The suite life: Irish hotels get a style lift

Hoteliers are lavishing millions on luxury upgrades adding four-poster beds, hand made carpets and chandeliers

If you haven't stayed in a hotel lately, you are in for a big surprise. All over Ireland hotels are refurbishing and renovating after 10 languid years. Stylish designs and new materials are being used in innovative ways to showcase craft work from Irish artisans and artists. It is impressive how much design work is being sourced at home.

In the past decade, the hotel industry was badly hit by the recession and there was little or no development around the country. However, times have changed, business is booming, and tourism is beating all records every year. There are 807 hotels and now is the time for the sleeping beauties to shake off their lethargy and re-emerge as Snow Whites.

While there have been few new builds, renovation, restoration and refurbishment is going on in dozens of hotels. New hotels are beginning to appear, big funds are investing in hotels again and see the value of upgrading their properties. It is now no longer cheaper to buy than build.


In the 1980s design did not play a big part in hotels, container loads of pleather suites arrived in from Indonesia and there was a sameness to hotel room style. Now the quality of design and upgrading is at the top end of the market with hotels moving from three to four-star grading regularly.

The most significant hotel restoration of the decade has been at Adare Manor in Co Limerick where up to €100 million is likely to have been spent on a complete overhaul of the 19th century house. From the roof tiles to the leaded windows, everything was taken apart and restored. Sheer luxury is the only way to describe the lavish restoration. Bedrooms all have king- or super king-size beds that take two staff to make up, with 300-double thread count Garnier Thiebaut French sheets. Many details in the bedrooms can be controlled by an iPad: opening curtains, turning off lights or adjusting the air conditioning.

The interiors were designed by London-based Kim Partridge, who has worked on country estates and stately homes across Europe. The spa, which uses La Mer products, has been revamped and increased in size and has a relaxation terrace overlooking the river Maigue. Room rates start at €375.

In Westport, meanwhile, Knockranny House Hotel has just unveiled a stylish and sophisticated makeover of its beloved award-winning La Fougère restaurant. The pretty carpet inspired by a Victorian floor tile was created by MasterWeaver Carpets in Kidderminster and the smoked oak flooring was supplied by The Hard Wood Flooring Co. Lighting was sourced through Willie Duggan Lighting and Hicken Lighting, and the simple, timeless curtains of rich creamy velvet and duchesse satin were made by O'Brien Interiors of Westport.

Local textile artist Susan Basler was commissioned to create six wall hangings inspired by nature using the colour scheme of the restaurant, with artworks by Aidan Butler, Owen Rohu and Ronan Walsh hanging alongside. Room rates from €118.

Inspired by nature

In Donegal, Letterkenny-based MacGabhann Architects designed Breac.House, a small retreat style hotel using as many local builders and tradesmen as possible. The brief was to allow the backdrop of the achingly beautiful Horn Head and the richness of the Donegal landscape and surrounding views of beach, bay, mountain and forest be as visible as possible. Located on a small headland jutting out from Dunfanaghy, every design element is inspired by the wild landscape. Drawing on Donegal's weaving tradition, crisp white organic bed linens are topped with hand-loomed tweed blankets by Eddie Doherty in Ardara, Co Donegal. Room rates are from €225.

Sustainability is also driving business with many companies insisting that hotels have eco sustainability policies and can prove what they are doing to lessen the effect on the environment. The first hotel to open with fully sustainable energy is the Iveagh Garden on Harcourt Street in Dublin. Its power is being made by water turbine from a river 50 metres below. The 160-bedroom hotel is decorated with rich colours and highly polished tiles and chandeliers reflecting in the brass trimmings. Room rates from €219.

High thread counts

Elsewhere, there’s a return to high thread counts and rich, sink-in soft furnishings. Gone is the pinched back contemporary Scandi style, replaced with opulent fabrics, woven carpets and bespoke furniture. Bone white has been replaced with vibrant colours and mixing of shades.

