The Dorchester’s largest renovation project for more than 30 years reimagines the historic hotel with contemporary twists in keeping with its timeless elegance

Words: Sophia Charalambous

The biggest renovation project at The Dorchester since 1989 is being revealed this autumn. An iconic landmark for the last 91 years, in February work began to revamp the guest rooms, entrance, promenade, facade and bar, as well as introducing a new Cake & Flowers retail offering.

Appointing two world-renowned designers to take on the ambitious project, Martin Brudnizki and Pierre-Yves Rochon, the renovations will maintain The Dorchester’s heritage aesthetic while adding modern touches. We hear from three of the hotel’s executive team who have worked tirelessly to turn the dream into a reality.

Luca Virgilio, general manager

“One of the major attractions of me taking this job in January was to be part of this historic moment. The first thing that happened was the demolition – we had to empty two floors, the first and second floor. That was the most intrusive stage for the guests who stayed, but we were very careful. We created a buffer of two floors that we didn’t rent out because we didn’t want to alienate our clients.

“We’ve been putting all the old furniture up for auction and there’s been a lot of love from clients that signed up to bid on their favourite piece. It was fascinating for me to learn of thelove that people have for this hotel across generations. What has been very rewarding, all the people that know us haven’t said, ‘I’ll go somewhere else and come back when the work’s done’. Yes the layout of the land has changed but the essence of the hotel has stayed. We’re keeping the aesthetic very classic but with a touch of freshness, a few elements of being a bit more contemporary, in some elements a bit of quirkiness, some lightness, vibrancy, but the people who’ve loved The Dorchester will recognise it and we’ve also created something that will also speak to the younger generation. There needs to be a generational shift, otherwise you won’t evolve. The core stays very established, sophisticated, but through the promenade we’re using it as a big celebratory moment of English art from the past and today, with some elements that are quite fun and you wouldn’t expect to see.”

Martyn Nail, culinary director
“It’s a great time to be here – lots of change and opportunity in all directions. That was just one aspect of why I decided to take this role [Nail joined recently after 36 years at Claridge’s]. We’ve got the two new bars, Vesper Bar [replaces The Bar at The Dorchester] and Artists’ Bar [replaces The Promenade Bar] and also the new Cake & Flowers shop, which is exciting.

“Michael Kwan is a huge talent – he’s an award-winning pastry chef. We’ve had conversations about how we attract, keep and build on what we’ve got. We’ve been working on what we’ll do with our Easter egg and how it will become iconic.

“What will be wonderful in the promenade is there will be distinctive times of day.

“I’ve been presented with new china for the outlets and I’ve got to make decisions at speed; I’m not a spring chicken but coming to a new environment with many sheets of fresh paper is very energising. We’re looking at the bar and canapé offerings, and how to upscale for banqueting. It’s almost likea cruise ship; it’s luxurious and grand. The chef head-count is 125 but moving forward it touches 170 in the building.”

Philip Hammond, designer florist
“I’ve been here for 12 years, I’m Dorchester through and through – I love this place. There is so much that’s going to change. Now is our chance to embrace our past and drag it into the future. The two urns in the lobby have been completely refurbished and are coming back bigger and better with mirrored plinths made.

“The arrangements will still be our classic Dorchester arrangements but with an up-to-date twist. We’re also getting our new garden – the garden has been the same garden for 91 years.

“It’s been designed by the head gardener, Terri Crow, at Coworth Park [part of The Dorchester Collection]. Terri and I worked together to create a London square garden with a bespoke railing while looking after the great plane tree, one of the most historic trees of London. We have a sculpture from Jill Berelowitz, and the plan is at some point we’re going to have plants all the way up the front of the building.

But as research shows, everybody associates The Dorchester with flowers, cakes and champagne – celebratory moments – so the new retail outlet, Cake & Flowers, is very exciting. I thought, ‘What do we want to be known for?’ This is where our signature came from – the most beautiful gift box filled with a small selection of what’s in the shop. We’ll also be hosting masterclasses in the shop after it closes. Normally they’re 10 to 20 people – ours are going to be two people and will encompass the cake and champagne element.”