Room with a view

A luxury apartment feel, plus views across Dubai, define the rooms and suites at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City. By Stuart Matthews.

The Presidential Suite at the InterContinental hotel in Dubai Festival City
The Presidential Suite at the InterContinental hotel in Dubai Festival City

A luxury apartment feel, plus views across Dubai, define the rooms and suites at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City.

Sitting at the top of Dubai's creek, amid the still developing Dubai Festival City, the InterContinental Hotel is in a prime position to observe the rest of Dubai. From the windows of the hotel, guests can see the flickering skyline of Sheikh Zayed Road and watch the boats come and go on the creek below them.

Behind those windows are rooms not only with a view, but with a different perspective on the way hotel guests like to use them. The changing relationship between the hotel guest and their room has influenced the design. Research, including that by interior design firm GA Design, indicates that guests are spending more time in hotel bathrooms.

"Our research shows us that the bathroom has developed much more of a focus for the guest as a primary use, particularly when there is a view like this to make the most of," said Terry McGinnity, executive director of GA Design.

"Guests tend to dawdle and spend more time in bathrooms the more you open them up. The old way, with the bath at the back and no real windows, has been discounted as the desired approach for top end hotels. We're desperately trying to open up our rooms as much as possible, so you feel more comfortable and spend more time in them as a consequence."

McGinnity sees the spa market as one of the biggest profit centres in hotels, as opposed to gym market, which is relatively static, and thinks growth in the spa sector has created a desire for pampering among the travelling business community too. In turn, this has resulted in greater attention being given to bathrooms. The shift in the use of space is leading to a change in the way it is designed.

In speaking about the rooms at the InterContinental, McGinnity says the design is about the relationship of space and the doubling up of spaces. The rooms use focus points and the flow between them to enhance the feeling of space. The result, says McGinnity, is rooms that are more open and enticing.

"We tried to bring in an inventive use of space, with better flow and less of a hotel feel to it," said Terry McGinnity, executive director of GA Design. "We wanted to try a more inventive use of space, which is particularly evident in the standard rooms.

"We make them more inviting and then we try to layer it and get more complexity in the space," he said. "Rather than go from room to room, we really like the idea that you can almost open up and drift through the spaces.

Open spaces are achieved thanks to a clever combination of folding and sliding doors, which mean that the room and the large bathroom can all be opened up into one space around a central services core, or closed off to provide privacy in the bathroom. Sliding doors can even create a small hall area by the room's entrance, which means room service can be delivered without staff entering the room. Having this flexibility built into the design enables the rooms to accommodate all cultures.

We used a lot of deep recessed doors, which are basically fold back panels," said McGinnity. "In the open position you just don't read the doors as you're walking through clean arches. The brief from the client was about this idea of a grand house/apartment, which is why we brought in details to give the design a more homely touch.

These touches include dark timber shelving for books and magazines, which also help keep the rooms free of clutter. The rooms are accessorised with books and homewares to help create a relaxed home environment. The overall style was based on the client's visit to a hotel in Tokyo, also designed by GA Design. McGinnity describes it as being calm, with an understated sense of luxury.

"The client asked us to bring the style that we work with around the world into Dubai, as well as not to go into overly elaborate or ornate detailing.

This is seen in the use of high-gloss ebony and other rich materials, which have been employed as part of a simple palette. Grey marquino marble is combined with high-gloss lacquer macassar ebony and aframosia, a sustainable substitute for teak. Gloss lacquer also appears on the wardrobes, offering some reflectivity in the rooms, while flat-wrapped linen panelling is used on the walls.

During the project GA Design worked closely with Depa United Group, the fit out contractors. Depa manufactured the custom-designed furnishings and completed the interior fit out. With a tight programme, some of the interior work began while designs were being completed.

"In the guest rooms and suites everything was custom designed," said Nadim Akhrass, managing director - Operations for Depa. "We developed the designs into shop drawings and created a mock up for the designer to review and adjust, before going to mass production.

"We also manufactured the doors and wardrobes using Design Studio in Singapore, who also did the fit out of the fixed joinery."

Depa sourced the mix of timbers used in the room, as well as importing marble from Iran and Portugal, and carpets from Egypt.

A key feature of the rooms is in the bathrooms, where the faucets fill the bathtubs from the ceiling. This idea was conceived as a solution to a technical issue, but also created a feature of the rooms. As the pipes come from above, dropping water from the ceiling, avoiding the need to create ducts and run pipes around to fill the tubs conventionally.

"It's one of those features which people go away talking about because it is so unusual," said McGinnity. "It is slightly loud to begin with but as soon as the water starts to fill up it is all aerated to be soft and not splash.

Suite life

The design principles exercised in the rooms are also carried through to the suites, with the most obvious difference being the additional space.

"Obviously you have to maximise the space so it still has a grand impact, and guests read as much of the space as possible," said McGinnity.

"When designing the suites, you always try to up the ante a bit more. We generally don't like to downgrade our standard rooms in order to make a distinction, we like to move up a notch. We start with quite a strong product and try to make it better.

The suites also presented GA Design with a few challenges. The structure of the building creates a number of different floor plans, leading to quite a bit of variety among the suites.

"It was a challenge," said McGinnity. "Above a certain floor we really started going into a lot of variation. It was more difficult in one way, but it has advantages. We ended up with a lot of individual suites, so it does have a more personalised nature about it.

"For instance, in the presidential suite, where there is a very big bath with a floating island, you get an ancillary space that could be used as a make up area or for an exercise bike. The idea was that it could be the suite's own spa or gym, more living bathroom than just washing bathroom.

"That huge stone bath takes 45 minutes to fill. With an infinity edge to the view, it just adds to the idea of the spa environment, which makes it much more luxurious."

The suites are also designed in a way that emphasises the service role, for example a chef can cook in the room to prepare a guest's meal.

"The design means you can up the way you service a client," said McGinnity.

"Ideally you always try and do more and more, but we were very careful about some of these areas and about managing a budget to make sure we got a good product. I'm really happy with the standard room and the way that design flowed into the suites.

Some suite designs also reflect clever solutions to issues of layout and the more unusual spaces created by the design of the building. One example is a suite initially planned with two bedrooms. This was turned into one giant studio, with a large bed, floating curtains and a marble bath and kitchen area.

"It has a vanity that runs from the back to the front, right along the side wall through to the bath right in front of the bed," said McGinnity. "Little things like that are really exciting, but just layout issues that make the space work better. The result is a quirky suite, which will always be in demand.

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