London hotel market. Over the past year, an enormous number of hotels in the capital have undergone, or are undergoing, refurbishment, only to emerge claiming an unrivalled customer experience, complemented by lavish style.

The roll call of hotel refreshes across the capital, and their budgets, from the epicentre of five-star luxury on Park Lane to the hip and ‘casual luxury’ of Shoreditch, suggest that the disposable incomes driving demand for new luxury experiences are unaffected by turbulence in the world financial markets.

Duncan Palmer, managing director of The Langham, which has recently undergone a £50m refurbishment led by David Collins Studio and RPW Design, explains that the boom in the luxury sector is sustainable in the long term because the market is no longer solely reliant on the US. Russian, Chinese and Indian customers are now entering the fray.

Palmer says that while finishing and detail have always been vital to luxury, hotels increasingly have to look for new ways to create the unparalleled experiences that luxury thrillseekers are demanding.

‘It’s the customers who are driving hoteliers to come up with ever more creative concepts, with an even higher degree of attention to detail. Interior design is becoming more expressive in terms of colour, texture and finishes, with each space being treated differently,’ he says.

Differentiation, indeed, seems to be the key. The eclectic design so often associated with boutique hotels has infiltrated the mainstream, with many going above and beyond the notion of luxury.

According to Palmer, the showpiece suite is still a key weapon in the luxury battle, with hotels upping the ante all the time.

The Langham launched its RPW-designed Infinity Suite in 2005, with centrepiece jacuzzi bath, while The Dorchester’s Roof Suites, designed by Alexandra Champalimaud, were completed in November.

The Fairmont-owned London Savoy, which closed last week for a £100m rejuvenation by French interior designer Pierre Yves-Rochon and architect Reardon Smith, will see the Art Deco-style of the hotel restored to its former glory. Its Royal Suite, with three bedrooms, kitchen for guests with a personal chef, office, study and powder room is costing £2.5m alone to refurbish.

The Edwardian-inspired, classic English look, according to a spokeswoman, will be in sync with the interiors Rochon has masterminded for the hotel. ‘Like an apartment,’ Rochon says, ‘the Royal Suite is designed for living in, however temporarily.’

The idea of approachable, informal luxury is something that Hyatt, which recently relaunched the Great Eastern Hotel on Liverpool Street as the Andaz, has adopted and tried to make its own.

By incorporating the convenience of wi-fi and sleek hand-held technology, Hyatt has eschewed the formality of the traditional lobby in favour of a more relaxed social area.

Developed by Wilsdon Design Associates, the Minimalist style of the lobby relies on effective lighting and a ‘challenging’ art programme to evoke a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Clifford Grauers, outgoing general manager of the Andaz, says, ‘Somewhere along the line it was decided that luxury had to be formal, with staff calling guests ‘sir’ and ‘madam’. We’ve removed that barrier between guest and staff and have created a more homely environment. It’s all about personal choice now – there are so many different styles of five-star luxury in London.’

The InterContinental Park Lane, like the Andaz, attempts to demonstrate sensitivity to its locality with tailored art programmes. Its public areas, created by J2 Design, incorporate art by local artists. ‘It’s about ensuring that each guest has a locally inspired stay,’ says the hotel’s general manager Roland Fasel.

Grauers says, ‘Having [an art programme] that uses local artists is more thought-provoking and creates a different culture. Although not everyone will like it, it creates comment and interest.’

Luxury makeovers

• JW Marriott’s European flagship Grosvenor House is in the throes of restoration, with creative input from architect Reardon Smith, GA Design, Peter Silling and RPW Design

• InterContinental Park Lane’s rooms, by designer Ilana Fiengold, feature a ‘timeless English style’ and public areas have been overhauled by J2 Design

• Firmdale-owned Haymarket hotel opened in May 2007, with a design by Kit Kemp

• Fairmont-owned Savoy closed last week, and is set to undergo the special treatment of Pierre-Yves Rochon

• Maybourne Hotel Group’s Connaught reopened last week, with a design by Guy Oliver

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