Checking In: 5 Restored Heritage Mansions-Turned-Luxury Hotels
With rampant urbanisation, developments around the world continue unabated—just look at the number of cranes dotting the skyline. However, there has also been a significant shift from new-build, ground-up construction towards developments underpinned by the preservation of a historic past.
Adaptive reuse, the practice of converting existing structures into properties designed for a variety of uses, not only helps in retaining the inherited legacy, but also allows owners and developers to play a role in environmental conservation—not to mention giving the property a competitive edge. Ask any architect and they will tell you that the greenest building is the one that has already been built. Here, we detail the transformation of five grand homes to luxury hotels that have deftly married old-world splendour with modern glamour, while keeping their celebrated past intact.
1/5 ADARE MANOR
A stay at Adare Manor is probably as close as anyone can get to living out any romantic novel fantasies. After all, the beautiful neo-Gothic building, once known as Adare House, did actually belong to a noble family—the second earl of Dunraven and his wife, Lady Caroline. The entire estate took about 30 years to build, and it remained the Dunravens’ family home until it was sold in the 1980s and converted into the Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort.
In 2015, Irish racehorse tycoon JP McManus bought over the property and the hotel closed and underwent a two-year-long renovation to include an entire wing of rooms, events spaces, as well as an 18-hole championship golf course. Pains were taken to ensure the modern addition was built with the same local materials used in the original structure to create a cohesive look. The moment the car pulls up on the driveway and its signature lancet arches come into view, one immediately understands why this labour of love took ages to complete. Venture inside, and it’s clear to see why the effort was worth it.
Every room at Adare Manor features luxe fabrics, mahogany touches, and furniture pieces inspired by the Georgian period, altogether infusing a sense of homeliness. Oil paintings (and in some rooms, 19th-century etchings) adorn the walls; there’s even a fireplace to keep you warm when the Irish showers inevitably arrive. The manor’s expansive grounds beckon even the least outdoorsy types with activities ranging from falconry to clay pigeon shooting. If it’s relaxation that you’re after, spend a pampering afternoon at La Mer Spa—the first in the country—or take a leisurely stroll down to Adare Village to marvel at the pretty thatched-roof cottages deemed one of Ireland’s most photogenic spots.
This being Ireland, sumptuous food and warm hospitality abound. There are five restaurants in which you can indulge including The Carriage House, where prime cuts of beef are the pride of then kitchen. Wherever you choose to eat, enjoy a nightcap at The Tack Room—this converted, speakeasy-style bar houses more than 100 rare bottles, from the finest Scotch to Japanese and, of course, Irish whiskies.
2/5 LA CLEF CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES
Built in the early 20th century, La Clef Champs-Élysées is not just another heritage building, it was the residence of the storied Hennessy family. Opened recently as a luxury serviced residence, La Clef Champs-Élysées, the third property in The Ascott Limited’s Crest Collection, sits within close proximity to the city’s holy trinity of prime real estate—Champs-Élysées, Avenues Montaigne, and Avenues Georges V—and is surrounded by a plethora of luxury offerings, from leather goods to fine food. Its current iteration is a dialogue between the building’s grand past, the timelessness of the location, and a certain contemporary elegance inspired by the world of haute couture.
Well-known interior architect Jean-Philippe Nuel, who led the extensive renovation, had one main objective: to preserve the Haussmannian-style mansion’s authentic Parisian spirit. Small, yet thought-through, details such as an original floral motif—which is featured in the wrought ironwork on the main staircase, facade, and fireplace, among others—stand testament to that and reference the property’s surrounding garden heritage. A similar blend of Haussmann-era mouldings and contemporary touches can be seen in each of the 70 rooms, suites, and duplex apartments.
The grandiose lobby is one of the most distinctive features of the property and connects to the different parts of the residence. To keep the existing main Haussmannian-style staircase—a stipulation by local authorities—and make it compatible with the energy-related product directive, Nuel added an iron antique-style parapet that is higher than the original. He further reinforced the existing floors with new, thin concrete slabs that also provide acoustic insulation.
What greets you is a strikingly high ceiling, accentuated by numerous mirrors that offer a fragmented reflection of the lobby as well as the carefully renovated period stone mouldings. Presenting an interesting juxtaposition of old and new are majestic blacklacquer carved wood columns. The entrance alone makes one expect to see a barouche draw up anytime.
3/5 AL BAIT SHARJAH
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
While it may fall behind on the glamour quotient when compared to its glitzier neighbour, Dubai, Sharjah affirms its position as a must-visit place in the United Arab Emirates, thanks to its cultural bounty. Case in point: it was recently appointed the Unesco World Book Capital 2019 and is now considered the de facto cultural capital.
