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Raffles Hotel, Singapore – A New Dawn

June 9, 2017

Hotels & SpasLifestyle | by Harry Seymour


Named after the founding father of the Asian city, Sir Stamford Raffles, Raffles Hotel has become synonymous the world over for its refined elegance and as a symbol of glamorous colonial travel. This year the hotel begins an ambitious two year revamp – Candid Magazine recently got the chance to have an exclusive chat with the team behind this ambitious project to hear what was in store.

The hotel was founded in 1887 by the Sarkies Brothers, three Armenian hoteliers who had a keen eye for understanding what the international jet set of the day wanted from an establishment. Originally the hotel opened as a ten suite beach front property, before quickly expanding over the decades in to the elegant neo-classical building found today. Even though the sea is now more than a mile and half from its original position due to land reclamation projects that started in the 1950’s, and despite the fact it is surrounded by 21st glass skyscrapers, the hotel has retained its charm and warmth and it holds a dear place in the hearts of all who have visited – you leave feeling a part of its history.

Raffles Hotel in 2017.

The stories surrounding the hotel’s past are both numerous and captivating – in 1899 it was the first hotel to have electric ceiling fans and lights in the region, its cellar was the home of a tiger that escaped a local zoo in the 1910’s and in the roaring 1920’s a cocktail bar nicknamed ‘Cad’s Alley’ where dandies would sip cocktails whilst eyeing the ladies became the place to be seen for expats in Asia. It was also the birthplace of the gin-based cocktail, the Singapore Sling, a luminous pink concoction that enabled women to drink alcohol in public without being judged. In 1987 the hotel was declared a National Monument by the Singapore Government, securing its future forever, and two years later the exterior was restored while the interior was revamped. This $160 million renovation took the hotel back to its 1915 heyday, turning the ballroom back in to the driveway, replacing the teak-wood Art Deco bars and billiards room and decorating each of the rooms (that were now all converted to suites) rooms in a simple and uncluttered colonial style with porcelain antiques, ceiling fans and marble bathrooms. A shopping arcade was added with forty designer boutiques through which the public could pass and experience the grand architecture of the hotel.

Raffles Hotel in 1921.

The main part of the hotel however, remains closed to anyone not staying there. The front wing of Raffles, which contains the reception and restaurants, is also home to the most famous rooms, such as the Cathay Suite and the Stamford Suite, and where royalty and celebrities mingle. Previous guests include Queen Elizabeth II (And more recently Prince William and Kate Middleton), Nelson Mandela, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Rudyard Kipling, John Wayne and Michael Jackson.

This year however, a new plan has been unveiled for the hotel in an effort to bring every room and interior in to the 21st century in the first set of works to take place since the 1989 renovation. The outside is remaining the same due to its listed status, but inside, there are great plans. Phase one, which started in February 2017 saw th closure of the infamous Long Bar, as well as several restaurants and the shopping arcade, as an interior design team from New York, headed by none other then Alexandra Champimaud get to work. Champimaud has worked on some of the finest and most famous hotels in the world, including the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, The Plaza and the Waldorf Astoria in New York and the Dorchester in London – so the hotel remains in good (and sympathetic) hands. She is working with Aedas, an international Architecture firm with Singapore offices who will realise her vision. Aedas are a multi-award winning firm who have worked on hotels including the Mandarin Oriental in Chengdu, China, and Hotel Indigo in Hong Kong, but also shopping malls in Dubai, subway systems in Canada and office complexes in Indonesia. They are known for their ultra-modernist approach that fuses sci-fi looking buildings with innovative materials to create structures that look futuristic yet remain loyal to their surroundings and have a low environmental impact. And it is this unique partnership that has got everyone in the hotel world excited. Together, Aedas and Alexandra Champimaud will re-inspire the hotel and whilst keeping the buildings heritage at heart, recreate the inspiring atmosphere of the hotel when it was the first electrically powered building in Singapore.

Raffles Hotel Lobby, Singapore.

Raffles have gone to great lengths to assure they naysayers that it will retain its colonial appeal, and that the antique allure will remain. The hotel’s very own resident historian Leslie Danker, who has worked at Raffles for over forty five years, who said he hadn’t seen the plans (with a wink, wink and a nudge, nudge) was assuring that the building’s current 1915 revival would remain and its stripped back white colonnades with antique brass and marble fixtures would stay, but everything was due to be updated with all the mod-cons one has come to expect of a world-famous five-star residence that the hotel currently lacks (such as in room electronic controls and modernised bathrooms).

Phase two of the works begins this summer, and is when the real work begins – the hotel will almost all but shut down for six months, until finally in December 2017, Raffles will close its doors and the famous greeters, dressed in their East India Company Officer’s outfit inspire costumes will welcome no more guests while the secretive final stages of work commence. However with six-nine months they plan to be back up, running, and better than ever, and the original and flagship hotel of the Raffles Collection will no doubt be the realisation of a monumental vision. The wedding-cake white elegance of the interiors will retain that special ambience, with service full of charm and a setting oozing heritage.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

Raffles are keeping any hints at final appearances well under wraps for the time being – befitting of a hotel that prides itself on discerning secrecy. No plans, mood boards or CGI renders have been, or ever will be made public – the hotel’s new look will be for guests to discover on their own. However the fact that Raffles prides itself on being one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels of the world, reassures us that this venture will only enhance what is already a truly magnificent stay in a world of bygone glamorous travel, and as the hotel puts it itself, a stay that tradition demands.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

Cathay Pacific offers a choice of three routes between the UK and Hong Kong, and onwards to over 190 destinations globally including Singapore. These include five daily flights from London Heathrow which feature the B777-300ER, five weekly flights from Manchester Airport and a daily flight from Gatwick Airport. As of 1 December, Manchester will join Gatwick in moving to a daily service operating the state-of-the-art A350. For further information, visit www.cathaypacific.co.uk or call 0800 917 8260.