The Fitzpatrick Hotel in Killiney, the grand dame of seaside hotels, opened in 1971 by the Fitzpatrick family. "It has been a constant labour of love. There have been many changes over the years and following a number of difficult years, it has been great to lavish time and money on the hotel," says Eithne Fitzpatrick Scott-Lennon. "We lost time and now we are catching up."

The biggest challenge was to make a change to the colour. The distinctive winey red had not lasted the test of time. “I made contact with Dulux and between us we developed a new colour. It is called Eithne’s Midnight blue,” she says. The whole interior has been redesigned and I’m glad to say “business is good”.

"We completely refurbished the whole building – every carpet, bedroom, beds, wall coverings were all replaced. All the carpets were made by Andrew Reddick. The ballroom for 450 people had a complete makeover too."

Hotel design specialist Anne Marie O'Neill of O'Donnell O'Neill Architects, who is currently working on the Devlin Hotel in Ranelagh, a sister to the Dean Hotel, is introducing high-tech functions to the new project along with super comfortable seating. "The things that are inspiring operators and us as designers is technology. People want to use their devices to check-in and order services, especially business travellers. But they also want to be sociable and having spaces where people can congregate in small groups is popular."

Communal spaces

Meeting rooms are giving way to more casual communal spaces, she says. “Hotels are becoming more like homes with art and comfortable furniture where people can hang out. Many hotels now do not have reception areas, for instance.”

O'Neill believes you can never underestimate the power of art in hotels. She used a neon piece by Tracy Emin over the reception desk at the Dean. It says "Ifell in Love here."

The Castleknock Hotel in Dublin recently completed a major addition of 52 rooms and refurbishment. On the outskirts of the city it also has a golf course. The ground-floor refurbishment was co-ordinated by Audrey Gaffney interior architects and designers. A primary focus for Audrey and her team was to open up the large ground-floor space to create a natural flow through the bar and dining areas. Filling this space with natural light was also key.  The result is an inviting space that, while maintaining its functionality, makes for a superior customer experience.

Its sister Trinity City Hotel, on Pearse Street in Dublin 2, has added two floors; its new guestrooms are decorated in a more subtle, streamlined way to create a cosy, relaxing space for guests. The Millimetre Design team drew their inspiration from the eclectic, quirky style found in the main areas of the hotel. This style was carried through to the new guestrooms in a more subtle, streamlined way to create a cosy, relaxing space for guests. A neutral palette of soft greys and taupes with accents of vibrant purple and rich gold, together with ornate mirrors and bespoke lamps, were used to create the attractive new guestrooms.

At the five star Glenlo Abbey hotel in Galway, €5 million has been spent on refurbishments with 15 new rooms added, and a new landscaped garden around the hotel. Room rates from €229.

In Kilkenny, the Mount Juliet Estate has quietly added a new hotel to its extensive grounds. Called Hunter's Yard, the 93-bedroom hotel is in the process of opening and will complement the existing stately Mount Juliet house. The style will be in keeping with the country estate feel, lots of comfort, rich fabrics and warmth. Room rates at Hunter's Yard start at €210.

The Wineport Lodge Hotel on the Shannon has also invested in luxurious new rooms, including a duplex Champagne Suite which it is marketing as the "most exclusive hideaway in Ireland". Lavish touches include Roche Bobois furnishings, luxe velvet and silk soft textures, cut crystal glassware, complimentary champagne on ice. Strong vibrant colours will make it feel warm and inviting.

The suite has a mezzanine floating bedroom with spacious en suite with a monsoon shower, cradle bath and spacious walk-in wardrobe. A wall of double-height windows adorned with dramatic remote-controlled silk drapes open to reveal beautiful views of the lake. Room rates start from €420.

There's a heightened sense of luxury at Monart spa too, where a newly refurbished lounge area has deep buttoned seating and low light.