A facelift for the grand dame of Singapore

In recent years the photogenic sky-pool of the Marina Bay Sands hotel may have dominated Instagram feeds as the prime tourist spot in Singapore.

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Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop (CNN)
(CNN) — In recent years the photogenic sky-pool of the Marina Bay Sands hotel may have dominated Instagram feeds as the prime tourist spot in Singapore.

But the Raffles Hotel still retains a special place in the hearts of Singaporeans and travelers alike, thanks to its fabled history and quaint atmosphere that hints at the Roaring '20s and a romanticized nostalgia for the better elements of the British colonial era.

Yet with the last major renovation taking place in 1991, this grand dame of Singapore was in need of serious surgery to accommodate the needs of today's luxury travel crowd.

The 103 suites were lacking many of the attributes that one would expect to find in a hotel of its caliber, from the accessibility of electrical outlets to the quality of the bathroom facilities.

The multiphase renovations started in February with the closure of its shopping arcade, then in August work began on its grand lobby and some of the rooms.

Renovations will soon reach full speed when the entire hotel closes on December 13 to reopen in the second half of 2018, fully refreshed and upgraded.

What's changing, what's staying the same?

While the famous pristine white facade of this celebrated national monument will look unchanged -- following a painstaking hand-stripping of the multiple layers of paint to restore its original grandeur -- there will be internal changes including moving the hotel check-in area and alterations to some of the dining areas, as well as a complete overall of the interior design of its suites.

The refresh is being handled by Alexandra Champalimaud, founder of Champalimaud Design. The company has also been behind the renovation of other hospitality icons like The Dorchester London and The Waldorf Astoria in New York.

"It will all be different, but we will not have lost any soul," promised the New York-based designer while unveiling some of her plans.

"Raffles per se is a monument in many ways for many people. They will come and see it with awe. People want to capture the essence of it, when they walk through it or stay.

"They want to feel the old ghosts a little bit," she tells CNN Travel.

While a "lot of old grand dame places take themselves very seriously," she feels Raffles is a much more fun and happy place, "where you come to have a good time and socialize."

After the renovation there will be 115 suites, and these will keep the hotel's signature layout of a parlor, bedroom and bathroom. But the space will be optimized to make the rooms feel more spacious. Upgrades include improved soundproofing, mechanical blinds and a stronger wireless connection.

Impressive -- but not pretentious

While the design will retain the colonial feel, Champalimaud described the new furniture as "simple and modern" with an interior design in line with the vernacular of the building.

Guests can expect lots of fresh whites and off-whites contrasting with dark floor finishes, with touches of dark blue, golden yellow and toasty orange as accents.

"I want the space to feel comfortable," she explained. "It's not meant to impress you, but it's meant to have beautiful pieces that are unpretentious."

The main fundamental change will be the new all-marble bathrooms, with a distinctive Peranakan feel thanks to a striking contemporary floor pattern that references the local culture.

"We're trying to recognize that Singapore is a wonderful melting pot of design influences and allow that to come forward in the story a little bit more," explained Ed Bakos, managing director at Champalimaud Design.

"We think that we've captured a memory of old Singapore in a new contemporary version."

Tiffin Room, the hotel's main dining space, will be getting a major overall, with the reinstatement of wooden herringbone flooring and the introduction of display elements that will showcase Peranakan porcelains and tiffin boxes.

The Writers Bar will be enlarged and transformed into a dark masculine environment, while the plantation style décor of the Long Bar, which has been serving the Singapore Sling since 1915, will see a lighter touch, with its counter restored.

The Jubilee Hall, which was previously a movie hall then a charming intimate theater, is being converted into a 300-guest ballroom complete with pagoda-style chandeliers and elegant paper-paneled coffers.

Christian Westbeld, general manager of the hotel, said the key aim of the renovation is to remain relevant and unique in "a competitive market" while continuing to build on the heritage for which Raffles is famous.

"Restoring a part of our heritage and celebrating what made us famous is really what this is about," he said.

Raffles Singapore, 1 Beach Road, Singapore 189673; +65 6337 1886

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