The hotel-within-a-hotel concept has been a long-standing way for upscale properties to distinguish the hotel experience for its most loyal and elite guests.

However, the concept has recently been going through a renaissance, as guest needs and tastes evolve — and designers are loving the opportunity to work their magic on these coveted spaces. In fact, many of these offerings within Canada have unveiled major updates within the last two years. The renewed designs are focusing on greater flexibility and openness, rich finishes and textures and customized amenities that create a more residential experience.

“Everyone is re-examining those areas and making them more relevant in terms of offering something truly special at their properties,” says Jon Kastl, principal at New York-based Champalimaud Design, which created Fairmont Royal York’s reimagined Fairmont Gold offering, unveiled last spring.

Designers are approaching these areas much differently than in the past, agrees Adele Rankin, principal and global design lead for Vancouver-based CHIL Interior Design. Her firm has worked on several Fairmont Gold renovations in Western Canada, including Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and Fairmont Vancouver Airport.

While there remains a similar ethos around intimacy and exclusivity within the Fairmont Gold concept, there are some interesting changes of note, Rankin says. “We have to design around the way people travel now, from the furnishings to the food.”

For example, the lounges for Fairmont Gold used to be a lot more closed in and secluded, she explains. “Now the move is to open them up so they spill into the corridors and give the whole floor an exclusive feel.”

Layout and furnishings have also changed to suit a more modern approach to travel. “Lounges used to be single-purpose spaces where guests would sit and eat. Now they’re being used in a much more flexible way, so people can either sit with a breakout group, or enjoy some privacy.”

That fluidity extends to the dining spaces, where furniture can be configured to accommodate either intimate or large-group dining experiences.

Each Fairmont Gold design is unique to the location and the guest profile. At the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, for example, the lounge and guestrooms — completed in June 2019 — are designed around the first-class traveller experience from the moment they leave the plane until they check out.

Many of the elements reflect what travellers find in high-end airport lounges, including large high-back cocoon-shaped chairs for privacy and diamond-tufted leather surfaces, complemented by a contemporary neutral palette of creams and dark taupes.

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s redesigned Gold floors (completed September 2019), on the other hand, focus on the property’s rich history as an original CP hotel built in the 1900s. “It’s such a beautiful hotel [greatly influenced by] royalty and the romance of travel. We tied that history into the design, but also added a classic, contemporary direction,” Rankin explains.

Accents include striking marble flooring, intricate millwork, rich saturated jewel tones and traditional damask patterns.

“It’s interesting that these two projects are foils to one another,” Rankin says. “I like it because it shows the diversity of what Fairmont has to offer.”

Across the country, Champalimaud transformed the Fairmont Royal York’s Fairmont Gold lounge to craft a big story. A pair of open, two-sided fireplaces create a bold statement in the space. “They serve as two beautiful bookends and a signature element that sets the tone for the room as soon as you come in,” says Kastl.

The large, open, residential-style kitchen was specifically designed to allow for multiple functions, from traditional dining and buffets to corporate and celebrity-chef events.
Kastl enjoyed the opportunity to capitalize on the hotel’s eclectic architectural influences.
“The Royal York is a great example of art deco and chateau elements,” he explains. “It’s a wonderful combination, stylistically, that allowed us to create a design framework we could layer with contemporary abstract elements that infuse the spirit of Toronto.”

The reception area, for example, features a custom gold-toned backdrop mural of the Toronto skyline, along with deco-inspired black-and-white marble flooring.

Gold-floor rooms feature bespoke cabinetry, ebonized oak and walnut furnishings, deco-style table and chair groupings, lacquered surfaces, contemporary sectionals and cast-plaster bas-relief artwork above the beds. “We also added black and silver colour accents, as well as brass metalwork and trim to enhance the glamour,” Kastl says.

Even the smallest of touchpoints can make a huge difference in creating a feeling of exclusivity. Whether it’s custom light fixtures or high-tech bathroom fixtures, guests appreciate those fine details, says Allen Chan, partner at DesignAgency and lead on The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto’s recent Club Level renovations.

Because the hotel is located in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, the property’s Club Lounge and suites were designed to be part of that narrative. “We worked around the idea of pageantry, theatre and celebrity,” Chan explains.

The colour palette departs from the blue and grey tones of the hotel’s standard rooms, leaning more to warm yellow, red and orange accents.

The property’s ties to The Toronto International Film Festival are also showcased in the iconic Fortuny lamps in the guestrooms, which not only cast a beautiful light, but deliver a unique and striking impact for guests when they enter, Chan shares. Indirect lighting behind the heads of the beds adds to the effect, creating a subtle frame that glows.

The Club Lounge follows the same Hollywood-inspired theme, featuring original art pieces by Canadian photographer and director Caitlin Cronenberg.

The renovations also expanded the footprint of the lounge and created a more contemporary eatery and pantry. “We wanted to bring a residential feeling by creating clusters and vignettes that also make the space more usable,” Chan explains. “For example, everything was dining height before, now it’s more of a mix between dining and lounge height.”

For the InterContinental Toronto Centre — which unveiled its renovated Club InterContinental in 2018 — it was important for the design to meet the needs of multiple generations of guests, says general manager Alexi Hakim. “The market is now seeing a mix of baby boomers, millennials and Gen-X guests, each of which have their own tastes in terms of personalization.”

The InterContinental Club Lounge was designed in concert with the guest suites by Moncur Design Associates Inc. However, Hakim explains, “They’re not a matched set, but the same design direction is followed to a certain degree.”

One area that has changed significantly is the food-and-beverage component, Hakim notes. “The lounge used to offer heavier meals, but clients like to have faster, lighter meals in the morning and evening.”

To that end, the design of the lounge kitchen is more simplified and contemporary, featuring granite surfaces in the service areas that serve as hot and cold stations. “It exudes professionalism and is more attractive and functional,” notes Hakim.

Older, bulkier furniture pieces in the lounge have been replaced by more-contemporary seating and smaller tables that allow for more space. Colours of choice are soft, rich blues and golds, along with a splash of purple accents in the carpeting and guestrooms. Rich, dark woods and bronze detailing complete the luxury effect.

“We’ve also moved away from carpets, toward tile or wood flooring, with area rugs as accents,” Hakim says.

An important factor in the redesign, which isn’t as visible as other elements, was minimizing the use of plastics. “When we designed the Club, one of the key elements was to ensure that only minimal — if any — plastic was used. That’s an important part of all our design projects as we move into the future,” Hakim adds.

Written by Denise Deveau


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