Written by: Ankita Varma
SINGAPORE – Interior Design Hall of Fame member Alexandra Champalimaud is a woman who wears many hats.
On the occupation front, she is a hospitality design guru – the brains behind some of the world’s most elegant hotels, including The Dorchester London, Four Seasons Hotel in Jakarta and most recently, the Raffles Hotel Singapore, where she is heading the interior design revamp as part of the hotel’s current ongoing restoration and renovation work.
Her business card reads president and principal designer of Champalimaud Design, a firm she founded in Montreal, Canada before she relocated to New York over two decades ago, where she is now based.
But above and beyond anything else, she is an observer – a quiet and attentive bystander who not only takes note of the bold and unmistakable, but also finer details that are often lost to those without a keen eye.
“In many ways we are social anthropologists,” she says, when asked how she and her team went about tackling the huge scope of the Raffles Hotel Singapore renovation works. “For us to create design that can add value and improve the space, we need to put ourselves in the middle of it all, to understand not only the history behind a place but also what it is that people today are seeking from it.”
As a designer, Champalimaud undoubtedly has her finger on the pulse of the world – not only in the realm of design but also that of travel, technology and the evolution of generations.
While speaking about the design process of the project, she often delves into the changes she observes every day – that of travellers becoming more savvy, an increasingly technologically connected world and the fact that generations are now becoming more distinct and separate than ever before.
“What was evident when I first visited the hotel was that it had such incredible bones but it was unfortunately just tired and dated – which was expected given it had last been renovated nearly 30 years ago,” she says. “Today’s traveller however expects much more – not only just seamless and beautiful interiors but accessibility and efficiency. That was the update that I felt the hotel needed.”
She points to the hotel lobby as a key area she immediately felt could offer so much more to the experience, given a strategic use of the space could make it into a hub for social activity.
It was with this in mind that the new plans for the space involve more food and beverage options to shake up the hotel’s vibe and atmosphere, without requiring major changes to the structure. The Writers Bar for example, one of the signature Raffles’ F&B spaces in the lobby area is being upgraded with a larger space, a redesigned dark and luxurious interior and a full bar offering – complete with a menu of bespoke cocktails.
“What we hope is that people will enjoy their drinks in this beautiful bar space but also, through the course of the night, spill out onto the terrace or into the lobby – it’s an atmosphere we feel should and can be created organically, and in a way that feels honest to the environment,” she says.
The hotel bedrooms were another feature that Champalimaud’s team put much thought into – not only because the rooms are such an integral part of the Raffles experience, but also because they are inevitably a space for the weary traveller to rest and relax.
“In a way, the rooms were the most demanding to work on because there are a lot of paradoxes at play when designing a beautiful bedroom or bathroom,” Champalimaud says. “For example, they need to be well lit but also be able to shut out all light for those people who cannot sleep with an iota of light at night. In a way they should be reminiscent of the past, even whilst being entirely contemporary in the way they are built and function.”
With these concerns in mind, the team designed the new suites to be updated with better soundproofed windows, a strong wireless signal, mechanical blinds, improved lighting and discreet but accessible sockets.
What will not be changed, however, is the heritage and colonial feel of the space, which is why the signature tripartite parlour, bedroom, bathroom layout in the rooms are being retained, as are the charming elements such as the antique lighting switches. Also woven through the entire hotel is that element of understated luxury – brought to life by beautiful tiles, classic colour palettes and an array of rich antique-style fabrics and leathers sourced from countries such as Italy, France and the United States.
Ultimately, for Champalimaud, the key was offering beauty and opportunity for the hotel and its guests, whilst retaining that Raffles DNA.
“For us, the desire was not to have a radical change but to re-adapt, improve and embellish such that each space feels heartfelt and honest,” Champalimaud says.
“This hotel is unique in that it has so much universal appeal, despite being so pared back. We wanted to bring forth the culture and history and heritage and tell an authentic story through design, in a way that befits a landmark like the Raffles Hotel Singapore.”