History seeps from the walls of the Old War Office in Whitehall, London, the former workplace of Winston Churchill.
Once the beating heart of the British military empire, the seat from which some of the most important decisions in the UK’s modern history were made, the building is now forging a new future as one of the world’s leading hotels luxury hotel in the capital: Raffles London.
A painstaking eight-year renovation resulted in the Grade II* listed Edwardian Baroque building – located on the site of the Palace of Whitehall and a stone’s throw from Downing Street, shakes up state secrets for a mystique of another kind, as the first European location of the iconic Singaporean brand.
“It’s the magic combination: the building, the location and the name, Raffles,” Fiona Harris, director of communications at Raffles London, told CNBC Travel.
The hotel’s opening last month marks a full circle for the Raffles brand, whose name and original location pay homage to Sir Stamford Raffles, the British diplomat who founded modern Singapore.
The building’s new owner, the Hinduja Group, which purchased a 250-year lease from the Defense Ministry in 2016, started as a trading company in colonial India in 1914 and is now a global conglomerate.
CNBC Travel toured the £1.4 billion ($1.7 billion) redevelopment – here’s a look at its 100-year transition from the control center of the British empire to a luxury stable for international visitors UK.
Originally built for the British Army between 1899 and 1906, the vast OWO building embodied imperial influence at its peak.
At the time, more than 2,500 men and women of the British Army worked in the building’s 1,100 rooms and two and a half miles of corridors.
The Grade II listed Old War Office was built for the British Army in 1906 and is based on the site of the original Palace of Whitehall, which was home to several former British monarchs, including Henry VIII.
This grandeur remains today thanks to an extensive renovation carried out by EPR Architects, through which many of the building’s original features have been restored.
Inside the grand hall, an imperial Italian marble staircase and two-tiered chandelier do justice to a building that served as the birthplace of the British Secret Service and inspired Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.
A new Italian chandelier, whose design would symbolize international trade, has been delicately installed by a company that usually handles nuclear equipment.
Above, the first floor houses the balcony from which Churchill addressed his staff, giving way to the former offices of various political and military heavyweights, including David Lloyd George and Lord Kitchener.
“This building would have been filled with state secrets,” Harris said.
The Old War Office was occupied by various political and military leaders, including wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. A replica of his office and a bust are on display in the Churchill Suite.
Churchill’s own office – dubbed by Harris as “the room where all the big decisions were made”, including the decision to join the Second World War and the decision for the D-Day landings – is no less grandiose in its new life following, with a replica of the office and bust of the former prime minister.
The Churchill Suite is just one of the rooms reimagined in homage to the building’s history by the late Thierry Despont, whose architectural achievements include the restoration of New York’s Statue of Liberty and the interior redesign of the skyscraper residential building in Manhattan, 220 Central Park South.
In total, the hotel houses 120 suites and rooms, including five heritage suites located in the former offices of political and military leaders, and eight corner suites named after notable women and spies.
Raffles London is home to 120 rooms and suites, including eight corner suites named after notable women and spies.
Meanwhile, deep underground, a three-story excavation expands the building’s footprint by more than a third to 800,000 square feet, making room for a ballroom, a 65-foot swimming pool and a Guerlain spa.
The addition of nine new restaurants helmed by multi-Michelin star chefs, including three by Argentinian Mauro Colagreco, aims to strengthen the hotel’s credentials as the city’s culinary epicenter, while three new bars seek to highlight the unique history and location of the building.
A 20-metre underground swimming pool at the heart of the four-storey Raffles London spa, which includes nine Guerlain treatment rooms and a gym.
Guests at the Guards Bar and Lounge, for example, can enjoy a prime position to watch the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony while sipping a London Sling ($29), a gin and cherry cocktail inspired by its namesake of Singapore.
Those looking for more discretion can opt for the underground spy bar, located in a former interrogation room, from where they can pay homage to the various spies whose secrets were kept within its walls.
Saison, led by Michelin-starred Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco, is one of nine restaurants and three bars at Raffles London. It is located in the old library where James Bond author Ian Fleming wrote.
And for non-paying guests, it is possible to tour and tour the building during one of 11 annual open days, as part of the Department of Defense lease agreement.
“We’re turning things around,” Harris said of the building that once required security clearance for admission. “It doesn’t matter if you’re super rich or you just want to come and have coffee with a friend. It’s open to everyone,” she said.
A stay at Raffles London does not come without a significant price tag. A night in one of the hotel’s classic rooms costs around £1,100 ($1,340), while a stay in one of its five most exclusive suites will cost guests between £18,000 and £25,000 £ per night.
Those who prefer to stay forever can do so too, budgeting more than £8 million for one of Raffles’ 85-branded OWO residences. At the time of writing, about half of these units have already been sold – to buyers from the US, China and the Middle East – although a five-bedroom penthouse valued at 100 million of pounds sterling remains to be taken.
A claw-foot bathtub takes center stage in the sumptuous bathroom of the Granville Suite, named after British spy Christine Granville.
These large sums come as the UK economy and much of its population remain under financial pressure amid high inflation. And yet, Raffles is not the only one to bet big on the London luxury market.
In September, another billion-pound hotel, The Peninsula, opened on the corner of Hyde Park, and in the coming months a Mandarin Oriental, a Rosewood and a new sister hotel to Claridge’s, The Emory , are all expected to launch in exclusive hotels. pockets of the capital.
An art installation of hanging and fragmented poppies pays tribute to the Royal British Legion, a charity for members and veterans of the British armed forces.
OWO owner Gopichand Hinduja, chairman of the Hinduja Group – who bought the property in 2016 before the Brexit economic downturn – said the investment showed Britain’s long-term appeal in as a luxury travel market.
“We are not acting in the short term,” Hinduja told CNBC in July. “The UK is a big country and everyone loves coming to London, whether on holiday or for business.”
“We have transformed this place into peace and solace,” Hinduja added of the OWO building. “It’s a unique, singular property. It’s a destination place.”
The Granville Suite is one of five heritage suites at Raffles London, each occupying rooms that previously served as offices for some of Britain’s greatest politicians and military leaders.