A hotel refurbishment is among the most challenging projects in the commercial construction industry, however it is rare and economically challenging for a hotel to close for a renovation, no matter how extensive the work is. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, the first property of the hotel chain in Dubai, has just completed an extensive $100m renovation. The refurbishment of the hotel began in 2012 and was done in multiple phases, including the complete renovation of the public and dining areas, and all 373 guest rooms and suites, which followed the upgrading of conference facilities.
Adjacent to the Mall of the Emirates and the Middle East’s only indoor ski slope, the final 20 luxury Aspen Ski Chalets overlooking Ski Dubai are due to re-open this month, marking the completion of the final phase of the programme.
For the interior design of the public spaces and guestrooms, the hotel owner, the Majid Al Futtaim Group, appointed Wimberly Interiors, part of global design firm WATG, which specialises in hospitality projects, while Dubai-based Bassos Design did the interiors of both Olea all-day dining restaurant and Noir lounge and cocktail bar.
Susan Bruce, senior associate of Wimberly Interiors, comments on the project: “As with any existing building, there are always surprises and things you cannot anticipate because you don’t know what’s behind the walls until you start with the construction. The hotel stayed opened during the renovation process so the client and the operator worked closely together to stage each and every phase.”
The design team of Wimberly Interiors retained the high standards of luxury for which the Kempinski is generally known, but added subtle references to the fact that guests can go skiing on real snow in the desert heat.
Bruce adds: “We’ve played a lot upon the concept of Ski Dubai through the use of materials, such as crystals to evoke the icicles, the use of colouration – the blues and the greys, which you would find on the ski slopes, or light fixtures in the corridors that resemble a block of ice. That’s what makes this hotel unique and it is a great feature that you can go skiing in the Middle East and then stay here in the hotel. The whole design concept and style of chalets, which are overlooking the ski slope, is unlike anything else in the region.”
The first phase of refurbishment included the repositioning of the Aspen lobby lounge, along with the complete renovation of the reception area, as well as the main entrance and driveway to the hotel.
Grant Ruddiman, general manager of Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, says that the entrance and a newly built six-lane driveway, done by WATG, is among his favourite features, not only for its aesthetic qualities, but from an operational perspective as well.
“The new porte cochére better facilitates the flow of traffic into and out of the hotel as every month we handle from 8,000 to 12,000 vehicles,” he says.
In the lobby, the reception desks are double-manned to allow guests to check in and out more swiftly. The expansive lobby area offers a sense of space and openness and allows easy access via the Aspen lobby lounge to the adjacent mall.
“We kept an existing structure, but updated and reclad the reception desks with stone tops and mirrored accents, which adds a luxury level and creates something that is a highlight for the guests. Reception desks are strategically placed to the side, allowing bigger groups of people to check-in or out at the same time. We wanted to keep an open circulation, so when guests pass from the lobby through Aspen café into the mall, they feel comfortable whether they’ve been here for the first time or a hundred times,” explains Bruce.
Food and beverage
To the right of the main entrance sits the Salero Tapas & Bodega, which was opened in November 2013. With the existing Aspen lobby lounge and the newest additions of the Olea restaurant and Noir lounge and cocktail bar, the number of outlets is optimal for this size of the hotel.
“Around 70% of our customers are from Arabic countries. They like the position of the hotel, which is central within Dubai, but also that they can walk straight from the hotel to the mall,” says Ruddiman. “There are around 80 food and beverage outlets in the mall so there was no need to overpopulate the hotel with such facilities. Deciding on a new idea for our all-day dining, we came up with a Levantine concept, which is really appealing to the vast majority of our guests and casual visitors.”
Capturing the Levant region in cuisine, Olea restaurant also serves as a flexible venue that can be used for all dining periods. In the morning, it converts to the breakfast buffet and then changes into a signature restaurant for lunch and dinner.
James Bassos, managing director of Bassos Design, delivered this project in association with an architectural firm, Aukett Fitzroy Robinson International. Designers have utilised individual booth seating to create an intimate dining experience while custom floor lamps provide ambient light to each booth. Many of the patterns used within the stone flooring and wall finishes are traditional Arabic patterns, but re-interpreted in a more contemporary way.
