Snow and sun

The recently launched ski chalets at the Kempinski Dubai boasts a traditional Alpine design with a modern Wilson's twist.

The inimitable vista of Ski Dubai
The inimitable vista of Ski Dubai

Dubai is a city with tens of thousands of hotel rooms on architects' drawing boards across the world. Every operator aims to make their hotel that little bit different by utilising every unusual component or unique element they can muster. The Kempinski always had an enviable location as the sole hotel attached to the Mall of the Emirates and a view across Umm Suqueim to the Arabian Gulf beyond. But with the launch of its ski chalets which boast a dual aspect across the suburban desertscape on one side and the glistening snow of Ski Dubai on the other, a new niche has been formed, one which no other operator can rival.

Singapore-based Wilson & Associates designed the whole of the hotel, and this latest phase to open signals a slight deviation to the rest of the hotel's design concept. Design director, Leonard Lee explains: "The Kempinski had a clear idea when they were building this hotel that they wanted some ski chalet rooms that embodied the traditional feel of a ski lodge, but I didn't want the design of these ski rooms to be a massive step away from the rest of the hotel which is very contemporary."

For his concept, he took a basic idea of a European ski chalet but contemporised it. "I think I drew a lot of inspiration from the very modern ski resorts in the States." The unusual situation of the ski chalets, where one feature window faces the ski slope and the other faces the swimming pool and the desert and sea beyond, had a large impact on Lee's design choices: "With the large contrast outside, I wanted to create a contrast of materials inside. I used highly textured walls, which are very rough and catch the light very beautifully, playing with the shadows. Then I introduced very smooth surfaces, with slate to give it a contrast of rough finishes with clean straight edges."

The project architect, Holfords, faced logistical problems of combating subzero temperatures on one side of the room with occasional plus 50°C on the other, which demanded a complex insulation and fixed air conditioning program which reduced the risk of condensation. Other challenges for the interior designer, was the glare from the ski slope. Lee explains: "We were very concerned about the lighting, because the light from the ski slope is so intense, and the only way we could compensate for that would be to introduce a lot of warm lighting inside."

"Also, as the walls have a very rough surface it allowed a lot of the lighting to bounce off and emphasis the texture of the wall. We introduced softer ambient lighting with chandeliers and lanterns that help balance out the light levels." Most of the lighting was custom made in Dubai, with some select pieces supplied by Murano Lighting.

To emphasise the ski chalet theme, an abundance of wood and wood-effects were used in the rooms with the majority of carpentry works carried out by Al Naboodah and Zenith Furniture Industry. In keeping with tradition, Lee opted to create an impressive wood-effect ceiling detail: "The overhead beams are purely decorative, they were supposed to be wood, but they are something else and cleverly disguised," he says.

Teak hardwood flooring gives the room a warm feel, and is complemented with a custom-made zig-zag design rug that Lee asserts is typical of the rug designs often used in ski chalets. Other carpet in the space was sourced from Hourhub carpet. The fabrics and drapery is TD fabric by Artelier Furnishings.

One interesting design aspect is the floor plan of the ski chalet suite; Lee has chosen to keep the bathroom very open to the rest of the suite, segregating only the toilet cubicle. In a similar way to Wilson's room layouts in Dubai's Park Hyatt, the bathroom is seen as an extension of the living space. Lee explains: "Integrating bathrooms into living spaces isn't a new thing, it began maybe three to four years ago, and it is still the trend now. I purposely didn't want to enclose the bathroom because in these ski chalet rooms, you have this utterly unique view of the ski slope, and so if you are lying in the bath you can fully utilise the view. The only time you lie in the bath is if you want a nice relaxing soak, most of the time you'll be using the shower, and so I see the bath as being used less often, which allows you to have a more open-plan fluid space. The bathtub then becomes more of a furniture piece in the bedroom."

This viewpoint certainly allows for more versatility in spatial layouts as Lee adds: "For bathrooms nowadays, the design is really exploding, it is no longer the basin, bath, shower, toilet configuration, the shower is normally now separated from your vanity area in a separate enclosure." He chose Sanipex to supply all the sanitary ware for the rooms.

Faced with such a unique concept; essentially designing ski chalets in the desert, Lee is pleased with the outcome: "I think the success of pulling the look together depended on the furniture and subtle but powerful light fittings to complete the whole design."

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