Luxury hotels exist to make us feel pampered and special. Every guest is someone. It's safe to say that most, if not all, of the hotels you'll read about here will be places you’ll want to go. Hankering to see Paris, to go for a gondola ride in Venice, or Vegas? Maybe Asia tickles your fancy, or the cool Jazz sounds of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Whichever tourist hotspot in the world you hope to flee to, you can bet there’ll be somewhere beautiful and luxurious to stay if you have the means.
We remodel homes when they’re out of date, when we need more space, and sometimes when they undergo damage. Sometimes we make cosmetic changes just because we’re tired of seeing the same old, same old. Hotels have all these reasons and more to renovate. Our neighbors aren’t seeing photos of the insides of our homes; we aren’t comparing our bedrooms with theirs or seeing how they've made their living room so much better than anyone else’s (unless we have a serious case of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses). Luxury hotels, however, have to go that extra mile to stay competitive, and have to think not only about décor, but also about things like hiring top chefs, opening spas and offering original angles that other competitors lack.
Most of us love seeing something go from old and tired or broken down to new, clean and beautiful, and we've chosen 10 shining examples of hotel makeovers which make us want to move in. Which things were concentrated on most when the following hotels were restored and upgraded? Was it décor? Technology? Food? And which hotels spent the most money on worrying about and improving these things? Read on, and dream.
10 Gritti Palace, Venice: $57 million in 2012
This 15th Century nobleman’s home is not named for the original owner. Andrea Gritti was the doge (chief magistrate) of Venice who lived in the palazzo a century later. In the late 19th century the building was bought by a hotelier and was named the Grand Hotel. Until it changed hands in 1947 and got its current name, it did not have the reputation it now has, as a bastion of luxury and taste. After 1947, the newly-named Gritti’s ambiance went from sordidly sumptuous in an overdone, tacky sort of way to a place frequented by people dubbed “cultural royalty”: writers, artists and film stars. Notable guests have included Hemingway, John Ruskin, and Woody Allen. Renowned American interior designer Chuck Chewning was given the job, and by all accounts he has restored the Gritti to its former glory.
9 Peninsula, Hong Kong: $60 million in 2013
The word “peninsula” means “a piece of land jutting out into the water.” Although the Hong Kong hotel by this name has a wonderful view of the harbor, it is not right on the water. The chain’s flagship hotel, this original opened in 1928 as a luxury hotel catering to the British who occupied the region, as well as any traveling businessmen and entertainers. Recent updates, aside from the cosmetic, focused on technology. This hotel now boasts the world’s most technologically superior rooms, with standard free Wi-Fi faster than most places, 3D TVs with goggles, surround sound, Blu-ray, and wireless tablets controlling the lights and curtains. Room-service menus, also on tablets, come in seven languages, with a direct line to the housekeeper’s smartphone.
8 Westin New York Grand Central, NYC: $75 million in 2012
This hotel changed hands and was renovated, becoming a member of the Westin Hotels after having been New York’s Helmsley Hotel. Rooms were updated to reflect Westin’s look – a lot of beiges and browns for an understated feel and the comfort of a quiet place to sleep. The rooms here have always been on the larger side for a New York hotel and have not lost that, and the hotel has one of the most spectacular skyline views in the city. The restaurant was renovated, and guests will also be grateful for much needed room updates of furniture, curtains and carpets, especially the latter, which were a green referred to as “gnarly.”
