Jul 01, 2022
An iconic, heritage-listed building in the heart of Hamburg has been transformed into a luxurious apartment hotel, earning the design team behind the renovation worldwide acclaim.
Stroll through the wide double doors at the entrance to Fraser Suites Hamburg, into the beautiful lobby with its classic touches and refined atmosphere, its graceful staircases and luxury furnishings, and bear this in mind: not so long ago, this building was a tax office.Of course, it wasn’t just any tax office.
Completed in 1910 to the design of architect Albert Erbe, the home of the Hamburg tax authorities was always an impressive building in the heart of the city, with its imposing art nouveau exterior and its classical chassis.
Those features made the building ideal for the right designer with the right vision to transform it into a luxury apartment hotel. That person was Peter Joehnk, partner at leading Hamburg agency JOI-Design.
“We wanted to create a typical ‘Hamburg’ design in this traditional place,” says Joehnk, whose reimagining of the tax office as Fraser Suites Hamburg has now won his agency a whole swag of design awards.
“At the same time though, we wanted to show a transformation over time of the old building. Its strong features and its heritage-protected interiors had to be softened by moderate, modern pieces – and elements from the periods of time where the building had been renovated before. Like in a private house, we wanted to show the development of the place during the last 100 years.”
That effort has been a stunning success. In June 2021, JOI-Design was awarded an LIV Hospitality Design Award in the interior design living space category. Since then the agency has added the Architecture Award at the Iconic Awards 2021, and the Interior Design Award at the Golden Novum Design Awards.
Judges across the board were impressed by the seamless blend of the old and new at Fraser Suites Hamburg, by the way one of this historic port town’s iconic heritage buildings has been transformed into yet another icon, this time one of luxury and modern design behind that familiar façade.
For Joehnk, it was a formidable, though exciting, challenge to take a well-loved structure and give it new life.
“It is a very iconic building,” he says, “but not necessarily one that was inviting, with a welcoming image of hospitality. So, performing the transformation within a protected building, creating an atmosphere of welcome and wellbeing in a tax office – that was our major task, at the same time it was the design philosophy for this particular project. As Frasers Suites is a very international brand and guests from all over the world will stay here for a while, they should also understand the heritage and the culture of the city, which is temporarily their hometown.”
Fraser Suites Hamburg is impressive throughout, with great care for detail in every space, from the lobby to the restaurant, the bar to the guest suites themselves.
There’s nostalgia here in the art nouveau and art deco features of the building, which have been retained and refined.
There’s modernity, too, in the suites with their blue-and-cream colour schemes, their spacious bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens, market-leading home entertainment systems and functional work spaces.
This blend of old and new is evident, too, in the restaurant, where modern cuisine is served in classic art nouveau surrounds, and where contemporary cocktails are mixed at the 1920s-style O.V.A.L. Bar.
This entire property is packed with design elements from a variety of eras that have been thoughtfully and subtly integrated.
“Here are the features I like most,” says Joehnk. “The very light and playful chandelier in the lobby, which, together with the loose, small, curved reception desks, is the feature to soften the old stately style of the entrance lobby.
“I also love the doors to the guest rooms. We had to use the traditional tax office doors, which are heritage protected and had to be retained – they are from the very early 20th century. The room numbers that we created have an art deco look, and when the guest opens the old protected door, the next layer is a functional door which is fire rated, sound proofed and has a modern locking system.”
Those old wooden doors weren’t the only protected features that Joehnk and his team integrated into their design. Wander the halls of Fraser Suites and you will find 100-year-old art deco floor tiles beneath your feet, restored 1950s pendant lights above, and imposing marble columns in the foyer.
A few of the old elements of the building, meanwhile, have been updated to create that feeling of warmth and hospitality that differentiates a five-star apartment hotel from a tax office – as beautiful as that old building was.
Says Joehnk: “The biggest challenges to preserving the history of the building, while also moving it forward, have been the majestic laurel-wreath lamps in the lobby, which we substituted with the light, floating and lively chandelier, and also the colour in that space, which originally was a dark grey and beige. We had to preserve this little area like we were doing an excavation, or it was a museum, but fortunately we were eventually allowed to paint the lobby white.”
Another of the most striking spaces in the new hotel is the Library, a public space where guests can relax with a good book or magazine without having to return to their suite.
The area was once known as the Senator Room in the old tax building, a place for board meetings and the like, though these days, with its open fire and its light, airy design, the Library is the ideal venue for far more casual interactions.
“I like the guest rooms a lot,” says Joehnk when asked about his favourite spaces in Fraser Suites Hamburg, those that best display JOI-Design’s philosophy for this transformation. “They show the change in the building over time. But I love the Library, which is just a really cosy place.”
That’s the hotel encapsulated, really: a former tax office, now a cosy, luxurious haven. That is quite the transformation, deserving of all its awards.