ANDAZ PRAGUE, OLD TOWN PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Myths, legends and luxury. Emma Kennedy visits Andaz Prague and discovers a modern fairy tale.
With its fairy-tale skyline of turrets and spires adorned with gargoyles and griffins keeping an ever-watchful eye over the cobbled streets below, there is a pervading sense of intrigue and mystery that’s hard to ignore in Prague. Embarking upon their first design project in the Czech Republic, it’s easy to see why design studio Brime Robbins chose ‘Myths and Legends’ as their inspiration when contemplating the interiors of the building known locally as the ‘Sugar Palace’. Located on Senovážné Square, close to Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square, and the historic Municipal house (Obecní Dum), the ‘Sugar Palace’ was originally home to the influential Sugar Industry Insurance Association. Following an extensive refurbishment, the striking building re-emerged in spring 2022 as the Andaz Prague.
Reflecting on the design process, Garrett Robbins, co-founder of Brime Robbins went on to explain more. “We settled on ‘Myths and Legends’ first of all because the city and the Czech culture is rich with all of these amazing stories, though at the time we had no idea of the impact they would make. We didn’t want to just tell the stories, we wanted to create moments of pause – where perhaps you’re walking along a corridor and you want to stop, interact, and relate to part of a story,” he adds.
There are design references and touchstones to these myths throughout the interiors – some are subtle and found in unexpected places, while others make more of a statement. Brass hands hold back curtains, wings and lion’s heads adorn the walls of the corridors, and stars look down from headboards – these are just a few examples. Although these do create moments of curiosity, I would have loved to have been given more by way of an explanation – perhaps a book for a little bedtime reading? But then you could argue, it’s always good to ‘leave them wanting more’.
Entering from the square, the original double doors take you through into a bright white entrance lobby with a pale mosaiced floor and discreet but effective lighting. Suspended overhead is a delicate array of contemporary handblown glass in gentle shades of turquoise, smoky blues and yellow ochre. It’s both elegant and contemporary and sets the tone beautifully for what lies ahead.
Following the mosaiced floor past the bar area, the hallway curves round to the left and delivers you to the reception. European in its design, the free-standing bombe fronted desk is smart and business like, with a floor to ceiling window forming the perfect backdrop. Stretching beyond the reception are a succession of lounge areas separated by shelves in wood and brass. Housing different collections of glass, ceramics, and objet d’art, they are each quite beautiful, paying homage to local artists and traditional crafts. The first is a bright collection of apothecary-inspired bottles, whose colours pop out against the neutral palette of their surroundings. The layout of four generous armchairs and coffee tables is echoed in varying shades and styles in the subsequent lounges, each with a different focus through the collections they have on display.
The artworks are often interesting, though at this point it’s worth pointing out they fall into two distinct categories. There are the permanent collections, commissioned and curated by Brime Robbins when designing the Andaz Prague which includes the glass and ceramic collections along with the murals and artworks throughout the hotel. However, alongside these, in prominent positions throughout the reception and bar areas, are temporary installations, showcasing the work of local artists and so will change throughout the year. The pieces on show during my stay felt at odds with the rest of the hotel, highlighting the need for a stringent selection process, which hopefully will come with time.
Opposite the lounges, and through a contemporary open plan meeting room are the Andaz Studios: three flexible event spaces, available to accommodate anything from boardroom meetings to intimate private dinners. In stark contrast to the clean contemporary design of the reception areas, two of the rooms, Collegium 1 and 2 have been beautifully restored back to the days of the city’s Sugar Barons. The oak-panelled rooms punctuated with columns in walnut each have vast marble fireplaces and high ornate ceilings and are divided by sympathetic interconnecting doors which can be opened to create an extended space for larger events.
Providing a welcome refuge from an unseasonal downpour of biblical proportions, we found ourselves in the Mez bar. Located by the entrance on the ground floor, it’s a chilled area with an impressive and dare I say it… highly instagrammable bar. Overhead an unexpected skylight takes you by surprise, not least because of the bright modern mural in the window return, featuring some of the characters at the centre of the hotel’s narrative. It’s a brave choice that sits in bold contrast to the sleek design of the bar area below. Back at ground level, stretching out on the modern terrazzo floor, the marble topped bar counter takes centre stage. Painted black and decorated with brass stud work inspired by traditional Czech patterns, it’s served by an inviting row of black leather stools. Behind the bar, a floor-to-ceiling horseshoe of brass-edged shelves display a vast array of bottles all lit to mouth-watering perfection.
Light and bright, with picture windows looking out over the square, is the exceptionally elegant Zem restaurant. Unlike the rest of the hotel, Interior Designer Henry Chebaane, from Blue Sky Hospitality studio was the creative vision behind the space. With strong Czech cubism overtones inspired by the 1920s local avant-garde art movement, the design is sparingly opulent and offers a different ambiance from day to night. A contemporary brass and ribbed glass chandelier casts a beautiful glow that is reflected in the gold patinated wall mirrors. Soft green textured velvet banquettes sit with their backs to the wall, opposite oak and brass bespoke pedestal tables and black lacquered chairs with woven-cane back.
Back in the reception areas, are the lifts. Modern marquetry depicting Bruncvík’s lion from one of the myths is revealed as the doors slide open, to escort you to the upper floors. Alternatively, seeking out the original staircases is a must. Built in a figure of eight, around two courtyards, the hotel has two grand marble staircases which should not be missed.
Upstairs, the 176 rooms and suites are stretched across five floors. Ranging from spacious and exceptionally sumptuous suites – including the turreted corner Residence Suites with views of Prague’s Dancing Fountain – through to the small but perfectly functional rooms in the roof on the fifth floor. Rich with original features, the suites offer unparalleled luxury with a sublime attention to detail. Delicate plasterwork, high ceilings and warm wood floors are just some of the features on offer. Bespoke cabinetry and ornate marble fireplaces are surrounded by elegant furniture, upholstered in rich blues and teals echoing the Vltava River that flows through Prague. The bathrooms offer an abundance of marble and brass, with deep freestanding baths and contemporary fittings.
Maria and Garratt’s enthusiasm when discussing the design considerations for the Andaz Prague is palpable but reading between the lines it certainly didn’t come without its challenges. The building, listed by the Prague Heritage Society, came with strict parameters of what could and couldn’t be done. The limitations were many and varied; from permitted colour palettes to the number of light fittings that could be used in a space, right through to flooring options and general restoration. But, as Garrett says in his customary upbeat way, “Restrictions can be a benefit – when you are limited you can be your most creative.”
I’ll drink to that, as I thoroughly salute Brime Robbins’ design of the Andaz Prague. What they have created is sleek and elegant throughout, with some beautifully original details, all delivered with a wonderful lightness of touch. It’s contemporary and modern, offering a completely different aesthetic after a day of sightseeing in the gothic splendour of Prague.