The Rittenhouse’s library bar.Pictured: The Rittenhouse’s library bar.

The City of Brotherly Love just got a little bit lovelier. That’s after BLT Architects put the finishing touches on the renovation of Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse hotel, upgrading public areas, guestrooms, suites, the Mary Cassatt Tea Room and the Library Bar. And more additions are on the way in the form of a new 15,000-square-foot spa facility to open in late summer.

Donna Lisle, senior associate at BLT Architects, said the firm set out to emphasize the connection between the hotel, its garden and sunlight. This design goal was inspired by the parade of afternoon light that floods the hotel’s private courtyard. Though this light was visible from the property’s entry, the hotel’s deep lobby meant the light rarely penetrated the entirety of the space.

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“We developed a new plan to maintain the open connection to the courtyard using screening and drapery for privacy,” Lisle said. In order to convey the sense that one is walking through a private home, one end of the lobby colonnade was partitioned with a double iron entrance, behind which the hotel’s new bar is now hidden within a library.

Lisle said the new updates have helped recast The Rittenhouse as a chic, contemporary property—where areas that were once staid have been reborn with vim and vigor, and, well, sunlight. “The new design focuses on transparency,” she said, “capturing light from skylights and exterior walls, with recessed troughs of hidden light emulating daylight throughout the hotel.”

Sweetly Swiss

Davos, Switzerland gets its repute from hosting the annual World Economic Forum. Now the Alps town can offer delegates even better digs their next time in town. That’s after the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère Davos completed a renovation by JOI-Design. Originally built in 1875, the hotel’s interiors underwent an update to match the grand scale of the hotel’s façade, this according to Peter Joehnk, managing director of JOI-Design.

Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère’s lobby.Pictured: Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère’s lobby.

“It’s a perfect grand hotel, but it was still using design from the beginning of the last century,” Joehnk said. “Blue carpet, red upholstery. It was worn out, a child of its time. The interiors were not sophisticated, as the hotel would appear from a distance.”

In order to bring the outside of the hotel inside, JOI-Design updated the hotel’s foyer, concierge desk, bar and restaurant in the hotel lobby. The firm was first challenged by the hotel’s small entrance lobby, with a reception desk in front of two doors.

“The hotel is part of a luxury five-star brand, so it needs a concierge desk,” Joehnk said. To make room, the design firm removed furniture from the vestibule area and created a more natural approach to the concierge desk. JOI was forced to design around a large bar counter in the lobby that was immovable due to piping in the floor, and so a lounge area materialized behind the reception desk and around the bar.

“We would have preferred the bar in the corner and not in a central focal area, but the space wasn’t available,” Joehnk said.

Designing around the entrance area proved to be the greatest challenge. Budgetary and architectural reasons prevented the entrance door of the hotel from being moved, and the cramped space was hampered by a surfeit of furniture.

“It was a cozy space, but it was also narrow, and not high-end from a design perspective,” Joehnk said. “There was always drama when a guest bumped into furniture with ski shoes on. It was not a good place for movement.”

Joehnk wanted to recreate the hotel to be popular with skiers, not just a place to host Forum delegates once a year. “In recent times the hotel has become a stage for the Forum, but in the past it was a sport hotel for skiers,” Joehnk said. “With these updated flourishes, the hotel’s identity has returned to what it was 100 years ago, as a holiday celebration spot.”

C’est Vrai

A renovation that just wrapped is that of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City, Canada, which is no stranger to updates. After opening in 1893, the building added five different wings over time, resulting in a unique, sprawling footprint. Now, the property has emerged from a $75-million renovation of its guestrooms and public areas—along with a new spa—led by Rockwell Group (main lobby and F&B) and Wilson Associates (guestrooms, corridors and banquet/meeting areas).

An update in 2007 refreshed some of the hotel’s guestrooms and replaced the property’s copper roof. This allowed the hotel to focus more on design during the current update. The goal is to keep the historic details but to modernize them.

Rockwell Group chose to preserve the existing wood paneling and marble flooring in the lobby. Updated chandeliers were introduced to the space to emphasize its grandness.

The hotel’s two restaurants and bar received design overhauls, with great emphasis placed on wood detailing. One restaurant, the Le Café de la Terrace, has been converted to a multifunctional room, while the second-story restaurant bar is being converted into a wine-and-cheese bar.

The hotel spent the majority of its attention on renovating its guestrooms, especially bathrooms, which were small. To make them bigger, Wilson Associates removed bathtubs in all rooms with king beds, increasing the available space for bathroom design. Now, tubs can only be accessed in guestrooms with twin beds.