Hilton Imperial, Croatia

Images: Gareth Gardener

Goddard Littlefair completes restoration of Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, re-injecting life and soul into one of Europe’s most beautiful hotels to appeal to today’s cosmopolitan, sophisticated traveller.

London-based interior design studio Goddard Littlefair recently restored the Hilton Imperial hotel in Dubrovnik, injecting golden-age glamour into one of Europe’s most beautiful and historic venues.

Originally built in 1890, the hotel sits just above Dubrovnik’s old town and hosted a wealth of success in the early 20th century, serving the great Mediterranean cruise liners docking in the city. Then called The Grand Hotel Imperial, it had a French Riviera feel and the glamorous cachet of an international clientele. The hotel was a roaring success for many decades before it was shelled during the Yugoslav war and then used to house refugees. It was brought back to life in 2005, however costly building works meant that the interior wasn’t the main priority at the time.

Goddard Littlefair pitched and won the commission to restore the hotel towards the end of 2016 for a phased set of redesign works. The completed areas include the reception and lobby, lobby lounge, Imperial Bar, Executive Lounge, all connecting and guest-room corridors and all of the hotel’s 149 standard and executive rooms and nine suites. A refurbishment of the hotel’s existing restaurant Porat on the lower ground floor will follow in the next few years.

Goddard Littlefair interior designer Jana Novakovic, tells darc: “Our initial brief was to unlock the true potential of the four-storey hotel’s spectacular location, architecture, reputation and history. Two phases were completed over the course of eighteen months with a third phase including the restaurant on the lower ground floor set to complete in 2020.

“We were very fortunate on this project that the client’s aspirations and ours were in sync from the outset. The brief and concept stayed true and pure throughout. The building and location have a very strong pre-existing character and our aspirations were to reference this throughout the entirety of the project.”

Novakovic continues: “The main challenge was how to respect the hotel’s incredible history, both alluding to and recreating its glamorous heritage whilst ensuring it had a thoroughly contemporary sophistication.”

The team’s inspiration lay in bringing back the romance of the hotel’s former glories and layering glamour into each individual space by means of a Riviera palette, soft detailing, a 1920s yachting influence and subtle evocation of the hotel’s original elegance, all balanced with clean and contemporary lines.

“Our concept referenced the glamour of the 1950s and 60s travel lifestyle,” says Novakovic. “Mediterranean cruises and tours; the grand hotels and iconic summer scenes of convertible cars, sunglasses and flowing dresses.”

Goddard Littlefair worked with dpa lighting consultants to oversee the scheme as he felt that lighting was a crucial way to bring their vision for the hotel to life.

Novakovic tells darc: “Glass is always a major element in our lighting designs because of the extra magic it can bring, whether that’s natural light shining through it in the day time, creating a sense of grandeur or arrival in key spaces or dimming the lights to suit the mood for cocktails at night.”

The team channelled the architectural elements of the building to inspire the lighting designs and ensure they were always in keeping with the overall 1950s glamour sensibility.

Guests enter into the double height reception to find a series of eleven bespoke lanterns hung amidst tall arched windows and cool ceramic flooring. Designed by Goddard Littlefair and produced by Croatian lighting company Dekor, these chandeliers are repeated down the corridor, linking the spaces back to the reception. All of these details give the grand entrance a medieval feeling that is very appropriate to Dubrovnik’s history.

“The lanterns make up a spectacular eleven-part central chandelier made up of sculptural globe-shaped and antiqued brass pendant lights, hanging from chains in rows of three on antiqued brass rods,” continues Novakovic. “Each individual pendant light within the chandelier houses seven ribbed glass tubes concealing light sources. The ribbed glass matches seven bespoke vertical wall lights in the reception’s waiting area.”

The medieval history inspired the team to continue those chandeliers down through the corridor that leads from the reception to the lounge and bar areas. They hung a further seven sculptural and antiqued brass lights identical to the ones used in the reception’s lighting feature.

