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Modern Opulence

Known for its lush gardens, which help create a private getaway feel despite its prime Los Angeles location, the Hotel Bel-Air recently underwent a comprehensive, two-year renovation designed to modernize the hotel while preserving much of its original look and feel.

Originally opened in 1946, the hotel is now owned and operated by the Dorchester Collection and had the benefit of two internationally renowned design firms—Champalimaud and The Rockwell Group—for the redo. Jon Kastl, senior associate designer, Champalimaud, describes the hotel as a “Spanish Mission style, urban oasis.” He also added it “was in serious need of a renovation,” not having been updated since the ’90s. 

Kastl further added of the objective, “We needed to get it in line with where Dorchester sees their properties,” he said. Dorchester’s other holdings include the Dorchester London, the Beverly Hills Hotel and The New York Palace, to name a few. “It is a very fabled hotel and it needed to expand the [number of] guestrooms to compete with the market,” he said. 

He also noted the scope of renovation, which eventually totaled roughly $100 million, was initially smaller. Champalimaud was originally brought in to do the interiors for some 30 guestrooms and a new spa building, and then the decision was made to shutter the hotel and update all the rooms, which now includes 58 guestrooms and 45 suites spread throughout the property’s 12 acres. “They said we’d rather close the property and get it back up and open [more quickly],” said Kastl.

One of the key objectives of the new design was to marry the Hotel Bel-Air’s unique outdoor experience—which includes its signature Swan Lake near the entrance—with the indoors, particularly in the guestrooms. “There was a move to bring the exterior into the room. The gardens were a touchstone for the property,” he said.

The hotel features Spanish Colonial architecture splashed in “Bel-Air Pink” and harkens back to the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, which is presented through an eclectic selection of furnishings and colors. Champalimaud set the design style for most of the interiors and exteriors, including a new reception, boutique and lobby lounge, as well as all guestrooms, 12 new hillside accommodations, La Prairie Spa and three Loft guestrooms located within the new spa building. The Rockwell Group, meanwhile, redesigned the restaurant/bar and meeting rooms. Kastl described the exterior of the property, saying “the building envelopes Spanish, southern California style. We kept to that aesthetic…the guestrooms became a bit more sophisticated.”

The guestrooms feature signature limestone floors and natural wood ceilings with rich finishes and textures. They also include wood-burning fireplaces and private garden patios. In addition, the 12 new contemporary hillside guestrooms and suites offer sweeping Canyon views, expansive retractable glass walls, outdoor fireplaces and spacious decks with private infinity-edge spa pools. 

In the lobby, Kastl explained, “We wanted to create a great southern California living room.” The firm introduced a series of arched openings, and in terms of color, greys and creams were used, in addition to a wood floor and honey-colored area rugs. “At the core of the lobby is a fireplace,” he added.

New to the hotel is a 12,000-sq.-ft. building featuring a new fitness studio, three Loft guestrooms with open floor plans, double-sided fireplaces and dramatically high ceilings, as well as the brand new 4,134-sq.-ft. spa by La Prairie with seven treatment rooms, including a private couple’s room with outdoor patio.

When asked about the challenges associated with the project, Kastl referred back to the property’s long history. “The biggest challenge was touching an iconic property that people hold so dearly, they don’t want you to do anything,” he said, but feels they came up with a design that will last “for the next 15 to 20 years.”