This spirit is alive and well in Al Bait Sharjah, which stands out for a considered approach towards balancing cultural nuances and contemporary appeal. The property, which was previously owned and inhabited by influential local families, and whose Arabic name translates as “the house,” spans 10,000sqm with 53 guest rooms and suites, as well as two restaurants, cafe and ice-cream shop, library, museum, meeting rooms, and outdoor seating and courtyard spaces.
Keith Gavin, partner at Godwin Austen Johnson, the firm responsible for its architectural metamorphosis, explains: “The primary aim of the development, from an urban design point of view, was to recreate the intimacy and character of a historic village, with narrow streets, open courtyards, and secluded entrance ways and weave these into the guest experience. Just as residents of old would have negotiated these streets to get to their homes, stopping at the square to meet friends, and then retiring into the privacy and sanctuary of their homes, guests today are able to retrace their footsteps every time they step out of the sanctuary of the individual guest room blocks and into the public streets.”
The design team addressed the challenges in the heritage project by embracing both restoration as well as integration into the development. Keeping the project’s integrity intact, and to give guests the true feeling of the heritage aspect of the development, Gavin says, “The rooms have been kept to the specific proportions of the old village homes—governed by the availability of structural timbers—with limited openings due to privacy and timber ceilings.”
4/5 VILLA FOZ HOTEL & SPA
Located in the Iberian nation’s gastronomic capital, Porto, this19th‑century manor in the affluent Foz do Douro neighbourhood opened recently after a comprehensive restoration by architecture firm Miguel Cardoso Arquitecto and interior designer Nini Andrade Silva. The stately mansion, which previously belonged to one of Porto’s most important families, employs a varied and inspired material selection that includes locally‑sourced stone, hydraulic mosaic and bronze.
While the architects have retained the original architectural features of the 68‑room property, they have also infused it with of‑the‑moment details and finishes that meld beautifully with its rich heritage. The new‑build elements of the hotel are defined by a volume of simple lines that provide the perfect counterpart to the historic structure’s gold‑corniced elegance, all while maintaining its unique spatial flow.
Ranging from 28sqm to 48sqm, the guest rooms feature tactile materials such as natural wood, stone, and glass, all highlighted by carefully‑placed lighting that lends the rooms an air of splendour. Silva, known for her minimalist approach to design, has created bold, modern spaces using a grounded colour palette of tourmaline greens and earthy browns.
In keeping with Porto’s culinary traditions, the hotel also features a stately fine dining restaurant that serves seasonal, seafood‑focused dishes by executive chef Arnaldo Azevedo. The other restaurant Flor de Lis, in contrast, offers an informal yet refined experience anchored on a selection of regional dishes. If you’re able to peel yourself away from the gorgeous interiors, the outside also holds a treat. The Foz do Douro district is home to some of the finest gourmet establishments and eclectic boutiques that showcase Portugal’s highly regarded craftsmanship, as well as the 17th‑century Castelo do Queijo fortress, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, and City Park, Portugal’s largest urban park.
5/5 Belmond Cadogan Hotel
London, United Kingdom
It might be considered a new entrant to London’s dynamic hotel scene, but the property, dating back to 1887, has long been part of the city’s fabric. The Cadogan, as it was known then, was the social hangout of luminaries such as writer Oscar Wilde, and became a magnet for Chelsea’s swish set, which included socialites, intellectuals, artists, and authors such as Mark Twain and Bram Stoker.
The hotel, which was originally owned by a royal physician, and thereafter by his daughter and her baron husband, opened earlier this year after a multimillion‑dollar renovation. The four‑year renovation saw the seamless connection of five separate buildings and the reconfiguration of compact public areas into spacious gathering places—where art aficionados can pore over more than 400 original artworks of British artists on display. Additionally, botanical‑inspired artwork by five female British artists adorn the guest rooms.
Holding court in Belmond Cadogan’s lobby is a bar, which instantly transports you to early 20th‑century watering holes—leather banquettes and velvet armchairs included. Here, chef patron Adam Handling presents traditional dishes with a modern twist made using seasonal and local produce.
Showcasing the property’s association with Wilde seems to be one of the highlights. His favourite Room 118, overlooking the corner of Sloane and Ponte streets, has been rechristened the Royal Suite and is filled with books by and about him. A quirky reference to the legendary author can also be seen in a glitzy peacock studded with thousands of Swarovski crystals, which stands at the entrance to the private dining room.
In keeping with the literary spirit of the hotel, in‑room private libraries have been curated by family‑owned Chelsea bookshop, John Sandoe. It is also set to host a series of literary gatherings throughout the year.
- Words (Additional) Elizabeth Lee for Adare Manor
- Images Al Bait Sharjah, Belmond Cadogan Hotel, La Clef Champs-Élysées and Villa Foz Hotel & Spa