Moorish details

Wilson Associates brings a Moroccan touch to Old Town Dubai in the newly launched Palace hotel.


Nestling in the shadow of its towering neighbour, the Burj Dubai, is the latest Arabic-inspired hospitality project proffered by Wilson Associates. Straddling the genres of business hotel and family resort, the hotel perfectly combines the two categories. Surrounded by man-made canals and waterways, the hotel will eventually be linked to the Burj Dubai and Dubai Mall by water taxis, in a similar vein to the Madinat Jumeirah.

It is this detail on the master plan that separates the Palace from other business hotels in the city. Lori Campbell, senior designer, Wilson Associates agrees this is what sets the Palace's suites apart from other guestrooms in Dubai: "The fact that every bedroom in the hotel has a fascinating water view of either the Burj Dubai Lake or The Old Town Island, adds to the 'resort in a city' feel and is designed to appeal to both business travellers and families."

The corporate amenities in the guestrooms makes it easy to work in the room as the dressing table doubles as a desk contributing to the multi-purpose feel.

The original design brief from the client was to create an upscale resort that mixed Arabic and Western styles and incorporated the modern Moroccan touch. Campbell tells CID how she was inspired by European Morocco, not Kasbah. "The simplicity of the furniture and the clean lines used throughout the hotel is characteristic of contemporary Morocco that is influenced by European trends, which can be seen in details throughout the hotel."

In the Deluxe Suites the wall-coverings are high quality woven imitation linen from Goodridge Global's JM Lynne, while the carpet is called Cartesian from the US-based firm Masland. It is a contemporary interpretation of the tradition Moroccan style rugs popular within the Berber culture of North Africa.

For the lighting Campbell specified fixtures from a selection of manufacturers including Boyd Lighting, Dessin Fournir, IGuzzini and Chelsom UK. The art and accessories were originally specified from a number of sources including Graphis Art and Eastern Fusion Art, with the final order going to Greenart. For the upholstery, a variety of fabric suppliers were used, but the original specification for the curtains was a sumptuous material called Raffles Wilman by Singaporean firm TD Fabrics.

As Wilson Associates has designed over a million guest rooms worldwide its winning formula includes attention to detail in the bathrooms, with an increasing amount of its bathrooms being integrated into the guestrooms. In hotels like the Park Hyatt the bathrooms are extensions of the bedroom by creating a semi-open barrier wall, whereas in the new ski chalets at the Kempinski the bathtubs are open to the rest of space, being essentially in the bedroom. In the Palace, subtler ways of inclusion are implemented, as Campbell explains: "We have installed speakers in the bathroom and if you open the bathroom door the TV is angled so that you can see it in the mirrored wardrobe doors. Not many people know that but it is a deliberate design detail!"

She continues: "We have installed double sinks in each guest room - we always try to have a double sink in our hotel rooms as it is in line with the trends for residential interiors and by duplicating this feel in hotels it makes the guest more comfortable. We also opted for a large bathtub and shower. We felt that in a resort hotel you have more leisure time to relax and so these details are important."

The suites have interesting spatial layouts with the three Royal Suites all having circular balconies and a designated office section situated off the lounge. This study area has custom-made lighting in a Moroccan style from Fine Art Lamps sourced from the US by Four Seasons Gallery, Dubai. In addition, the art and accessories in this office space have been deliberately chosen for their masculine attributes. The original art is again supplied by the Four Seasons Gallery.

All the furniture items in the suites are custom-made, mainly using medium to dark walnut veneers, some with Arabic patterns inlaid into the wood. Accessories and artifacts that were bought on visits to Morocco complemented the furniture. Campbell says: "We wanted to retain a level of authenticity in the design and so having original Moroccan pieces was vital."

Campbell's favourite part of the suite design is also one of the most authentic - the mushrabiya screens. "All the patterns on the carved screens are based on historical designs from a museum book we have in our resource library. We then made them from cherry wood that is dark stained to look like medium-dark walnut. Cherry is a very hard wood but easy to get fine carving out of." The screens are then backlit with energy-saving bulbs, which emits less heat than ordinary bulbs, making them ideal for use in this climate.

The Imperial Suite is yet to be handed over to the client, as the finishing touches are still being sourced and placed. The huge suite encompasses two floors, and the division of space was decided by the architect, to allow the greatest flexibility as it can be used as one big four bedroom suite, with two lounges and dining areas, or divided into two, or even four separate suites. Two staircases with intricately carved spindles flank the entrance foyer. Campbell says: "We originally had an ancient Arabic ironmongery pattern on the staircase but we substituted it for a design that could be produced locally. It evolved into a West meets Middle East intricate Arabic pattern in cast iron."

The suite is filled with unique one-off pieces, such as the door surround in the foyer, which is a period design dating from 1890's Georgian England. On the left side of the entrance there is a genuine antique door that would normally be entered from a side door of a Moroccan hammam.

On the top floor of the suite is a striking sideboard sourced by Four Seasons Gallery, which has five woods inlaid into it: Cherry, maple, walnut, oak and teak, with very intricate marquetry on the front. Moroccan inlaid boxes with detailed woodwork are dotted around the suite as well.

In the entrance area the ceiling is a hand-painted pattern in gold, silver and pewter leaf, while some of the walls are cleverly used to increase volume and depth by mirrors substituting wallpaper in the lower half of the wall. The lighting is based on a handcrafted Wilsons design and made by Preciosa in an antique nickel that will be applied by hand and adorned with delicate silk lampshades. The curtains are made from commercial silk and the sofa fabric is an opulent mohair/wool mix, both sourced from TD Fabrics in Singapore. The base colour scheme throughout the suite includes hues of muted gold and copper with accent colours of blue and red to tie in with a Persian feel.

By fusing modern interpretations of Moroccan classics with traditional handicrafts, Wilson Associates has created yet another striking hospitality project in the heart of Dubai's brand new Old Town.

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