“There was a challenge in linking the external terraces to the restaurant to create an alfresco dining space that reflected the concept of a contemporary restaurant that resonates to the Middle East Levant region,” says Bassos.
Apart from the new menu concept, the hotel manager adds that one of the requirements was to increase seating capacity in the restaurant. With the extension of the terraced areas, Kempinski now has extra 50 seats outdoors and this area now connects Olea restaurant with a dedicated area for smoking Shisha and the Noir lounge.
Ruddiman says: “There are 166 indoor and additional 50 outdoor seats and this is a great complement to what we already have. Our clientele can sit outdoors in cooler weather, which is five months in a year. When guests cannot seat comfortably outside, we now have sufficient capacities within an air-conditioned environment.”
Rooms and suites
The renovated guest rooms combine warm and natural tones with components that characterise the adjoining slopes of Ski Dubai, as well as darker metallic colours. The rooms include a dining area with an elegant service pantry, a separate living area with a sofa bed and bedroom. The spacious marble bathroom features a double vanity with a separate toilet and bidet as well as a separate walk-in shower and bathtub.
Ruddiman says: “We have a higher density per room average, which is 1.4 people. It may not seem like a lot, but that’s the leisure segment since corporate guests usually travel alone and we would have one person per room. Arabic guests tend to travel with several more family members than those from the west. With mother and father and perhaps two children, sleeping on the couch, that’s four people in the room. This affects our occupancy density in each room, so from the operational perspective, it means more towels are necessary. Likewise, we speak to designers such as Susan Bruce to look at the challenges we face. We look at how we can better design the room to deal with additional towel rails in the bathroom or several more pieces of luggage while creating more floor space and making the rooms even more comfortable and convenient for our guests.”
By having a large variety of room categories, Ruddiman says it suits the needs of diverse range of guests visiting.
Measuring from 61 to 70m2, the Grand Deluxe rooms, 183 in total, are generously sized with a contemporary decor that conveys a residential feel.
Bruce adds: “Wimberly Interiors brings 70 years of hotel experience, however, this hotel functions differently from the other hotels we designed. Our attention to design and functionally during the various design stages enhances the guest experience. At the end of the day, this is a high-end luxury hotel and we needed to keep that form of luxury so the guest doesn’t even know that the functionality part is happening, such as hidden wardrobes, luggage storage or other amenities that are built into the room all the way down to the finishes that were selected.
“What we see now, globally is for the hotel environment to be unique and personal, so when you walk in it feels comfortable and it is not just a repeat of something that you’ve seen in an another location around the world. These are some of the key factors, alongside sleeping and bedding experiences, it is very important to add that extra layer of comfort and extra amenities within the room,” says Bruce.
The contemporary designs of the guest rooms are complemented by the latest smart technology and media hubs that, with the touch of an iPad, allow guests to control their television, order room service, make a restaurant reservation, book a spa treatment and access Mall of the Emirates information and promotions.
“As we go green, we would like to impact the environment in a positive way by having less printed collateral in the rooms,” explains the general manager. “Our typical directory of services is 80 pages thick and it used to have to be printed every three to four months, but now is incorporated on to iPads. Guests get updated information on the hotel, but it also serves as a communication medium. We can send messages, target guests in a particular room to let them know about their confirmed check-out and the transfer back to the airport. It is a great way to communicate, alongside TVs that also broadcast the general manager’s welcome message and it means fewer paper copies in rooms.”
As part of the refurbishment, multi-use spaces for pre-function, breakout, boardrooms and meeting rooms have been equipped with seamless AV equipment and high-speed internet. Conference and meeting rooms have also been naturally lit to improve aesthetics while all joinery work was done by local and regional suppliers.
The boardrooms, Executive lounge, as well as Tower suites, are also decorated with original, regional artworks that showcase the Middle East’s dynamic and diverse culture.
For the Business centre and Media lounge, located on the second floor, designers have combined natural materials with a warm colour palette, creating a welcoming and cosy feel. Comfortable beige sofas and wingchairs, carpets and carefully selected accessories add a homey touch, making the space feel like a living room.
Explaining that the Kempinski project was more than a renovation, Bruce concludes: “We’ve all put in a lot of thought and work to really elevate and uplift the entire building.”