Arguably one of the world’s most significant luxury hotels, Raffles Singapore is the mark of opulence and pure indulgence. Having stood as a hotel for more than 130 years, the colonial building has undergone an extensive renovation that has taken a little over two years to complete. Sophie Harper takes a look at the hotel’s latest unveiling to find out if the grand dame has been transformed by 21st century design or if she has held her ground and historic charm.
The heart of Singapore’s downtown district serves as the home of the eponymous Raffles Singapore, the flagship hotel for the illustrious Raffles brand. The building itself, an iconic representation of luxury, began life as a privately- owned beach house in the 1830s until it was leased to the Sarkies brothers in 1887. The brothers had taken a keen interest in the property years earlier and had grand plans of turning the building into a high-end hotel, which is exactly what they did, opening the ten-bedroom hotel in December 1887. Within ten years, three additional two-storey extensions had been added to the original building increasing the room offering to 75. By the 1920s, the building had acquired a new main building in place of the original beach house, new wings, a ballroom, a verandah, a billiards room, and additional guestrooms. Over the years the hotel has invited thousands of guests to visit and enjoy the building’s colonial finery, many of whom include famous twentieth-century playwrights, authors, and actors, and in 1987 was recognised as a National Monument by the Singapore government.
The hotel’s first major refurbishment took place in 1989, restoring the interior to its former 1920s glory, which took two years and $160 million to complete. In 2017, its 130th year, the hotel closed its doors again to undergo an extensive three-phase restoration programme, with London-based architects Aedas, and New York-based design studio Champalimaud looking after the hotel’s new look.
Notably one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels in the world, the refurbishment of Raffles Singapore had to be carried out sensitively to preserve the original architecture and classic colonial design. The restoration brief set out was to ensure the new look of the hotel would retain what is so special about Raffles – the ambience, the service, the charm and the heritage of the hotel, while increasing its all-suite offering from 103 to 115. Works on the hotel were completed earlier this year, with Raffles Singapore able to reopen its doors to the public in August 2019.
The revitalised hotel offers luxurious accommodation across nine distinct suite categories: State Room Suites, Courtyard Suites, Palm Court Suites, Personality Suites, Residence Suites, Promenade Suites, Studio Suites, Grand Hotel Suites and Presidential Suites. Residence, Promenade and Studio suites are the three latest additions to the hotel’s existing line-up. All of the suites have been sound-proofed and had the latest technology installed.
The original architecture intact is shown in its most exquisite light, which gives the building an intoxicating blend of luxury, history and classic design. With more than a hundred expansive suites, framed by polished teak verandahs and white marble colonnades, clustered around lush tropical gardens, there’s certainly no less grandeur in the hotel’s latest unveiling.
With a pale and neutral colour palette, richness and warmth is within the materials – from the depth of the chocolate-coloured floorboards in the living areas, and ornate floor tiles and marbled walls in the bathrooms. Characterful furniture and soft lighting set against the backdrop of panelled walls centre around understated but beautifully crafted four-poster beds, which almost transport the guest to another period of time. I say almost, because the crisp whites and delicate natural fibres chosen to dress the rooms do feel very 21st century, which is the point of the renovation entirely. It’s been cleverly executed and works incredibly well.
The suite offerings are extensive, with each group taking on different demeanours with nods to their respective namesakes. Nestled in the main building above the hotel’s grand lobby sit six Studio Suites, each with 14-foot/4- metre ceilings that create a sense of openness and space. Each suite features a verandah that offers views of the tranquil Palm Garden. Elsewhere, 35 Palm Court Suites overlook the verdant Palm Court, a hidden gem at Raffles Singapore reserved exclusively for guests. Located next to the main building in the historic Palm Court wing, each of the beautiful suites is an oasis of peace and serenity. Housed in the Bras Basah wing, one of the most historic sections of Raffles Singapore, the State Room Suites have two separate entrances – one leading to the parlour, the other to the spacious bedroom. Each suite offers convenient access to the boutique outlets in Raffles Arcade and overlooks Fern Court. Clustered around the heart of the hotel, all 31 Courtyard Suites provide direct and easy access to the main building, Spa, and Arcade.
Raffles Singapore includes 12 different Personality Suites, that serve as a tribute to renowned guests who have visited the hotel over the last century, and feature unique memorabilia related to each legendary name: from renowned British playwright, novelist and short story writer, Somerset Maugham; acclaimed actresses Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor; king of the silent comedy, Charlie Chaplin; Hollywood’s best-loved cowboy, John Wayne; former Chilean Consul and Nobel prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda; and famed writers, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward, Andre Malraux, Gavin Young, and James A Michener – who famously wrote, “To have been young and had a room at Raffles was life at its best.”
Add to the mix five Residence Suites, each of which come with a living and dining area, a pantry, an intimate office space, powder room and bedroom. These comfortable homes-away-from-home are named after famous local cinemas from the early to mid-1900s – a tribute to the days when the hotel’s neighbourhood was known as ‘The Place of Cinemas’. Then there are the two Promenade Suites – a nostalgic tribute to the late 1800s when Raffles faced Singapore’s beachfront. Nestled intimately in the front-most corner of the main building, the suites overlook Beach Road and are named after prominent female figures of their time in Singapore: Lady Mountbatten and Lady Sophia.
Finally, named for the most illustrious personalities of the Raffles story: The Sarkies and Sir Stamford Raffles suites, the pair of Presidential Suites located in the main building and overlooking Palm Court are rumoured to be the grandest hotel suites in Singapore. Architecturally stunning, each comes with its own private verandah. The vast spaces – from the living room to the dining room and the bedrooms – are bedecked with carefully curated antiques and artworks and cover a whopping 2,798 square feet.
The Raffles Arcade has been newly outfitted with a charming Raffles Boutique and various bespoke retail brands. The hotel’s restaurants and bars, of which there are six separate dining areas and three bars including the famous Long Bar – the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, all have individual looks but with styling that brings them together. From the light and airy Tiffin Room to the cosmopolitan aesthetic in Yi by Jereme Leung and the feminine opulence of Le Dame de Pic.
Retaining its distinctive architecture was all-important in keeping the historic building’s story and charm. The restoration of this grand and significant building has been undertaken with the utmost care and diligence. With both architect and interior design team working together to create a truly beautiful delivery of a unique project, Raffles Singapore remains an exquisite and gentile treasure on the Southeast Asian landscape.