Enlisting the expertise of two Paris-based design studios, Hotel Eden in Rome has undergone an extensive 18-month renovation that boosts its legendary status
In a city home to some of the most striking examples of architecture in Europe – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Vatican City – it can be hard to stand out. But the Dorchester Collection's relaunch of Hotel Eden manages to breathe new life into a building while holding on to the very essence of it. Situated in the beating heart of Rome between the Villa Medici and Palazzo Barberini, the hotel – built in the 1800s – offers a mesmerising panorama of the Eternal City, which general manager Luca Virgilio describes as "a timeless destination".Over an 18-month stretch – Rome wasn't built in a day, after all – extensive renovations were undertaken by Claire Bétaille and Bruno Moinard of Paris-based 4BI & Associés, together with industrial designer Patrick Jouin and architect Sanjit Manku of Jouin Manku, also based in the French capital. The former were tasked with refreshing nearly 100 guest rooms and suites adjacent to the lobby and meeting rooms, while the latter were asked to create a vibrant food and drink concept and the hotel's first urban spa and blow-dry bar. In recognition of the building's heritage, each of the four designers was instructed to preserve the spirit of the property.
It was a very delicate renovation of a mythic place, and we had to act as surgeons to preserve its unspoiled nature and breathe a more contemporary spirit into it
One of the new-look Hotel Eden's biggest draws may well be its capacious guest rooms: the revamp has seen the number of rooms reduced from 121 to 98, with classic rooms starting at 28sqm (300sqf). Once home to Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, the Aurora Terrace Suite still features a 120sqm (1,300sqf ) terrace with dining area for 10 and, like all the rooms, retains its vintage charm. As Moinard says, "When you enter a bedroom you should really feel you are in Rome."
The Villa Medici Presidential Suite has a similarly illustrious past, hosting guests including John F Kennedy. It has its own cocktail bar and balconies from every window where guests can gaze at the city's everchanging light… and, once done, shut the windows with the swipe of an iPad.
Recognising that modern guests expect some serious pampering, the renovation has added the Roman bathinspired Eden Spa, which only permits a maximum of four guests at any one time to its three suites, blow-dry bar and manicure/pedicure suite. In the same vein is fine-dining restaurant La Terrazza on the top floor, where a 'fresco' glass wall designed by Jouin Manku is made of layers of treated glass. All day-dining restaurant Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar features an abstract vertical garden juxtaposed against that view.
And one can imagine Italian luxury brands clamouring to host a meeting at Sala Borghese, with distinctive dramatic red walls, classical furniture and original period paintings. Having collaborated with the Dorchester Collection in 2011 on the renovation of Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, 4BI & Associés were already familiar with the luxury hotel group. "There was a desire to make this hotel the most Roman, a palace in the heart of town but a home for guests; while for the Plaza Athénée, the purpose was to change everything without changing anything," says Bruno Moinard, founder of the practice.
"It was a very delicate renovation of a mythic place, and we had to act as surgeons to preserve its unspoiled nature and breathe a more contemporary spirit into it. Eden offered us a more expressive opportunity, because a new Eden was expected."
Indeed, the building needed a complete structural overhaul from a technical and spatial point of view – only the shell has been kept. "However, in this area of town, above the Piazza di Spagna, every building is protected and can potentially hide a treasure. So, we've been very respectful in our approach, searching, for example, for the original colour of the facade," says Moinard. The studio has also equipped the rooms with a host of contemporary touches that will no doubt be appreciated by modern travellers, such as master-controlled lighting and climate control, Bang & Olufsen TVs and an iPad for in-room services.
Inspiration for the project came from the city itself. Moinard describes Rome as a living museum. "From the Roman Forum down the hill to the Villa Medici in front of the hotel, which hosts artists from around the world, creation is still very active. We took much inspiration from these amazing monuments without doing a pastiche of the past. We drew a pattern for some rugs inspired by the original mosaics recently discovered in the baths of Caracalla, and some trompe-l'oeil paintings drawn from the Palazzo Farnese frescos."
The studio is particularly proud of the entrance lobby, where the black-and-white marble patterns pay tribute to the very graphic floor of the Pantheon and are juxtaposed against a gold ceiling and huge carved marble desks. The bedrooms are described as "luminous and bright as the Roman light". Wardrobes are conceived as large trunks and lined with patterned fabric to offer guests a pop of colour when they hang up their clothes.
As for the final result, the design duo like to think of it as a noble family house, a timeless piece of architecture
But the most precious detail of all is probably the bathroom marble, which was carved in the town of Pietrasanta in Tuscany, which is celebrated for its expert marble-work. Statuario marble is sculpted around the bathtub and vanity unit in a large round curve, as per the magnificent basins of the Roman fountains. As for the final result, the design duo like to think of it as a noble family house, a timeless piece of architecture.