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Goddard Littlefair mastermind transformation of Hilton Hotel, Budapest

Luxury interior designers Goddard Littlefair have completed the first phase of an extensive refurbishment of the Hilton Hotel, Budapest, encompassing the principal public areas – the reception, lounge, lobby bar and executive lounge, along with three sample bedroom treatments and linking corridor areas.

The hotel, which is part of the Danubius Hotels Group, is located on a stunning site at the centre of the Hungarian capital, directly alongside the St Matthias Church. The new interior – representing the first full revamp of the hotel since 1977, when it was originally opened – brings a new light and elegant contemporaneity to the common parts via a palette of refined silvers and golds with accents colours, together with dark timber; brass inlays; black and white granite; a wide range of bespoke furniture and fabrics – a hallmark of Goddard Littlefair schemes – as well as a number of stunning art installations, specially-commissioned for the project from local Hungarian artists and specialist maker studios.

Lobby lighting and wisteria illustration artist inset panel

Lobby lighting and wisteria illustration artist inset panel

‘Budapest is a stunning city and one I have been lucky enough to work in on several occasions’, commented Goddard Littlefair Director and Co-founder Martin Goddard. ‘Being able to work here once again has made this project a real pleasure. It was also very professionally satisfying; it’s rare to get a chance to help accomplish a design transformation on this scale of such a premier European hotel.’

The Hilton Hotel, Budapest is sited on the western, ‘Buda’ side of the Danube, which bisects the city and separates the mainly medieval, hilly ‘Castle Quarter’ of ‘Buda’ from the ‘Pest’ side of the city, where the architecture dates more from the period of the Austro-Hungarian empire, including many fine neo-classical, baroque and art nouveau buildings. The hotel was originally designed and constructed in the late 1970s by the Danubius Hotels & Spa Co, which was then a state-run entity and was built around and partly incorporates both a 13th-century Dominican cloister and the baroque façade of a 16th- century Jesuit College. In 1992, the Danubius Hotels & Spa Co was listed on the Budapest Stock Exchange and it is now a major hospitality specialist operating across the region, with upwards of 20 hotels in Hungary and a portfolio that also includes major hotels in Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, as well as one in London.

‘From a business point of view’, Martin Goddard explained, ‘the existing hotel was mostly used by large tour parties from the States and the Far East and was a popular destination on the conference circuit. The brief was to maintain this strong appeal, but also to appeal to more transient leisure guests, who were increasing in numbers as the appeal of the Buda side of the city continued to grow for a new generation of tourists, thanks to a burgeoning new restaurant scene and a number of boutique hotels.’

The stunning, double-height Lounge on the hotel's ground floor

The stunning, double-height Lounge on the hotel’s ground floor

The brief to Goddard Littlefair was to redesign the hotel completely, including all public areas (except for the ‘Icon’ restaurant, which had been refurbished just prior to commission). The works were to be phased, so that the hotel could stay open throughout. The first phase is now complete. Phase two, to complete later this spring is compromised of 136 bedrooms on the north side of the hotel, along with a new separate, lower ground floor entrance for group check-in, whilst a final phase will encompass the ballroom, gym, meeting rooms and the remaining 264 bedrooms on the hotel’s south side, together with the presidential suite.

‘We spent considerable time at the beginning of the project ensuring that we understood both the client vision and the existing and potential customer demographic’ commented Martin Goddard. ‘We knew the client was keen to express strong links to the city itself, so whilst the overall concept and positioning is contemporary classic, with a luxury, layered treatment, we also sought to incorporate the work of local artists and makers throughout to ensure we created a uniquely Budapest feel, integrated with the quality touchpoints that reassure international customers they are in safe Hilton hands.’

Design Walk-through:

Although the original location of the main entrance has been maintained, the space-planning of the new reception area was completely changed. To prevent bottle-necks, the single monolithic desk which previously sat directly opposite the entrance has been replaced by three smaller desks, set over the right of the space on timber bases, with surrounds in antiqued black granite and frontispieces in halo-lit dark timber with a geometric-pattern gold metal inlay, along with white desk lamps on right-angled brass stands at each end. The wall behind reception is inlaid with a series of vertical panels in silvered glass, interspersed with larger feature panels directly behind each desk, which were hand-painted in an art nouveau style with a wisteria illustration by Hungarian specialists Rákosy Glass in an art nouveau style. The dark timber and gold metal combination is repeated in a plainer rectangular configuration for the wall treatment to the right hand side of the reception hall.

Three new reception desks with halo-lit dark timber and geometric pattern inlay in gold metal

The reception space is lit by a series of large, triple-tiered, scallop-edged chandeliers, set into ceiling troughs. Flooring is in highly-polished white granite, with a thin frame surround in antiqued black granite, matching that of the desks, along with a taupe and fawn rug, bespoke-designed by Goddard Littlefair in a geometric pattern, located in the seating area to the front of the space, where the silvered glass wall panels are to be found again, along with a number of retail display units. The furniture here is a mix of 3-seater sofas, armchairs and wing-back chairs, arranged around incidental tables.

‘Pretty much every item of furniture the eye can see beyond the art installations is a bespoke Goddard Littlefair design’, explained the project’s lead designer and Goddard Littlefair Associate Kristy Unger. ‘

That’s very much the Goddard Littlefair ethos and ensures that our interiors schemes not only look unique, but have that un-placeable quality we believe is a key element of luxury.’

