Gran Hotel Inglés has been a landmark since it was built in 1853. The first hotel to have a restaurant, and on the first street to receive electric lights in Madrid, it became a cultural icon as well. Politicians, artists, writers, and intellectuals made it their gathering place. After years of neglect and disrepair, the derelict hotel has been renovated and redesigned for today’s sophisticated traveller by Rockwell Group’s studio in Madrid.
Bringing back the glamour, elegance, and innovation of Gran Hotel Inglés and drawing inspiration from the hotel’s 165-year-old history, the design concept celebrates the hotel’s past as a gathering place for the avant-garde and intellectuals, weaving original imagery and salvaged historic items into the design of the public spaces, gym, spa, meeting rooms, and guestrooms. The hotel is located in the cultural and historical centre of Madrid, within walking distance to the Puerta del Sol and various monuments and tourist attractions.
The Rockwell Group design team, headed up by Eva Longoria and Elisa Rodriguez, introduced elegance and sophistication to the lobby, celebrating its high ceilings with circular chandeliers, inspired by a classic English manor. Some of the hotel’s original chandeliers and columns have been restored and a central lobby bar is surrounded by a cocktail lounge with clusters of area rugs. A range of seating provides gathering spots for hotel guests and visitors, complemented by mirrors, rich, gem-toned upholstery, and metal details that nod to the hotel’s heritage. A library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a fireplace is a return to the hotel’s intellectual past.
“From the very beginning we wanted to retain the building’s history and infuse it with a contemporary, yet timeless design and unique set of offerings,” Eva Longoria tells darc. “The project was a really rewarding collaboration and our clients at Hidden Away Hotels were great to work with.”
As mentioned, Gran Hotel Inglés is located on the first street to receive electric lights in Madrid – something the Rockwell Group duo were keen to celebrate through modern and classic lighting throughout the property as they explained: “The concept is inspired by the history of lighting and its evolution. We considered its quality in each space to enhance the mood and atmosphere. Our overall goal was to create an inviting feel through a sense of warmth.”
One key consideration during the project was the lobby. The space transitions from day to night, so the designers carefully looked at the ambience at various times, from breakfast to afternoon lounging and reading to evening cocktails.
“The decorative lighting elements combine contemporary influences with nods to the Art Deco style,” Longoria says. “Most of the fixtures were custom designed to suit the look we were seeking. In the lobby, we wanted to restore the hotel’s original splendor as a meeting point for intellectuals. A custom bronze and oval chandelier adds an element of theatricality above the central bar; its grandeur draws guests into the space to convene, have a drink, mingle with locals, or work.
“Restored original pendants hang above the entry and reception desk, while two custom traditional chandeliers comprised of a brass frame with handblown glass, add a sense of sophistication and elegance above the lounge seating. The lobby’s library features embedded LED strips in the custom bookcases to highlight the hotel’s history as a place of respite for writers and intellectuals.”
The restaurant is inspired by the dining room and open kitchen of a grand British country estate, with a mix of classic structures, such as oak columns painted blue, and a mix of modern and classic lighting. A custom bronze and tempered glass fixture hangs from a mirrored ceiling, adding to the sense of intimacy and casting a warm diffused light on guests. Booth seating is reminiscent of a sophisticated and intimate members’ only club.
Moving through the hotel, the hallways leading to the guestrooms feature small framed photographs and are dedicated to the building’s illustrious past guests, from bullfighters and writers to politicians. Inspired by the first electric light bulbs, a row of filament lamps crown the top of the elevator, while custom antique brass room number sconces with fluted glass, line the hallways.
“In the guest rooms, we developed an understated, residential elegance that honours the building’s heritage. Most of the decorative lighting is again, custom designed, including the brass wall sconces and bedside table lamps. A custom brass ceiling lamp hangs above the table area, while vintage-inspired reading lamps from Marset also reference the past.”
The designers juxtapositioned classic decorative fixtures with modern architectural lighting, for example, alongside the restored historic chandeliers in the lobby they added recessed architectural lighting throughout. Shade pocket lighting highlights the lobby’s distressed mirrors with faded historic images of long-ago guests and famous hotel visitors. Existing iron columns are lit from the ceiling, emphasising the late 19th century detailing.
“We wanted to create a home away from home – a place where guests will feel as if they are stepping into a friend’s residence,” says Longoria. “Every single detail, from the notion of the space to the level of the service, has been designed to deliver an individualised and memorable experience.
“Lighting is very much a part of that… it shapes the hotel’s public spaces and guest rooms and it has a dramatic impact on the atmosphere and perception of space. Every space has its own unique needs and requires various lighting solutions. This was especially important in the public spaces where dimmers control the lobby’s atmosphere during the day and add a sense of intimacy at night.”
While Rockwell Group has worked on numerous hotel renovations, this particular project was the first in the Madrid office’s home city. “It was really exciting to work inside the 165-year-old landmark and we poured over the rich history of the hotel’s location and the history of the hotel itself to weave allusions to the past into our design concepts and details.”