7 Loews Regency Hotel, Manhattan: $100 million in 2014
Jonathan Tisch, Loews’ chairman, is an industry scion who was raised in this hotel. Making changes was, therefore, much more personal for him than the average hotel owner. To do it right, he decided to have the hotel shut down for a full year. Designers included Lauren Rottet for the rooms and lobby, Meyer Davis Studio for the spa, salon, bar and two specialty suites, and Gherardo Guarducci and Dimitri Pauli for the Regency Bar & Grill as well as a stand-alone, take-out coffee shop. It was important to Tisch to retain the hotel’s “soul” and glamorous past, as it once catered to the likes of Monaco’s Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, as well as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
6 El Encanto, Santa Barbara: $134 million in 2013
Considered an “escapist luxury resort,” this southern California hotel had a complete top-to-bottom renovation, taking a full seven years! It was shut down for the entire time – a tad illogical from a business perspective, but it seems new owners Orient Express Hotels initially thought it would only need a $20 million boost to become a luxury spot. They quickly found more and more to do, and the results are meant to be fabulous. Regional Director of Marketing Leslie MacKillop made clear to Orient Express in-house design team, P360, that things should be redone to embody the original spirit, while bringing Encanto into the 21st century. Updated and new bungalows with privacy, views, and sometimes both abound.
5 Le Lutetia, Paris: $137 million for 2017
Begun this year, renovations on Le Lutetia will take three years for a 2017 reopening. Patrons of this iconic space look forward to improvements, an amazing idea considering the hotel’s already luxurious surroundings that have been enjoyed by renowned authors James Joyce, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and André Gide, as well as others such as Pablo Picasso and Charles de Gaulle. Originally built in the art-deco style, Le Lutetia has some history, having been taken over by German officers in WWII. Renovations are being handled by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte who did work for Mitterrand in the Elysée Palace; he has also done work on museums and hotels in France (the Louvre), Portugal, Qatar, Monaco, Japan and more. We can’t wait!
4 Vancouver Habitat Housing Initiative: $144 million for 2016
These renovations are quite a bit different than the others on this list. The hotels (plural) are in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and are among the city’s oldest single-room hotels. In recent years they have been used to house the poor; the neighborhood is Vancouver’s less cleaned-up version of an unofficial red-light district: People on welfare, prostitutes and drug users are among those who typically make their homes here. The large sum being spent by the provincial government will contribute to much needed practical renovations, including asbestos removal, upgrading heating systems and plumbing, kitchen and storage space upgrades.
3 MGM Grand, Las Vegas: $160 million in 2012
Las Vegas is known for its glamor and glitz, as well as its pace – this hotel took just 11 months to redo 4,200 rooms and suites of the main tower completely. Contemporary, environmental features such as LED lights and more efficient thermostats were added, along with upgraded showers and solar shades. Not included in the $160 million main-tower cost (and further amounts never released by MGM) are the addition of a restaurant spin-off of London’s Hakkasan Cantonese eatery combined with a five-story nightclub, a comedy club, and huge upgrades in the casino. Bring it on!
2 The Savoy, London: $260 million in 2010
Renovated well in time for the Olympics, this Fairmont hotel took two years to renovate and was London’s biggest hotel restoration ever. Known for entertaining royalty of the literal and cultural kind, this trendsetting London spot on the River Thames updated all their rooms including 58 “River Suites.” Also added was a new, 3,350 square-foot two-bedroom suite (holy cow!), bigger than many people’s homes, called, what else, but the Royal Suite…. Pierre Yves Rochon, who also worked on Monaco’s Hermitage and George V in Paris got this contract. The hotel’s renowned American Bar was restored and the River Restaurant was completely remodeled, with new additions: The Beaufort Bar for champagne and cocktails, and the Savoy Tea Shop.
1 Hyatt Regency, New Orleans: $275 million in 2011
Can you call something a renovation when it needs to be repaired after a massive hurricane? This is what happened to New Orleans’ Hyatt Regency after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Closed for six whole years, the Regency was the last of the big hotels to reopen. Fashionably late, in this case. Besides replacing hundreds of blown out windows, they took the time to add new rooms for a total of nearly 1,200. They also doubled their meeting and exhibit space, and really showcased the new entrance, with a main staircase that curves in a half spiral before a landing that continues upwards. A beautiful modern chandelier hangs amidst all this. Hungry? Old restaurants are joined by the addition of Borgne, created by John Besh.