All furniture on the scheme was bespoke-designed by Goddard Littlefair

The over-arching colour scheme for the public areas is made up of a neutral base with layers of gold and silver plus accent colours for different areas, ranging from blues and greens to mustards and pale purples, whilst the remaining material palette includes granite, dark timber, walnut and verre eglomisé. The colours in the reception are slightly more restrained, with punchier blues and plusher velvets used to distinguish the lounge area.

To aid circulation, the group check-in has been moved to the other side of the reception space and is now located against the left-hand wall. To overcome an existing floor level change immediately beyond this area, a series of bulky ramps was removed and has been replaced by a hoist, which can be used both for wheelchair access and in order to aid deliveries to the lobby bar, located directly behind. The lobby bar features fabric-wrapped walls and a geometric blue and green patterned carpet, with the bar itself clad in leather with timber and glass detailing.

The Lounge features a bespoke grey and fawn rug by Goddard Littlefair

The lounge effectively forms a direct continuation of the reception and is located at the top left of the open-plan L-shaped entrance area. The stunning, double-height space features a halo-lit leather screen to rear, bespoke-made by a London maker, which draws the eye through and is inset into a timber wall with gold metal inlay, as in reception. The space is visually dominated, however, by a striking gold and silver glass sculpture that hangs from the ceiling and is made up of dozens of individual glass pieces, designed by Hungarian artist Sándor Oláh and fabricated by local glass specialists Belight.

The striking carpet here is again in a bespoke geometric pattern in grey and white, also designed in-house by Goddard Littlefair, with stand-out armchairs in teal velvet along the left wall of the space. Standard lamps have a right-angled brass base and are larger-scale versions of those used on the reception desks.

The Business Zone on the mezzanine level

The Business Zone on the mezzanine level

Above and to the right of the space, a mezzanine area is discreetly announced by its gold-patterned metal balcony, which delineates the business level quiet zone, with the pattern linking both to a series of screens directly below and the pattern used for the reception desks. A bespoke water-pattern carpet in this mezzanine section was inspired by the River Danube.

To the rear of the lounge area an existing stair has been dramatically-reworked and features new cladding in bevel-edged white glass around the central column, together with a new gold metal balustrade, echoing the mezzanine business area. The stair treads themselves have been re-clad in a bespoke carpet, with the underside painted white to match the column. Drama is added by two woven panels (created by András Gönci of Arax), set against the existing stone walls, with one reaching more than 9m in height.

The stair's new balustrade echoes the mezzanine balcony

The stair’s new balustrade echoes the mezzanine balcony

Executive members of Hilton Hotels are allowed access to a special executive lounge on the hotel’s third floor, which is made up of a reception, dining area, buffet and pantry, plus a series of soft-dining tables and seats arranged alongside the window, with stunning views back over the Danube towards the Hungarian parliament building.

A seating area at the centre is visible to other hotel guests from above. Glass, sculptural lighting and screens add drama. ‘Ceilings were quite low in this area’, Kristy Unger added ‘and we didn’t want to use downlights, but we did need to maximise translucency’. Wall mirrors added extra light through reflectivity, whilst furnishing, in velvets and textured leather, is subtly colourful in greens, smokey blues and mustard-yellow. The curtains feature a pattern that subtly reflects the stained glass window.

The Executive Lounge includes a reception, dining area, buffet and pantry

The Executive Lounge includes a reception, dining area, buffet and pantry

The executive lounge also extends into a nook area located within the hotel’s tower (which has medieval sections, but is mainly part of the original 1977 building, with stained-glass window treatments referring both to this and the St Matthias Church alongside). It features double-height timber bookshelves with verre eglomisé mirroring at the back and a carpet inspired not only by the Danube on this occasion, but by the particular way the river parts and flows around Margaret Island at its centre.

‘As well as forming part of the tower area’ Kristy Unger explained, ‘the majority of the remaining Dominican cloister and cloister grounds are located within the open-air public conference area. The beautiful medieval stone walls and caves left behind from the 13th century are located alongside – and inspiring our treatment for – the new, lower-level group check-in that will form part of the second phase of the project.’

The bedroom reflects the colour palette of the public spaces, but in a slightly softer application

The bedroom reflects the colour palette of the public spaces, but in a slightly softer application

For the mock-up bedrooms, the approach was to create a classic modern look that took on the colours of the public space interiors palette, but used them in a simple, elegant and slightly softer way. Flooring is in timber-effect ceramic, along with carpeted areas, whilst fabric panels are used for the bed headboard and the television wall. Mirrors reflect light back into the space, which also features dark timber and faux leather wall panels, with doors in a textured timber-effect laminate. Oval bedside tables with wall lamps are bracketed to the walls with an antique metal effect around the top and real metal edges around the joinery work.

The bathroom treatment includes stone and ceramic walls with paint above and a granite-topped vanity unit. The entire wall behind the vanity unit is mirrored and a feature, halo-lit metal framed mirror above.

The approach corridor was also part of the bedroom scheme, with new carpets and artwork.

‘We know our guests want extraordinary public spaces that still feel like home and have real cosmopolitan flair’ said Zoltan Arvai, General Manager, Hilton Hotel, Budapest, adding ‘I feel absolutely passionate about the new designs inspired by Goddard Littlefair and Hilton Worldwide’.