Reinventing past wonders


HBA London Designs a serene retreat that maintains ties to local history at The Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khaimah, once known as one of the UAE’s more sleepy emirates, is capitalising on the allure of its easy-going persona, blue waters and proximity to the rugged Hajjar mountains.

Opening last August, the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is the first of several new hotels on the emirate’s horizon to welcome guests looking for a break away from the usual urban draws of neighbouring Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


Despite its more rustic location, the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is anything but provincial. With interiors designed by HBA London, the hotel immerses its guests in the highest degree of refinement to create a serene retreat.

Although HBA London uses the surrounding landscape as a source of inspiration for its serene oasis design concept, their design steps further to entwine Ras Al Khaimah’s rich history of pearl diving along with Art Deco references to its New York flagship.

Principal of HBA London Inge Moore explains: “While the design framework is unmistakably Waldorf Astoria, the Ras Al Khaimah hotel also uniquely belongs to its location … We wove together local stories and culture and reinterpreted them within a contemporary idiom suited to today’s global travellers who confidently seek one type of experience one day and another type of experience on the next.”

Prior to the development of cultured pearls, Ras Al Khaimah’s economy relied heavily on pearl diving. In the lobby, HBA London’s design utilises pearls as touchpoints to honour the emirate’s past. British artist Ann Carrington created four artwork pieces specifically for the hotel made of mother-of-pearl buttons sewn onto taupe silk in the pattern of sea fans.

Strategically hung behind the reception area, additional work abstractly represents ocean waves with metallic sequins individually applied by hand to turquoise silk.

Considered the “pearl” of the hotel is a horological masterpiece at the lobby’s centre. A unique lobby clock is a signature design element of all Waldorf Astoria properties. Designed by Smith of Derby Ltd., the six metre high steel and champagne gold clock features four pearlised dials set with gold-plated hands and hour markers reminiscent of a compass.

Based on the ancient astrolabe, the clock precisely determines Islamic prayer times each day with five rotating prayer rings at its base. An inscription from a traditional Bedouin poem engraved on its base amicably reads, “From your homeland travel abroad to find glory.”

The lobby’s floor in a triad of coloured marble pays homage to Ras Al Khaimah’s geography: ochre for the desert, cream for the beach and red for the mountains.

Seating in muted teals and creams punctuate the lobby with colour while bridging to the promenade space, Peacock Alley. Like the clock, the Peacock Alley is a trademark lounge included in all Waldorf Astoria hotels.

Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, while spacious, is at the same time noticeably intimate.

While walking through the space, Katie Hollamby, the public relations manager for the hotel, notes how HBA London made special design decisions to accommodate cultural privacy considerations.

Despite the hotel’s large size, Moore explains: “[It] is not overwhelming or austere. It has many cocooning, sensuous and intimate spaces.” For example, the tiered water feature is surrounded by banquette seating inset into nooks created by its star-shaped base.

The spattering of water from the fountain also provides a pleasant acoustic screen from adjacent conversations. Further away, turquoise wing-back chairs with ultra-high backs and curved sides provide for a cosy tete a tete.

Like the bird itself, Peacock Alley’s décor resonates a sense of reserved elegance. Woven herringbone upholstery fabric in cream accentuates the sweeping arcs and curves of the Deco-inspired sofas and club chairs.

Square turquoise leather ottomans are handsomely finished with bronze nailheads. A tufted carpet runner trails up the serpentine double sided staircase, with peacock feather imagery in brown, teal and cream at its edges. Meanwhile, a feature chandelier hand-crafted by Baroncelli suggests stylised, floating feathers.

In addition, UK-based artist Gill Wilson’s intricate geometric artwork made from woven bale straw, flax and gold leaf offers a delicate textural reprieve in Peacock Alley.

Although the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah does not have a ballroom, it does offer a VIP arrival hall and multiple pre-function spaces to make it an attractive venue for more intimate galas and high-end corporate events.

Of the handful of meeting rooms, the Board Room is the gem. Like yin and yang, it balances between masculine and feminine. Ink black paneled wood walls on half of the room are cream on the other. Drapery in wool grey pin-stripe is softened by an inset ceiling in silver leaf and a shimmering sea view.

Providing an area for relaxation before, during and after Board Room meetings, the Break Out Room offers a plush retreat with a high-backed velvet striped sofa in golds and browns and view of the water.

Just beside it, the library is a study in grey. Slate coloured leather seating, a tufted area rug with a retro linear motif, and dark wood floors are peppered by pear green silk lampshades on its large work table.

When asked what aspect of the hotel’s design was most successful, Moore responds: “I really like the calmness and serenity of the beautiful and spacious typical guestrooms.” HBA London’s design of the hotel’s 346 guest rooms and suites exemplifies spacious opulence.

Hollamby divulges the smallest guest room is a generous 56m2, as the hotel was originally built to be apartments. Hilton purchased the property and commenced the renovation with architect Maurizio Papiri of Studio Papiri, later followed by HBA London. The entire project took three years.

Moore’s affinity for the guestrooms is shared. Light and airy, they are an extension of the white, turquoise and taupe palette woven throughout the hotel. Intricately coffered white ceilings and neutral textured wall covering provide a background for the artistry of the upholstered headboard.

With a gentle nod to Art Deco, the King Suite’s headboard design brings together a hand-carved sculptural panel within a fluted frame, finished off with a pair of glass turquoise orb finials. The thick tufted area rug of enlarged Islamic patterns pulls the room together without overpowering it. Tonal photographs of Arabian horses and a chandelier in the formation of stag coral blends in vernacular touches.

Like its Arabic fusion menu, restaurant Marjan juxtaposes traditional and contemporary design elements using Islamic patterning as a foundation. Despite the sumptuous amethyst-coloured velvet seating and scallop-framed dining chairs, it’s challenging to not look up.

Marjan’s light fixtures are beguiling. Purchasing giant The Parker Company sourced the fixtures locally. Made by Tarrab Trading, the darkened bronze globes hang at the heart of the restaurant like a heavy cluster of ripe fruit. Punctured in geometric patterns, light pleasantly scintillates through them.

Lexington Grill, another of the hotel’s ten restaurants, is described as “designed to be more NYC than UAE.” A testament to the vintage New York steakhouse, its décor is handsomely classic.

Carnelian red marble flooring with white veining hints at the restaurant’s meaty fare. Artwork created from synthetic horse hair and woven copper subtly catches rays from the setting sun. Meanwhile, photographer Peter Defty’s black and white images of musical instruments usher in the evening.

A lounge with its design solely based on bubbly, 17Squared offers a stunning 360 degree view from its 17th floor vantage point. Its opulent décor is armoured with accents in gold and copper. Delicate strings of illuminated glass bubbles dance skyward while swaths of crystals swing lavishly from chandeliers.

As the rest of the hotel takes inspiration from the landscape, the spa looks to the water with an undersea design theme. Incorporating an undulating spatial flow and rounded edges, the spa was designed with the intention to capture the essence of serenely floating under water.

Downlit walls clad in teal raw silk create a dramatic, wavy texture to the reception area. Overhead, a backlit floating layer of organically-shaped light fixtures by Lasvit creates the sensation of looking upwards from beneath the tranquil water. Hand-made hexagonal wall tiles in greens, blues and browns scattered on the wall like bubbles rising to the surface above.

“We are encapsulating the thread that runs through all of the interiors – reinventing past wonders into new magic,” Moore concludes. Although she was referring to the special, stand-out lobby clock, her insight holds true for Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah’s design in its entirety.

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