Rebirth of Raffles

Rebirth of Raffles

Singapore, Hotel Restoration –

The new RAFFLES HOTEL SINGAPORE is bathed in the golden glow of the tropical sun

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The main entrance of Raffles Hotel Singapore with its classy gravelly driveway
Landscaping at Palm Court and other outdoor points reflects Singapore’s penchant for lush greenery
Light streams in from above as the Grand Lobby’s stunning chandelier catches the eye
The sculptural bar counter in shimmering gold at Writers Bar, where new cocktails have been added to the menu
First Writer in Residence at Raffles – author Pico Iyer enjoys a cocktail inspired by his book ‘This Could Be Home: Raffles Hotel and the City of Tomorrow’

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MORE THAN 400 pieces of furniture bearing the old brass crests were restored. 8000 pieces of silver and historical china, inventoried. Paint, colour, plaster, timber, textile, motif, lighting – design elements are coming meticulously together to tell an authentic story of Raffles Hotel Singapore’s glory and heritage within modern relevance.

Raffles Hotel Singapore’s meticulous restoration project took 3 years. The hotel reopened in August 2019

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Raffles Hotel Singapore went through a major three-year restoration effort, opening its doors in the latter half of 2019. Partners for the project include global architecture and design firm Aedas, Singapore-based architectural restoration and research consultancy Studio Lapis, and Champalimaud Design founded by Alexandra Champalimaud in Montreal.

Opened in 1887, Raffles Hotel Singapore is one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels in the world, and was declared a National Monument in 1987. Its neo-Renaissance architecture is preserved both inside and out, giving it a blend of luxury, history and classic colonial design. 

One of the highlights of the restored spaces in the Jubilee Ballroom, which had been a hub of soirees, dances and social fun during the 1920s, earning a reputation as the “finest ballroom in the East.”

Jubilee Ballroom’s foyer with flooring that recalls Victorian heritage
Jubilee Ballroom with its chandeliers and signature gold Venetian light fixtures with elegant coffers

Alexandra Champalimaud, head of the Raffles Hotel Singapore’s restoration interior design team and founder of Champalimaud Design on the new Jubilee Ballroom:

We have included sophisticated Victorian details whispering to the heritage of the space along with nods to Singapore’s culture. In order to tell the legacy story of the theatre, we added finely curated motifs and techniques that speak to its history, along with iconic lighting elements to provide an added layer of luxury. Stunning chandeliers and signature gold Venetian light fixtures with elegant coffers, which light the room beautifully, can be found within the space along with custom upholstered wall panels that speak to Singapore’s culture.”

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The Design Process:

A Chat with EVGENIYA LAZAREVA

Design Coordination and Project Management with Aedas

Considering natural light in Raffles was one of the main priorities for the design team. Sunlit lobby, Tiffin Room and La Dame de Pic have very unique light quality – you may notice a slight golden glow due to the characteristics of the existing heritage glazing. Designer choices fell on finishes and fabrics that complement and amplify this unique element.”

La Dame de Pic restaurant exudes a golden glow due to the existing heritage glazing
Chef Anne-Sophie Pic’s Araguani Chocolate dessert seems to match the interiors

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What colour scheme runs through the nine distinct suite categories of Raffles Hotel Singapore, and why was this chosen?

Residence Suite – the new look of Raffles suites is pared down and subtle, a great complement to the existing architectural backdrop

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The timeless and elegant combination of dark wood and ivory tones pairs with tanned leather and touches of steel blue.

What did you enjoy working on most during the years of restoration design process?

My story with Raffles began in the later part of 2018. By that time a few areas of the hotel such as ballrooms, Raffles Arcade and the Long Bar were already successfully completed. Still we had a big job ahead of us as the rest of the property was still just a raw concrete shell. Seeing the hotel take shape over time and finally come alive with the hotel team moving in and bringing along the first group of guests was the most enjoyable, magical moment.

What was it like working with Alexandra Champalimaud? Was there a good exchange of design ideas between you two?

There was a constant exchange of ideas and thoughts between Champalimaud in New York and Singapore design team. Working with heritage buildings is very interesting and challenging at the same time. You are bound to discover hidden and long forgotten architectural elements that require thorough design consideration. Close collaboration and constant exchange of ideas between the teams were key to the successful project completion.

You’ve lived in Singapore for about 6 years. What design elements of the hotel capture Singapore’s heritage so well?

