Posted in People on 4 May, 2023

Everything about The Dorchester is iconic. From its location on London’s Park Lane, to its illustrious guests. Dating back to 1931, it is now undergoing a major renovation to bring it in line with today’s Roaring Twenties. Emma Kennedy looks behind the scenes with Project Director, Jonny Sin to discover more.

When it comes to the restoration of an iconic high-end hospitality project of eye-watering scale and complexity, most of us would stare blankly into the middle-distance thinking ‘where would you start?’ With so much at stake, there are very few architecture practices in London willing, or indeed prepared, to throw their hard hats into the ring. Fortunately for The Dorchester, seasoned architects ReardonSmith—known for their experience in solving the architectural challenges of some of the world’s most celebrated hotels—were on hand to lead the way. As phase one of the momentous refurbishment draws to a close, I head off to The Dorchester to meet Jonny Sin. Softly spoken, unassuming and impeccably dressed, he greets me warmly before whisking me off for a whistle-stop tour of the ground floor.

Walking through the revolving doors of the entrance, delivers you into the light-filled lobby. The marble floor is flanked by two reception and concierge desks, housed in floor-to-ceiling recesses panelled in rich mahogany. Looking up, the high ceiling with softly gilded cornices and a chandelier that wouldn’t be amiss in Versailles, is early evidence of the many structural changes the hotel has undergone. Facing the entrance, mirrored columns reflect The Promenade, stretching off into the distance behind you. Where voluminous swags and tails in an unforgettable—some might say unforgivable—shade of coral once hung, an array of deliciously decorous sofas and chairs in muted velvets gather round tables. Welcome to the rarefied world of The Dorchester.

The Dorchester, London

The interior design is nothing short of spectacular with lavish details at every turn. Created under the exquisite gaze of French Interior Designer, Pierre-Yves Rochon, with subsequent areas—namely the Vesper Bar—designed by Martin Brudnizki, the interiors have been widely celebrated across the media. To dismiss the importance of the interior designers would be naïve, but on a project of this size it would be equally as naïve to understate the contribution of the architects who have toiled with listed building consents, compliance with the regulations, structures, façades and load-bearing beams—without whom none of the above could exist. But as is so often the case, the architects responsible for preparing the ground for these sumptuous layers of decoration, like their work, remain firmly in the background.

Chancery Rosewood

Hailing from New Zealand, Jonny arrived in London in 2010 on a two-year work visa. Having been exposed to the world of architecture from a young age, both he and his brother followed in their father’s footsteps. On completion of his architectural studies, he gained experience by working first for his father, before launching his own practice, where he quickly established himself as an architect in his own right. With a steady workflow of diverse projects ranging from extensions to new builds, he made plans to jump continents and relocate to London. Still in the wake of the financial crisis, making a move at that point was bold by anyone’s standards and my first question to Jonny is “Why then?” He shrugs and tells me, “Well, I just remember thinking it was now or never. The UK were only issuing work visas up until the age of thirty, and at 28, I just knew I had to bite the bullet and do it.”

His first job was designing stores throughout Europe and Asia for Nokia at architectural studio A2D. Smiling, he recalls his naivety as he navigated his way through unfamiliar waters. “I really didn’t know anything when I first arrived. I was applying for jobs on Gumtree, and when I accepted the job, I mistakenly thought Sevenoaks was in London. So, I was commuting from West Hampstead to Kent every day, at a cost that wasn’t compatible with my salary! It was hard. In New Zealand I had left behind so many great projects, I had opened my own design practice that was gaining momentum and I really did start to question myself on the daily commute. But ultimately, I backed myself because I knew I was good.”

From top left: Antony Gormley Room sculpture, Beaumont Hotel; Room, Beaumont Hotel; The Promenade, The Dorchester

Clearly not alone in thinking he was good, within the year he was introduced to architects ReardonSmith, who were fast to hire him. “I knew I wanted to work in hotels, and ReardonSmith were about to start on the conversion of The Beaumont Hotel, in London’s Mayfair.” Though his background was mainly in contemporary architecture, the opportunity to be part of a major conversion project in the heart of London came as just reward following his stint at A2D. “It was essentially a Grade II façade retention project—a beautiful project, and a great introduction to working with ReardonSmith. I worked on multiple facets as part of the team, and to have that much exposure to the project from the start was a huge milestone in my career. I learnt so much!”

