As LWD celebrates more than a decade in design it completes the refurbishment of one of Beirut’s oldest hotels, which saw its 50th anniversary last year

Lars Waldenstrom joined forces with Morten Hansen, CEO, and Jesper Godsk, creative partner, in 1999 to found LW Design Group as an interior design consultancy.

The newly-formed design firm’s first major hospitality project was Abu Dhabi’s Rotana Beach Hotel in 2000, followed by Emirates Golf Club, which opened the doors to other projects in the region and cemented its reputation for creating contemporary, elegant commercial interiors.

Projects include; the Buddha Bar, Dubai, DXB Terminal 3, The Address Montgomerie, Grosvenor House, Dubai and Centro Hotel, Al Barsha.Colin Doyle, managing partner, joined LWD from RMJM in 2003 to head up an architectural division and Finn Theilgaard, managing partner, established the engineering arm of LWD in 2006.

Waldenstrom has since retired and what began as the vision of three men now has a staff of over 80 people based in Design House in Dubai Media City and an architectural office that has been operating in Auckland since 2007.

One of the firm’s latest projects was to refurbish the existing all day dining restaurant in one of Beirut’s most famous landmark hotels, the Phoenicia Intercontinental, which was built by Lebanese businessman Najib Salha, who founded La Société des Grands Hotels du Liban.

Designed by the American architect, Edward Durell Stone (an early proponent of modern architecture in the US), with Levantine influences in its high ceilings, sweeping staircases and palatial pillars, the hotel opened in December 1961.

It had 600 rooms and suites, shops, a few restaurants and a swimming pool with a bar. A second, taller tower was added to the hotel later on.

In the mid-70s it was abandoned for nearly 25 years until the late 1990s, when Mazen and Marwan Salha, members of the board of directors of La Société des Grands Hotels du Liban, decided to restore the hotel. At this point, a third tower was added to the building.

It reopened in March, 2000, following a huge restoration project (and another one when it was closed for three months for repairs after the 2005 bombing assassination of Rafik Hariri in the street out front) and saw a US$50million revamp last year that coincided with its 50-year anniversary.

According to Gina Munro, restaurant concept designer, LWD, the brief was to redesign the existing all day dining restaurant Mosaic.

“We needed to ensure the new design would still be fitting and compliment the rest of the hotel, in order to achieve this, our concept was to reflect the culturally rich destination of Lebanon within the design,” she said. Intramuro interior contracting, from Beirut was appointed to implement the entire fit out.

“The Phoenicia Intercontinental is one of the most famous hotels in Beirut because it is one of the oldest that stood the test of time during the war,” said Munro. “As such, all the locals really enjoy the lobby lounge as a venue throughout the day to relax.

Many outside guests visit the hotel to indulge in the atmosphere and people watch. It has a very old world feel to it. We had to totally strip out the existing restaurant and give it a complete redesign to complement the existing hotel areas, and it was therefore not just a straight forward refurbishment.”

Munro said the team was inspired by bold ornamental Arabic accessories and jewels. “Beaded rod screens became a strong yet subtle design element, showcasing local culture in a contemporary yet timeless space. A play with light and pattern was achieved by using oversized white fretwork pendants, creating decorative ceiling shadows which created a canopy affect above the guests during their dining experience,” she said.

“Guests are welcomed into the space by an impressive set of bronze doors with a geometric mashrabia design. To achieve a sophisticated end result, finishes were selected and combined to enhance the richness of the design concept with the likes of light stone surfaces which are accented by elegant mother-of-pearl mosaic details.

Walnut timber tones creating warmth are complimented by a subtle sea mist green in textured linen and plush leather upholsteries with embroidered Arabic motifs adding a further layer of luxury.”

She added that there are various seating groups that frame the F&B counters including booth tables encircled by padded walls for intimate dining, high tables for a more casual feel and the main dining area is adjacent to the terrace with ocean views and infused by natural day light.

“The F&B stations appear as decorative loose furniture items, fully integrating the front and back of house kitchen system, developed entirely by our kitchen designer,” said Munro. “The design is intended to lead guests on a journey of discovery as they meander through the food counters as if they were walking through the retail environment of a souk. The food takes centre stage with an abundance of cuisines on multiple layered displays.

“The restaurant has a relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere encouraging guests to visit anytime of the day, as the place to see and be seen.”Munro said there weren’t many ‘challenges’ to speak of, however because the project was based in Beirut the team held interactive workshops with the  Phoenicia Hotel project manager, Pascal Carrion, its chef Edwin Kats and LWD’s own in-house kitchen designer, David Chambers, who is based in Dubai.

“We are very happy with the overall outcome of the design. It was interesting to work with the head chef and carefully develop the integration of the various islands located throughout the extensive area, which became an important design component. ”

Munro added. LWD is currently working on 10 new restaurants both locally and internationally including Amador, at the Rotana Kahlifa Park, in Abu Dhabi which opened recently headed up by its Michelin star head chef Juan Amador which is a tapas style restaurant and bar.

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