Moving through to the lobby lounge, Imagin produced the area’s bespoke chandelier, which was inspired by 1950s flowering swimming caps. It features cascading opaque glass petal shapes set on a brass framework and some are even detailed with a gold perimeter. Wall lights in the space are identical to those in the reception waiting area, featuring ribbed, cylindrical glass surrounds.

Meanwhile, the Imperial Bar is scattered with decorative lighting details that capture its pronounced Deco feel, inspired by the arched windows and hotel surroundings. Firstly, the room features a bespoke, six-armed chandelier in brass with spherical opal glass shades designed by Goddard Littlefair and manufactured by Dekor as well.

“Here the lighting was pared back in order to bring attention to the bar, which really comes to life through back-lit ribbed panels on the back bar and a soft spotlight on the bespoke mosaic bar front,” continues Novakovic.

Elsewhere in the Imperial Bar, there’s an illuminated surround screen featuring brass shelving and fretwork panels set within its side arches and across its top section, where LED lights are also concealed. There’s a glass lightbox along the rear bar wall as well, featuring backlit ribbed glass, set within a brass framework that brings a decorative background illumination to the space.

Beyond the Imperial Bar is the Executive Lounge, a quiet breakaway zone for the hotel’s executive guests with a more spare and contemporary feel. The major lighting feature of this space is a bespoke four-part brass ring chandelier with crystal elements and inset LED lights, also designed by Goddard Littlefair and made by British manufacturer Northern Lights. The LED strip emphasises the many small crystal elements circling each ring.

The linking corridors between the various suites, executive and standard rooms also feature bespoke wall lights, again designed by Goddard Littlefair and produced by Dekor. They feature a brass finish with layered bronze plates to announce each room via a cut out number in the front plate.

The look and feel of each guest room is light and fresh with bedside lights fixed to panels featuring a geometric leaf print on linen with antique brass, also made by Dekor. The bespoke floor lights have metal bases finished in bronze with softly-curved geometric shades in ivory linen. Some rooms also feature a fully metal, slightly shorter floor light with a hemispherical rounded head and the hotel bathrooms feature bespoke wall lights as well.

Taking a closer look at the suite guest rooms, they feature bespoke four-armed chandeliers suspended on a chain with a linen shade. They also have table lamps with faux-leather wrapped brown bases, linen shades and a contrast trim along the bottom in dark brown.

Despite the complexity of the various decorative lighting elements, the hotel’s structure worked in Goddard Littlefair’s favour, helping the team to achieve the decorative lighting scheme they wanted. Novakovic continues: “We were lucky to have the ceiling reinforced with a strong pattress, which was capable of holding the full weight of the lobby lounge chandelier. In terms of the LED drivers, we integrated these into the light fittings as much as possible.”

The hotel also has an abundance of natural light flooding in through the large windows, which rendered it a bright and airy space from the outset.

“This was especially important in this design because of the proximity to the sea and the need for a relaxed, refreshing summer atmosphere,” says Novakovic. “The lighting scheme was designed to complement and enhance this, but also to create the right evening atmosphere in each space.”

The final result evoking the long hot summer of twentieth century Croatia is as true to the original scheme as the Goddard Littlefair team could have hoped for.

Novakovic tells darc: “We are very happy to say that the feedback on this project has been overwhelmingly positive, which is how we felt as a team as soon as we saw the space coming together. It’s very gratifying to see the original intent come to life quite so perfectly!”

This project was particularly special for Novakovic, as she continues: “I have family from Croatia and speak the language. I was able to communicate with the local team in Croatian, using technical vocabulary related to design, which was a first for me! The team on this project was great. Everyone’s effort was noticeable from the beginning and clearly paid off.”

The Grand Hotel Imperial was Dubrovnik’s first modern hotel and the first to have electric lighting. Now with its restored interior and fresh lighting scheme, made possible thanks to a fruitful collaboration between Goddard Littlefair and dpa lighting consultants, its history has been restored in all its glory. From antique chandeliers to 1950s swimming cap references, the hotel’s story is now embedded in its design for all future visitors to get a golden-age taste of one of Europe’s most historic hotels.

www.goddardlittlefair.comwww.dpalighting.com