Understated opulence

The Prague Post

Mandarin Hotel impresses with sophistication and restraint

Connoisseurs of five-star opulence have a reason to rejoice with the opening of the city’s newest luxury property, the Mandarin Oriental Prague.

“This isn’t just another hotel,” says Katerina Pavlitová, Mandarin’s director of public relations. “It has a lot of charm and character.”

Much of that character comes from the building itself. Originally a 14th-century Dominican monastery, it was used more recently as a printing house. The building was empty and derelict when it was purchased by Finartis, the Swiss-based financial group that still owns it; Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is the operator. Subsequent negotiations, approvals and reconstruction took five years.

“It’s probably one of the best-researched sites in the city,” Pavlitová says. “We worked very closely with the preservation office, and actually ended up being glad for some of their demands, as it made the hotel more authentic.”

The complex shares space with the Czech Museum of Music, and in some places is built around it. The hotel’s Baroque wing and Renaissance and spa buildings are part of the original structure. Rooms were added inside the courtyard.

“It’s an interesting but frustrating layout,” Pavlitová says. “It’s a labyrinth of levels, and each room is unique in shape and size.”

The design was done by two firms. London-based KCA Interiors did the guest rooms, while Sporer Plus handled the public spaces. In discussions after the work was complete, both offered interesting insights about the project. Khuan Chew of KCA Interiors describes the final results as “”understated Czech charm.””

Sporer Plus’ Klaus Sporer focused on form in designing the public spaces. He says a contrast was important — no round shapes in furniture under a vaulted ceiling, for example. He also focused on lighting to accentuate the historical shapes of the rooms.

The entrance leads immediately to a large courtyard, with the entrance to the hotel proper straight ahead and the spa entrance on the right. “”It’s not a connected complex,”” explains Pavlitová. “”But there’s an underground passage from the main building to the spa so guests don’t have to go outside.””

The spa building is the oldest structure in the complex. It was originally a Gothic church, parts of which are now visible through a glass floor in the entryway. Otherwise, the space has been kept as authentic as possible. Cement walls and brushed-red tile flooring add authenticity to the frescoes that were also discovered during the renovation. They’ve been uncovered, but not recolored.

There are guest rooms above the spa that are a bit smaller than those in the main part of the hotel but have their own unique touches. Wooden beams in the hallways and rooms create a rustic, cozy look that pairs well with the understated elegance.

One of Sporer’s goals was to work modern design elements into the rooms while using a historic design in the newly built rooms. As Pavlitová says, “”Nothing that is new pretends to be old.””

In keeping with the building’s history as a monastery, the architects incorporated windows high on many of the walls, nearly to the ceiling. This is a Dominican architectural characteristic, and it beautifies and brightens many of the public spaces, including the Grand Ballroom.

The lobby is relatively simple, with white and gold tones coloring an area flooded with natural light from a large skylight. The space is long, narrow and straightforward, with light-gray tile running throughout the hotel.

The lobby bar, Barego, offers a striking departure from the rest of the hotel’s understated sophistication. The furnishings are basic and classic: small leather chairs grouped around low round tables the colors of moss and maroon. But the lighting is strikingly modern, with bright colors and a backlit bar lined with shelves of liquor bottles.

Just past the bar is the restaurant, Essensia. The space is actually five interconnected but separate dining areas, giving diners a sense of intimate coziness. Arched or vaulted ceilings, simple colors and wooden tables decorated with woven runners offer quiet, relaxed dining. Downstairs, a wine cellar is being built.

Bonsai trees and orchids decorate the restaurant and bring a touch of the Orient to the hotel, which, despite its name, isn’t dominated by Asian design. “”Mandarin Oriental believes each property should have its own character and identity,”” Pavlitová explains.

The rooms offer a pleasant mixture of modern conveniences and simple pleasures. Wooden floors covered by brown carpeting dominate. The bedding is royal blue and red, but, as always, the colors are muted. Wooden furnishings with brass accents complete the décor. The bathrooms are of polished limestone with black marble sinks and heated floors. There are at least two flat-screen LCD television sets in every room, one in the sleeping area and another in the bathroom.

Another unique touch typical of the Mandarin is the “do not disturb” and “please make up this room” door-hangers. Here, they are large tassels, red for the former, gold for the latter.

The art on the walls was specially commissioned. It features a mix of Czech and German artists, and the majority of the subject matter reflects Prague.

“The concept is a classic, modern look with subtle Asian touches,” Pavlitová says.

With its off-white walls, simple lines, muted colors and natural touches, the Mandarin Oriental offers an opulent experience without the fuss.