The project involved replacing the whole structure internally, whilst being respectful of the heights determined by the original windows of the façade, excavating down two basement levels, in addition to adding floors above.

Anyone familiar with The Beaumont Hotel, could not fail to have noticed the somewhat controversial Sir Anthony Gormley statue, Room, that sits on the corner of the building. The colossal, geometrically stacked man hides within it a guestroom. Whether it’s to your taste or not is one thing, but how it physically arrived there is quite another. “One of my roles was to lead and deliver the Antony Gormley sculpture. It was a 30-tonne sculpture, which sat above the roof area on the first floor, and was unique in terms of construction, methodology and the way it was put together.”

Referring to the guest room within it he continues, “It is a simple but complicated space, clad entirely in fumed oak with little more than a bed and not a pinpoint of light coming through—but even that involved so much research. I remember climbing up into the statue’s head with Antony Gormley and playing around with the lights. He wanted it completely dark, so when you lay on the bed, your eyes would slowly acclimatise, to gently reveal the surroundings. It was an amazing experience, though there were times when I just couldn’t understand why he was doing things in a certain way, but he had a vision, and his requirements were to the millimetre.”

The Promenade, The Dorchester

I think it’s fair to say that architects and interior designers often don’t see eye to eye, and I ask Jonny where the role of the architect ends and that of the interior designer begins. Before answering, he talks me through the fundamental role of the architect versus the interior designer. “The beginning of every job will start by asking the client for a detailed brief in terms of their aspirations and what they want to achieve. They map out their target demographic and their sustainable aspirations. We ask many questions to get as much information as possible, so we can then come up with the concept. Due diligence and full understanding of the site follows and based on the client’s feedback we look at the project holistically. It’s about understanding the functionality of the site – and the flow. The decoration will follow, and the client understands that. Conceptually we will map out the space, the heights of ceilings, the zones etc.”

In answer to my original question, he starts by admitting that lines can and do get blurred. “The way to combat that is by having the right structure at the beginning of a project.  We create what is called a ‘responsibilities matrix’ for the architect and the interior designer. It’s important that the interior designer completely signs up to this, as it maps out clearly who’s responsible for what. If we have that in place, and it’s clearly defined right at the beginning, then there are no blurred lines. This can also be used as a contractual scoping document. Once the interior designer comes up with their concept, we are very much involved, we will be in the room advising how it will or won’t work—so it’s their responsibility to come up with the aesthetic and the visual, but we certainly have a role in developing and refining that.”

Given the fact that it tends to be the interior designer who is ultimately lauded with the lion’s share of the credit on the completion of such projects, I push him a little further. I ask Jonny if this bothers him. With a diplomacy I now recognise as an ongoing characteristic, he quietly acknowledges this truth. “It can be frustrating,” he admits. “We are there on site from the beginning, all day, every day—pulling it all together—and truly, this must be recognised. It’s a complete collaboration to deliver a successful project, but you know, it is what it is, and unfortunately it seems to be more commonplace now. As a company we have looked at doing interior design in the past, but because of the types of properties we work on, we appreciate the client is looking for a famous name or a brand. It’s part of the narrative and ultimately, it’s what sells.”

As the interview draws to a close, my enlightened appreciation of the architect’s role allows me to drink in my surroundings with fresh eyes and I find myself awe-struck. From the removal of the original mezzanine in the lobby, to the building and waterproofing of the forecourt over an existing basement structure, right through to the complexities of installing a sprinkler system from the floor above due to restricted ceiling void, the scope of required knowledge is vast. It may not be glamourous, but we’d certainly notice if they weren’t there, or worse still if they failed.

The duration of the interview has been punctuated with respectful nods filled with warmth and admiration from the floor staff to senior management, which in my opinion says it all. Jonny and his team might fly under the radar in a world where big names sell, but within the setting of The Promenade, it’s another story.


The Dorchester renovations

Phase 1:
The Ground Floor Public Areas – The Forecourt, Lobby, Lift Lobby, Promenade, Vesper Bar – Now open
The Cake & Flower Shop – Now open
Guestroom Floors Levels 1 & 2 – completing in Qtr. 2, 2023.

Phase 2: Guestroom Floors Levels 3 – 8 – with staggered completion dates. The overall forecasted completion date is Qtr. 2 of 2024.

Phase 3: Refurbishment of the Ninth Floor Penthouses and the new Restaurant/Bar – (Construction programme currently being formalised)



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