It’s been hidden from public eyes for more than a hundred years. But in a few weeks time, the former Old War Office in London, Whitehall will finally open its doors after a multi-million-dollar transformation.
Previously home to the operations of military leaders like Winston Churchill, the property has been reinvented as the UK’s first Raffles hotel, with luxurious rooms starting at £1,100 (around $1,392) per night.
Featuring 120 rooms and suites, a 600-person ballroom and London’s first ever Guerlain-brand spa, Raffles London at The OWO, a collaboration with the late French architect Thierry Despont, is one of this year’s most highly anticipated hotel openings.
The building also happens to be the location where British writer Ian Fleming came up with the idea for the James Bond spy novels while working as a British Naval Intelligence Officer.
Fans of 007 may recognize some areas of the property, which was used as a filming location in more recent movies in the franchise like “Spectre,” as well as older ones such as “Octopussy,” and “Licence to Kill.”
But why has it taken the Raffles hotel brand, established by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, in 1887 and named after Sir Stamford Raffles, considered the founder of modern Singapore, so long to come to the UK capital?
Originally completed in 1906, the landmark building has undergone an eight-year renovation that saw hundreds of artisans drafted in to restore historic elements, including oak paneling and hand laid mosaic flooring.
And according to Jill O’Hare, director of sales and marketing for Raffles London, there was as much restoration as there was construction during the extensive process of transforming the historic building into a luxury hotel.
Steeped in history
The grand marble staircase lined with red carpet with the original logo from the Old War Office is among the original Edwardian features within the property, and undoubtedly one of its most eye-catching and Instagram friendly features.
A huge custom-made chandelier hangs directly above it, while a stunning gold French clock hangs on the wall.
Original cobblestones have been painstakingly removed, restored and returned to the inner courtyard, which separates the hotel from the 85 residences that form part of the building.
Meanwhile, the one-time Spies Entrance, previously used by agents, is now the main entry point for residents of luxurious Raffles-branded homes, where prices for a two-bedroom residence begin at around $11.48 million.
“It’s giving a new life to a building that has existed since 1906,” adds Leboeuf. “It was sitting there empty, costing money. So it’s a nice conversion.”
While there are countless nods to the building’s history everywhere you look, including curtains with military buttons, the hotel also incorporates modern elements, such as rooms featuring bathrooms with televisions.
The hotel’s five heritage suites consist of the two-bedroom Churchill suite, formerly the Army Council Room, and the one-bedroom Granville suite, named after celebrated Polish agent Christine Granville (also known as Krystyna Skarbek), with a huge bathroom complete with a freestanding bathtub and a custom built walk-in shower.
Raffles is known for its impeccable service, and the team at Raffles London says its pulling out all the stops to ensure that the hotel, which has a 24-hour butler service for its suites, lives up to the brand’s longstanding reputation.
“There are a lot of top hotels in London,” adds Leboeuf. “And we have to reestablish ourselves in our service.
“To have a beautiful building is something, but we must also have service that goes with that.”
The building itself encompasses three bars and nine restaurants, with five, including signature restaurants from Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco based in the hotel.
A rooftop restaurant and sake bar by Japanese chef Endo Kazutoshi is scheduled to open at the property later this year.
Meanwhile, the Guerlain spa, which extends across four of the hotels 14 floors (seven above ground and seven below,) holds nine treatment rooms including a salon, beauty treatment spaces, couple suites and a 20-meter swimming pool, a vitality pool and steam and sauna rooms.
The hotel’s stunning ballroom, which can be booked for parties, weddings and corporate events, is already in high demand.
While Raffles London is one of a number of new hotels launching in London this year, including The Peninsula London and the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, Leboeuf feels that the location and the history of the building set it apart.
Although Whitehall, which extends from Trafalgar Square to the Houses of Parliament, is known for government buildings rather than luxury hotels, the opening of the five-star Corinthia Hotel London on Whitehall Place in 2011, has led to something a change on this front.
“Ten years ago, it was an area of typical government buildings and a bit quiet. But I think it’s developing in a very positive way,” says Leboeuf, noting that London’s first Waldorf Astoria property is set to open near Trafalgar Square in 2025.
“To be opposite Horse Guards Parade, the official entrance to Buckingham Palace. You can’t pick a better place.
“It isn’t just a hotel. It’s an entire destination. Which other place can you [stay at] where Ian Fleming worked and had the inspiration for James Bond?”
Raffles London at The OWO opens on Friday September 29.