Corinthia - London
According to International Hotel Investments Chairman and CEO Alfred Pisani, there was no manual to create Corinthia London, a masterpiece of craftsmanship and testament to a lifetime’s experience to build a world-class hotel brand.
Passion, craftsmanship and spirit are words that resonate with Alfred Pisani, the Maltese hotelier who is the driving force behind International Hotel Investments Plc (IHI), the holding company for Corinthia Hotels and the owner and developer of the newly opened Corinthia Hotel London. Perfectly positioned in Whitehall, just a short walk away from the capital’s major attractions, Corinthia London is the latest addition to a deluxe portfolio of nine five-star hotels owned and operated by Corinthia Hotels. A flagship for the company, this opening also heralds ambitious future plans to develop further trophy properties in other key cities across the globe, including New York, Paris and Beijing.
For three intriguing reasons, Corinthia London has been the talk of the town. Firstly, for the tenaciousness of Corinthia’s management board to ensure that finance was secured to develop this landmark property when faced with the global financial crisis. No mean feat when this amounted to a total budget of £300 million; £130 million for the purchase of the property from the Crown Estate and a further £170 million to complete the development programme. Secondly, for the craftsmanship this project commanded – Corinthia has appointed some of the very best in the business to deliver its new ‘Grand Hotel for the 21st Century’. Finally, for the spirit driving this audacious plan to completion – Corinthia London is a hotel with big ambitions – looking to align with established icons such as The Dorchester, Claridges and The Savoy. As they say, a bit of competition is always healthy.
IHI was established in 2000, as the holding company for Corinthia Hotels as well as sister companies CHI Limited (which is in partnership with Wyndham Hotels Group in the United States) and its specialist construction and project management company, Quality Project Management.
“To build and operate great hotels takes passion and ambition. To repeat this success again and again over time requires authenticity and sincerity,” confirms Alfred Pisani on our tour of the hotel. “Creating Corinthia London was a big challenge as it is a very special property. From the outside it immediately gives you a mind-set as to what to expect when you enter. The building has such a regal style of architecture, it demanded a continuation of this grandeur, in a more contemporary fashion, throughout the interior,” he continues.
“I believe that we have achieved a great blend of opulence with a light feel here so that you do not feel dominated by colours and fabrics such as reds and damasks, which tend to go hand in hand with traditional opulence. This really gives a feeling of lightness and space.”
Corinthia’s flag, flanked by the Union and Maltese flags, now flutter over Corinthia London’s entrance on Northumberland Avenue. Ascending an elegant staircase and entering the hotel’s Lobby Lounge the energy is tangible, as the opening team go about the business of breathing life into their newly delivered building. Today the team, lead by General Manager Matthew Dixon, are welcoming a stream of arriving guests including a visit from Maltese Prime Minster Lawrence Gonzi, who is taking the opportunity to see London’s newest Grand Hotel en route to his meeting at nearby Number 10 with Prime Minister David Cameron.
Above the activity, sunlight streams through the soaring glass seven-metre high vaulted dome illuminating a stunning central Full Moon chandelier. Created by Parisian Designer Chafik Gasmi and produced by French crystal manufacturer Baccarat, this perfectly circular chandelier glows with light, thanks to 1,001 crystals, internally lit by specialist LEDs. This is just one of the many standout design focal points that will put this hotel on the map and in the minds of future guests. Other notable commissions are bronze artworks created by Ian and Richard Abell, founders of Based Upon, one of which depicts the Thames, as well as their tactile castings of leaves from Northumberland Avenue and St James’s Park, which were taken to create textural marks for all the lift doors.
Corinthia London has been crafted by an expert team of contractors and designers, from demolition to building site, to today’s polished gem of grandiose excellence. Transforming two former Ministry of Defence buildings at Whitehall Place back into a stunning hotel has taken the collective expertise of many to achieve. Pisani’s handpicked team from Corinthia’s own seasoned development and operations stable were joined by a selection of world-class specialists including: lead architects Sigma Architecture and Interiors (formally Seifert Architects); interior designers GA Design International David Collins Studio, responsible for the Bassoon Bar and Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar; and international spa consultants ESPA, creators of ESPA Life – the hotel’s revolutionary new spa and wellness facility.
