Basque in the Beauty

International architecture and interiors practice, Red Deer has completely redesigned the iconic central Bilbao institution, Hotel Ercilla, restoring the building to its original glory as a landmark venue in the Spanish city.

Dating back to the 1970s, a purpose-built hotel in Bilbao, Hotel Ercilla was the go-to destination for every celebrity visiting the Basque region. Honoring the grandeur of the 1970s and 80s in all its brashness and observing the hotel’s own unique heritage, Red Deer has interlinked history and design through the concept ‘Vintage Glamour the Bilbao Way.’ For this ambitious brief, Red Deer created a color and texture palette straight out of the era. Incorporating ochre, crème, chrome, pink, burgundy and dark blue, vibrant splashes of tweeds, houndstooth and dogtooth were added to construct a bold geometric effect and reference Bilbao’s own strong trade history with Britain as an industrial port city, alongside a softer feel created through velvets and sumptuous faux furs in true 1970s style.

While Hotel Ercilla has a strong bond to Bilbao and its residents, the building also holds a deeply personal connection for Red Deer itself. The redesign was overseen by Cofounder Lionel Real de Azúa, who is himself of Basque origin. Each time he traveled from the airport to the hotel, he would pass by his family village which resonated with him strongly. So, Hotel Ercilla acts as not just a homecoming for Bilbao but for Red Deer, the international architecture and interiors practice whose passion for local design and history brings it firmly back to life.

“Like all of the projects we work on at Red Deer, we get our inspiration from what is around us and particularly around where we are working, wherever it may be in the world,” Real de Azúa said. “For example, for Hotel Ercilla, we did a lot of walking through the city, the Casco Viejo and particularly ‘Cafe Bar Bilbao,’ which has been the cultural hub of Bilbao for over a century and like Hotel Ercilla is a truly iconic venue in the city.”

In keeping with an ongoing core commitment to sustainability, Red Deer concertedly maintained and restored a significant proportion of the original furniture and finishes within the 13-story building, further celebrating the history of the site. Locally sourced oak paneling was also added along with travertine (a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs) and an abundance of chrome. Frosted geometric globe lights throughout the building add an atmospheric almost cinematic quality that completes Red Deer’s contemporary reinterpretation of Hotel Ercilla’s past, returning the hotel solidly to its former glory.

“Basque history is very politically charged so we wanted to focus on the more benign sides of its history,” Real de Azúa said. “We also tried to reuse and refurbish as many of the original features and furnishings as possible both in terms of sustainability but to continue celebrating its heritage.”

The concept ‘Vintage Glamour the Bilbao Way,’ was created alongside the brand and design agency, 0120, who created the visual branding for the revamped Hotel Ercilla and who in true collaborative form share a workspace with Red Deer in their London offices.

The highlight of Red Deer’s design and of Hotel Ercilla overall is the wraparound roof terrace on the 13th floor. One of the only roof terraces in the city, it provides panoramic views of Bilbao. With a lounge and bar operating both in and outside, the terrace looks set to become a destination for concerts, screenings and DJs.

“It’s about guests experiencing the golden years of the Bilbao high life. We wanted it to be somewhere where anything could happen. You could go from having a business meeting one moment to cocktails with incredibly interesting people the next. The design is sumptuous and decadent to reflect this,” Real de Azúa said.

The ambitious brief sees Red Deer totally transform the previously tired, staid building that Hotel Ercilla had become. From the 1990s onwards, little work had taken place on the design resulting in an incoherently brought together mixture of styles and influences. Recognizing the different values and needs of the contemporary traveler, Red Deer consolidated the previous 325 bedrooms into 285 and placed the focus more on the social hubs of Hotel Ercilla, which remains a family-owned establishment. In addition to the splendor of the rooftop lounge and bar with terrace is a 108 cover bar/lounge along with a reception, elaborate powder room and a number of conference and function rooms located on the lower ground floor; a breakfast room and gym on the first floor; and 285 bedrooms divided into five types—Stylish, Stylish City View, Vintage, Vintage Premium and Suites.