After a two-year restoration programme, the grand dame of Singapore returns—ready to romance again.
A new crystal chandelier from Austria dominates the reconﬁgured lobby.
Visiting the Raffles Hotel after its renovation is a bit of a disorienting affair. It looks the same, but different. The eyes notice that it is brighter and fresher, while the mind struggles to remember what it looked like in the past. The lawns look identical, but was the layout of the lobby like this before? And where was the Writers Bar originally located?
The iconic facade of the newly restored Raffles Hotel remains unchanged, signalling the pinnacle of gracious hospitality as always
Edmond Bakos, the Managing Director and Partner of Champalimaud Design, which helmed the renovation of the interior of the hotel, admits that had been one of their goals—a seamless updating of the details, without in fact altering the main essence of the building. “I hope that when people come into the building, they feel like almost nothing has changed—emotionally,” he says. “Then, I hope that they’ll discover all the things that we’ve done to augment the experience.”
The exterior of the hotel had to be stripped and repainted because the old paint was damaging the walls.
One of the main things Champalimaud did was to rework the lobby. In its previous incarnation, the space had been divided off by a series of gates, with the check-in desk right by the entrance. “Those were gestures that were not open; they excluded people. It was as if the lobby was just something you had to move through to get to a guest room,” recalls Bakos. “So one of the things we wanted to do was to open up this cross axis and create a place that felt relevant and engaging, with interesting people coming together.”
Delicate pastels and fresh peonies at La Dame de Pic provide the perfect backdrop for reﬁned French cuisine.
The result is a series of spaces that allow for a free flow of energy and interaction. Adjacent to old favourite The Tiffin Room and new French restaurant La Dame de Pic and the repositioned Writers Bar, these inviting spaces encourage people to linger for an intimate chat, to take tea in the afternoon or spill out from the bar in the evening over a drink or two.
Marble ﬂooring in The Tiffin Room was replaced by wood after historical research revealed the original design.
“In some way, we always felt that we weren’t just restoring the building fabric of the Raffles, but its very spirit as well,” says Bakos thoughtfully. “When you think about what Raffles was when the Sarkies Brothers built it—it was a very social place. And so, it’s really a restoration of an idea of what the Raffles was originally.”
Peranakan tiles grace the ﬂoors of the bathrooms.
Aside from the redesigned lobby, the sure hand of the New York design firm is seen in everything from the gleaming constellation of silver eggs that lights the beautifully detailed Writers Bar to the Peranakan tiling in the bathrooms to the Victorian motifs and custom upholstered wall paneling of the Jubilee Ballroom. The latter is actually the result of a complete overhaul of the old Jubilee Theatre, and is the site of one of the most extensive structural changes in the hotel.
The new Jubilee Ballroom can be used for banquets or conferences.
“The seating came out and a new floor was put in where the ballroom is. And we were able to use the space below by reconfiguring it to [become part of] the spa on the ground floor,” says Bakos, explaining how they were able to carve out space for the brand new Raffles Spa. With the previous open-air balcony now glassed in and air-conditioned, and a staggering 24 crystal chandeliers now lighting up the space, the Jubilee Ballroom will no doubt be one of the spots where everyone notices the changes.
Afternoon tea, a Raffles tradition, is now served in the lobby.
Bakos acknowledges that the bulk of the work done will never be recognised by the average visitor. Bad decisions taken in the past meant unglamorous foundational matters had to be addressed—redoing window glazing, stripping and repainting all the exteriors because the wrong paint had been used, as well as hacking out and replacing the marble floors because the originals had rusted and discoloured due to a lack of proper moisture sealant. The air-conditioning also had to be updated, as well as the lighting for sustainability reasons. And it is really all this that will ensure the hotel’s survival into the future. “A heritage building only has meaning if it’s being used,” says Bakos, ruminating on the specific challenges that come with the weight of history. “Everyone wants Raffles to be a living monument but the path from that idea to realisation was really difficult because of all these things.”
The light switches look old-fashioned but a wealth of technology actually hides behind each one.
The project took the firm six years from conceptualisation to completion and Bakos acknowledges the monumental responsibility that came with it. “Our challenge in essence was to take this beloved property and elevate it. We had to continuously ask ourselves if we were delivering what we set out to—the world wouldn’t be very forgiving if we had screwed it up,” he laughs.
The foyer outside the Jubilee Ballroom is now fully air-conditioned.
“We’re a studio that works through a sense of craft from things like carpets, textures, fabrics, furniture, to the overall planning strategy, driven by a singular vision. And that vision here was the deep respect for Raffles as an iconic building,” Bakos stops and looks around at the lobby and smiles. “Everything we did was to enhance that special magic, so that this continues to be a place where people fall in love and make great memories.”