New plantation shutters in the suites, woven rattan accents at the wardrobes, palm leaf pattern panels at Writers Bar are a few design details that bring about the spirit of tropical colonial Singapore.

My favourite is Tiffin Room – abundantly decorated with a collection of antique tiffin boxes and traditional ceramic plates”

How did you relax and what food did you crave for after a hard day of work during the project?

Working at Raffles we were lucky to be next door to Purvis Street, famous for its numerous Thai eateries and some outstanding chicken rice spots. Sharing the occasional hearty lunch with Champalimaud, Aedas and construction teams was a great way to unwind and build team spirit.

What advice can you give a design student about working on a restoration project as iconic as Raffles Hotel Singapore that takes years to achieve?

Working on Raffles was a great honour and a big milestone in my career. My advice to any aspiring, young designer is to cut your teeth on heritage and refurbishment projects. This type of work really teaches you to be resourceful and creative where fast problem solving is the key to the success of the project. In this modern fast paced society, working with heritage properties teaches us to preserve and respect the past.

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A Chat with JON KASTL

Partner at Champalimaud Design

To ensure that the final look retains the charm and ambience that is unique to Raffles Hotel, we were sensitive to its history and to its influences that came to bear on the actual aesthetics – the colonial structure of origin layered with Peranakan details.”

How do you balance modern relevance with heritage sensitivity in the Raffles Hotel Singapore restoration project?

Raffles Hotel Singapore is a national monument that has served as a landmark for many world travellers and Singaporeans. The changes that we brought are both modern but appropriate, as though they innately belong in the building and have been there forever.

The Presidential Suite – the new suites have better soundproofed windows and improved lighting but preserve the heritage and colonial feel of the space

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The new interiors will retain the original charm and heritage and combine that with elements of modernity. In this sense, the suites are designed to reminisce the past, while still being contemporary to meet the needs of a savvy traveller in the way they are built and function. For example, we designed the new suites with better soundproofed windows and improved lighting but preserved the heritage and colonial feel of the space, such as the signature tripartite parlour, sleeping area, bathroom layout in the rooms, and charming elements such as the antique light switches.

The hotel also has more than 100 pieces of antique furniture that have been carefully restored, including the Steinway grand piano, an antique gramophone and the grandfather clock located in the Grand Lobby.

Which interior space sees the most dramatic change from the former and why?

The biggest change is the hotel lobby, which has been transformed into a hub for social activity. We are creating an energetic, social space by integrating more seating and lighting. With this in mind, the space sees more food and beverage options to rejuvenate the hotel’s vibe and atmosphere, without requiring major changes to the structure.

More Food & Bevarage options like Tiffin Room and its Mera Dabba–Murgh Tandoori & Prawn Balchao

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Tell us more about the design elements in Raffles Hotel: colours, furnishing and lighting, and so forth.

The design of the refreshed spaces is original to Raffles Hotel Singapore: true, honest, comfortable, elegant, particular, and above all, glorious.

Vintage light switch in suites

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Woven through the hotel is an element of understated luxury, which is brought to life by beautiful tiles, classic palettes and the layered use of textures and materials like marble, fabrics, leathers and patterned glass, sourced from countries such as Italy, France and the United States.

We also use contemporary lighting in the suites, which plays an important role to creating the ambience. The decor is reminiscent of its heritage, yet with a cleaner, simpler elegance.

You’re not only creating a building but also an icon and a symbol of Singapore’s history. What kind of research did you do to understand the context and come up with a vision for the ‘new’ interiors?

For us, the most important element when approaching this project was to honour and respect the culture of Singapore as well as Raffles Hotel Singapore’s storied legacy and status as a national monument.

In order to create design that can add value and improve the space, we need to put ourselves in the middle of it all, to understand not only the history behind a place, but also what it is that people today are seeking from it.

We did our research to understand the true personality of Singapore and what Raffles Hotel stands for in their culture. We worked closely with Raffles Hotel and our restoration partners such as heritage consultant, Studio Lapis, a Singapore-based architectural restoration specialist. Ultimately, we want to bring forth the history and heritage and tell an authentic story through design.

What Singapore food do you enjoy?

I’m a big fan of chilli crab. Whenever I’m in Singapore, I always go to this wonderful place on the waterfront for their crabs! I also love chicken rice – it’s definitely one of my favourite local dishes.

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Story by Carol Kraal. Respective photographs courtesy of Raffles Hotel Singapore, Evgeniya Lazareva and Champalimaud Design