A capital investment

The wave of luxury hotel refurbishments in London has little to do with the weak pound and London 2012, those behind them tell Angus Montgomery. It’s more about investing in the economic recovery and seeing off competition from rivals

Major capital refurbishment projects costing many millions of pounds are hardly the sort of thing you would expect to be taking place during an economic downturn, so eyebrows are inevitably being raised at the number, scale and ambition of luxury hotel projects about to come to fruition in London.

As well as the Savoy, which is set to reopen next month following a £100m revamp it is billing as ’the most ambitious hotel restoration in British history’, other projects have seen The Four Seasons at Park Lane gutted and stripped back to its concrete structure before being entirely rebuilt internally, the Corinthia group resurrecting the Hotel Metropole building, which was previously in the hands of the Ministry of Defence, and The Goring embarking on a rolling refurbishment programme which has resulted in each bedroom containing around £150 000-worth of British furniture.

A weak pound and the prospect of the 2012 Olympics have been cited as potential reasons for this boom in luxury hotel investment, but hotel operators themselves claim other drivers are at work. David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director of The Goring, says, ’Everyone’s doing it now because they’ve been putting them off. The Savoy building was falling to bits and the Four Seasons was so stuck in the 1970s, it desperately needed doing.’ Morgan-Hewitt believes London’s luxury hotels have embarked on this phase of regeneration – with most projects commissioned in 2006 or 2007, because cashflow and property values were in the right place – following both the recession of the 1990s and preceding the downturn, which kicked off in 2008. He says, ’The Four Seasons timed it perfectly – it closed its doors to start work [in September 2008] just as the recession struck.’

The Four Seasons at Park Lane, which originally opened in 1970, is set to reopen on 15 December following a refurbishment project led by architect Eric Parry and interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon (who also worked on the Savoy refurbishment with architect Reardon Smith). John Stauss, Four Seasons regional vice-president and general manager of the Four Seasons at Park Lane, says ’Our decision [to carry out the refurbishment] was not related to the Olympics or to what our competitors are doing – it’s about what we do with the longest-serving Four Seasons in the world.’ Stauss adds, ’There’s been a lot of talk that these projects are in response to the Olympics, but they’re not – you don’t build a luxury hotel in London for a one-month event. Each [hotel has its] own reasons.’

The Four Seasons has been almost completely rebuilt internally after being dramatically gutted. Stauss says, ’At one point if you walked past you could see that we were down to just nine concrete slabs.’

Rochon has created a new interior with a different layout to the original – with the restaurant and bar moved to the ground floor and the ballroom on the first floor. Stauss says, ’Rochon’s response is timeless, chic, classic and contemporary.’ He adds, ’The Four Seasons has a vision of service excellence without over-the-top formality – London already has some excellent examples of stuffy hotels.’ A tenth floor has been added, which boasts a spa and fitness centre, with both architecture and interiors by Parry. Stauss says the additional floor means the building ’now looks entirely different architecturally’.

At The Goring, meanwhile, a rolling programme of refurbishment has been running over the past five years in anticipation of the hotel’s centenary this year. David Linley, Tim Gosling, Nina Campbell and Russell Sage have all contributed to the work, with Sage currently working on three bedrooms and a royal suite, to follow his opulent guestrooms clad with Gainsborough Silks. Morgan-Hewitt says, ’We have no problem at all with being traditional. A lot of modern hotels sacrifice comfort for design.’ He adds, ’When Gosling worked on the bar we told him don’t change anything – make it a lot more luxurious, but don’t change anything.’

A new challenger in the luxury hotel market is set to open on Whitehall Place, on the site of the former Metropole Hotel. Matthew Dixon, general manager of the Corinthia Hotel in London, says, ’We are bringing back to life what has been a grand hotel.’ The building opened as the Metropole Hotel in 1885, but became a Ministry of Defence building before World War II. In 2007 it was sold by the Crown Estate. Dixon says the Corinthia proposal was the ninth most valuable offer from a list of 30 tender participants, but that it won out as ’the Crown Estate really liked what we were planning to do with it’.

Dixon says that the vision for the work – by GA Design International, with David Collins working on the bar – is ’not to tamper too much – just to bring it back to life’.He says, ’London as a city has such a pull that it means with the right management it’s good common sense to operate a five-star hotel here. The top hotels constantly need to ensure that they are at the highest level – not just against other hotels,but against other cities, too.’

Opening soon
The Savoy
– due to reopen on 10 October. Refurbishment carried out by Pierre-Yves Rochon and Reardon Smith
Four Seasons at Park Lane – set to reopen on 15 December. Refurbishment carried out by Pierre-Yves Rochon and Eric Parry
Corinthia – due to open in early 2011. Design by GA Design International and David Collins
The Goring – refurbishment has been ongoing for five years in preparation for its tenth anniversary in 2010. Work carried out by David Linley, Tim Gosling, Nina Campbell and Russell Sage

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