“We were tasked with a core brief to maximise the value of the two acquired buildings to make full use of all potential opportunities,” explains Terry McGinnity, Managing Director of GA Design International, who was responsible for the majority of Corinthia London’s interior and architectural design. “The hotel was to be elegant, timeless and striking,” he continues. “It also needed to be truly luxurious with a clean light feel. The ambition of our client was to create the first truly ‘Grand Hotel’ in a hundred years.”
Finding innovative solutions is a common theme for all involved, as McGinnity explains. “The first primary challenge was to recognise the base structure and potential of the building following the years of adjustment and insertions by the Ministry of Defence. The entire building, including the original courtyard, was a warren of office spaces and meeting areas with layers of lowered ceilings. We took the decision to strip all this work out, including all the built work in the courtyard and take the building back to its bare bones,” he says. “The biggest challenge we faced throughout the project was maintaining a high level of design and quality in a very challenging time program. We needed to develop almost instantaneous solutions to problems within a very short time frame. This has been further complications with the unexpected problems that come with working in a large historical building.”
Corinthia London’s impressive design details are matched by its luxurious use of space to relax and sleep – which is always something of a premium in the heart of London. The hotel’s triangular wedge shaped layout, built around a central courtyard and the Lobby Lounge, features four floors with 294 guestrooms, including 43 opulent suites. Sumptuously appointed, even the standard guestrooms command 45m2 each – putting them among the largest in their category in London’s luxury hotel market.
“Our design inspiration for the interiors was based on grand English homes but with a subtle contemporary interpretation. Oak timbers were used throughout in the joinery giving a warm ambience, combined with leathers, warm limestones and silks. Timber borders line the edge of all guestrooms while polished plasters and dramatic Calacatta marble were used throughout the bathrooms,” adds McGinnity.
The River view suites with views across the Thames and Trafalgar Square are the icing on the cake. Seven split-level signature suites each with private stairs and internal lifts are individually designed and named after prominent London figures including Winston Churchill; conductor Paolo Mantovani, who used to stay here when this was the Hotel Métropole; and Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress, whose romantic namesake suite has an outdoor hot tub overlooking Nelson’s column.
Corinthia London boasts the largest hotel-based spa and wellness facility to come online in London. ESPA Life is nothing like a typical hotel spa – this is something new, something different to answer the needs of today’s discerning health seeker. ESPA Life is a completely integrated spa, wellness and fitness facility, spanning 3,300m2 across four floors. This magnificent spa features 17 treatment rooms, a private spa suite, nail studio, indoor pool, vitality pool, amphitheatre sauna, ice fountain, marble heated lounges, private sleep pods, a state-of-the-art gym and celebrity hairdresser Daniel Galvin’s own hair salon.
“This is the new generation of spa that really offers an integrated approach in terms of service and the wellness experience of the ESPA Life team,” explains ESPA’s Founder & CEO Susan Harmsworth. “It’s all about prevention, holistic health in the true sense of the word, biological ageing and being the best that you can at every stage of your life”
“The journey into ESPA Life gets to work on your senses straight away, through sound, light, the smell of restorative oils, it really starts to relax you even before you arrive at the spa reception,” confirms Pisani. “In many hotels the spa is an afterthought, an add-on, a way to utilise some dead space because they think that spa is the latest thing to help market the hotel in their brochures. They are missing the point. Here the spa dominates Corinthia London. It is at the heart of what we are doing, not just as a hotel but more than this, as a tremendous standalone concept, developed by Susan [Harmsworth] and the ESPA team,” he concludes.
Looking back, Alfred Pisani is as energised by the opening of Corinthia London as the day he opened his first hotel, the Corinthia Palace in Malta in 1965, at the tender age of 25. “Ultimately, I believe we have achieved the beautiful interiors and the layout of the building that we envisaged,” he confirms. “Corinthia London is a very special property, but it is only the shell, or body if you like, for what has to happen next - what I term ‘the holistic effect’. To deliver caring service to our guests at the highest possible standard needs knowledge, experience, understanding and a fanatical attention to detail. These are the qualities that distinguish a true craftsman from an apprentice.
“Our people are the soul – the spirit of Corinthia. They are the ones that will breathe life into Corinthia London so that our guests will not only be taken by the tremendous beauty of this property but also by the good feeling it resonates,” concludes Pisani.
“This is our ultimate objective. Like a good orchestra, it takes time to achieve, but we will get there.”