Raffles #1 Beach Road Hotel
Raffles Hotel: Singapore’s historic Raffles Hotel had been in the midst of a complete interior refurbishing effort beginning in 2018.
The magnificent land-mark known all over the world exudes charm and comfort, and a tie to old British history that trumps any comparison against other hotels. Nothing in the city can compare to the history and ambiance of Raffles.
The revered property officially reopened in 2019 following extensive renovations that left the hotel completely closed for about two years.
During a visit to the hotel, just days prior to its official August 1 reopening, the excitement among staff was palpable — and no one was more thrilled than general manager Christian Westbeld to see their years of conceptualizing and hard work finally on display to the world.
“We think this will never be done again on this scale,” he said. “We’ve taken this renovation very seriously and we’ve put a lot of effort and time into it. The extended time it took has been wisely invested.
The hotel is fresher, areas look brighter, lighter, more inviting, and approachable. This was a primary goal for the interior redecoration.
The objective in part was to reconsider luxury. It should not be stiff, formal, and intimidating; but should rather be engaging and conversational. It’s a very comforting hotel, beyond any other hotel in Singapore.
This was no ordinary makeover. Led by Alexandra Champalimaud, founder of design firm Champalimaud, the previous major renovation taking place in 1991 had to be replaced with new concepts. Raffles Hotel Singapore, which opened in 1887, needed a complete interior reworking!
The challenge was how to retain the aura of the hotel’s colonial architecture while also providing modern travelers with the modern comforts new technology can provide, creating thus the comforts upper-crust customers have come to expect in a luxury hotel experience.
To add to the challenge, every move they made required government approval — this is an historic Singapore property, which was designated a national monument in 1987.
We didn’t lose the architectural charm, nor did we obfuscate the colonial heritage Mr. Westbeld explained further, noting that plans for the renovation were actually being considered for nearly ten years!
“The old 1887 charm and historic design thinking is a very valuable asset that should always be retained.
Simultaneously the hotel was modernized in a way that retains the well-deserved reputation known world over even today.
Though much of the renovations won’t be on display to guests – (for example the engineering systems and kitchens) faithfully returning guests of Raffles Singapore will spot tangible changes as soon as they set foot in the lobby, which no longer has a front desk.
This has made way for the enlarged Writers Bar, already proving to be a popular after-work spot among young locals, based on the crowds we saw during our recent visit.
Moving to the guest rooms, the revitalized Raffles offers nine categories of suites: State Room Suites, Courtyard Suites, Palm Court Suites, Personality Suites, Residence Suites, Promenade Suites, Grand Hotel Suites, and Presidential Suites. The photos can only provide a hint of the impressions these beautifully decorated rooms make on one’s psyche and personality. I think one comes out from Raffles better than when s/he stepped in.
The Residence, Promenade and Studio suites were added as part of the renovations, taking the total suite count from 103 to 115. Notable for a rest after a busy day around town is to rest on the Veranda, overlooking it from the most elegant outdoor corridor.
“Suites are much more comfortable than before,” says Mr. Westbeld. There are no noise disturbances. Bathrooms are just beautiful; employing technology that’s not overpowering. Technology is an added tool to make your life a little bit easier.
“It was always very clear to us what we wanted to achieve. We never want to be in the headlines or the news because we have the latest cutting-edge technology. This is not what we stand for. We’re an iconic, legendary service provider and that’s what we want to be known for,”Mr. Westbeld said.
As part of this commitment to service, all guests now have their own butler, who is the main point of contact and will disseminate requests to the appropriate team, from airport transfers and spa appointments to restaurant reservations and room service.
Guests can request assistance from their butler via the DigiValet app on the in-room tablets, which handily control the TV, lights and air-conditioning as well.
New dining experiences
Raffles Hotel’s Tiffin Room first opened in 1892.
The hotel’s F&B experiences have been completely revamped as well.
As an example, consider the long-treasured Tiffin Room, part of Raffles since 1892, which serves up incredible North Indian cuisine. As part of the renovations, wooden herringbone flooring was added, along with decor that showcases locally made porcelains and tiffin boxes.
New restaurants include
Le Dame de Pic— a collaboration with Chef Anne-Sophie Pic of the three-Michelin star Maison Pic in Valence, France.
Certainly, one who appreciates history must be sure to take afternoon tea in the Grand Lobby, featuring exquisite teas, Champagne, classic sandwiches, home-baked scones, and cakes.
Even the hotel’s ultra touristy Long Bar, inventor of the original Singapore Sling, has been refreshed and features contemporary plantation-inspired motifs.
Several new dining concepts have yet to open: BBR by Alain Ducasse; 兿 yì by Jereme Leung, which stands for art in Chinese; and The Butcher’s Block, which as the name implies offers a wide selection of the world’s best meats.
The hotel has a beautiful modern pool and attached shopping areas.
Guests eager to take home a piece of Raffles nostalgia can visit the hotel’s new boutique.
Through all the talk of renovation, color, materials, and modernity, one Raffles team member in particular stands out. Mr. Leslie Danker, the hotel’s historian, who has been with the Raffles Hotel for over 45 years and continues to guide guests around its halls and grounds, sharing his own personal anecdotes along with fascinating details of its transformation through the years.
As he led us around the property, his pride was evident. Eventually, we reached the “wall of fame,” a gallery that takes visitors time traveling through the past with images of notable guests such as Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Rudyard Kipling and Ava Gardner, to name just a few.
Danker has met many of them, including Michael Jackson and John Wayne. But ask which guest truly left him star-struck and he doesn’t hesitate. Queen Elizabeth II, who visited in 1989, he said.
“When I was a young man Singapore was a British colony. I remember when I was young and it was the Queen’s coronation. I made some decorations for my house. I so admired her”
It’s this reverence to the past, alongside a passion to ensure the hotel’s relevance in the present that has captured the imaginations of both Singaporeans and international travelers.
For locals, the hotel is a key page in the story of their city’s history. According to Westbeld, Singaporeans have been very supportive of the changes. Today, a new generation of Singaporeans is coming to create their own memories at the hotel, just as their parents and perhaps even grandparents have.
“It’s one of the most humbling experiences to be a part of this, to have the privilege to be General Manager at Raffles Hotel in such a defining moment,” Mr. Westbeld said.
“When you see this come together it’s incredibly rewarding. We all know that we’re here just for a short period of time in the lifespan of Raffles Hotel. We’re just aiming to do the most adequate and proper activation that Raffles deserves in order to set it up for the next many, many years of success. It’s a truly wonderful feeling and I will never forget it.”
Raffles Hotel of Singapore, 1 Beach Road, 189673 https://www.raffles.com/singapore/
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