MODERN MAN HOOKED ON CLASSICS ; Contemporary Styling of Hotels Has Had Its Day. Not So, Says the International Hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray. Great Design Can Be of the Moment - Traditional Can Feel like Now. It's a Standard He Has Strived to Achieve at His Latest Project, Dukes in London's Mayfair. Interview by Ian McCurrach
McCurrach, Ian, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
For me, being a hotelier has never been about setting up a big company that I can roll out across the world, then sell off and make a fortune. I get asked on a weekly basis to open hotels in cities such as Paris, Rome and New York. It's very flattering, but I'm not that ambitious or competitive. I like to create individual hotels in an authentic, original way; I like them to have a soul. I concentrate on the product rather than the profits. If you get the product right, the profits come along anyway.
My company, CampbellGray Hotels, recently took over Dukes Hotel in St James's Place, London. That was a real departure for us, as it was ready made, so to speak. Mary Fox Linton - with whom I do the designs - worked with me on completely renovating the place: the results are terrific. The hotel was formally relaunched this month.
The hotel was traditional and quite successful so we immediately saw that it had great potential. I like tradition and I think the idea of a classically English hotel is great. But you don't want the Englishness to be like a maiden aunt with thick ankles. You want it to be a bit sexier. We've been very respectful of what had been done by David Naylor-Leyland, who previously owned the hotel. We didn't rush in and do things in a hurry. We've completely upgraded it without losing its essential Englishness.
I dislike most contemporary hotels because they have thin design; they look as similar as the matching bedspreads and curtains do in tawdry traditional hotels. People are saying modern is out and traditional is back. No. Good contemporary style with an interesting design is totally in; bad high street uninteresting design we are bored with already. Great design that is of the moment is spectacular and stimulating. I'm worried that there's a backlash against modern; I want traditional to feel like now and not old- fashioned.
The public areas at Dukes, along with the 90 luxury rooms and suites, have been freshly upgraded and there is now state-of-the- art technology throughout the hotel. The fabulous Dukes Bar, famous for its martinis, now feels even richer with blue velvet chairs and portrait paintings from the Dukes' collection. The new dining room will offer a classic British menu with the freshest seasonal food. And the concierge has been set up by Ian Steiger, who was previously at The Connaught.
I am also working on various other properties, including two hotels in Morocco. Both are 20 minutes' drive from Marrakech, towards the Atlas Mountains. The first to open, in 2009, will be a hotel with 150 rooms and suites, some of which will have private pools. The hotel's modern Moroccan design will include a series of linked courtyards with attractive gardens creating calm, contemplative spaces filled with filtered light. A second hotel, with approximately 50 rooms, will open on an adjoining site probably a few months later.
We have also just taken over the running of the Goodwood Park Hotel in West Sussex, in collaboration with the Earl of March. The idea is to create an eco-based hotel on the 12,000-acre Goodwood estate. The existing hotel will undergo an interim refurbishment while it continues to operate normally. And in Scotland we have exciting plans to open a luxury hotel and spa in Rowallan Castle, which dates back to the 19th century. It's set on the Rowallan estate in Ayrshire, and it will have 65 rooms and suites with stunning views over the River Clyde. It's due to open in 2009.
My other great project is in Beirut in Lebanon. I was excited to be asked to consider opening a property in the city: I'd visited before and thought it was a spectacular, fun, edgy and utterly sexy place with the added advantage of being both coastal and urban.
I am dazzled by the Lebanese. Every man, woman and child is gorgeous - and they know it. I love their joie de vivre. Beirut oozes glitz and glamour. …