Customers and critics alike are singing the praises of the Morrison Hotel in Dublin following a €6m refurbishment.
Situated on Ormond Quay, across the Liffey from Temple Bar, the four-star boutique hotel was purchased last year for €22m by the Russian investor Elena Baturina, in conjunction with the Austrian-based operator Martinez Hotel and Resorts Group, and is now being run under the DoubleTree by Hilton brand, the first hotel in Ireland to enjoy DoubleTree status.
With part of the building located on what was Musicbase, where many young Irish bands started off, the hotel has enjoyed a chic rock ‘n’ roll reputation since it first opened in 1998 and many of its guests have been music industry luminaries, such as Rihanna, Paul Simon and Mumford and Sons. As a result, architect Nikki O’Donnell gave the recent redesign a strong musical theme, with song lyrics and a sound wave graphic decorating the walls of the hotel’s 138 bedrooms.
Lyrics by about 30 different Irish recording artists are used in the bedroom decors, but before they could be used permission had to be granted by the artists or their publishers. O’Donnell said: “That took more time than you might think, because sometimes the artists were performing abroad, but we had fantastic support. Everyone loved the idea and everyone knew the hotel because most had stayed there, so it was all good.”
As with almost any other industry, it is important to keep ones doors open for trade as much as possible in the hotel business, so the revamp had to be completed in as short a period as possible or, to use a musical metaphor, in double quick-time. In the event, building contractors Walls Construction completed the job within a 10 week period that started at the end of November and finished at the end of January. “We had to hit that deadline for completion,” said Walls Contracts Manager James O’Toole. “Because the hotel was reopening on February 1st and was, in fact, fully booked out for the weekend of February 10th, when Ireland were hosting England in the first home game of the Six Nations.
“From the word go, when we went on site, it was like 100 miles per hour, but there had been a lot of preparation and planning before work went live and everything went very well and we had no lost-time incidents. Typically, we had 150 people on site. In each bedroom, everything was stripped back to the walls – new carpets, new curtains, new fixtures and new fittings. Each room was rewired, and most of the lighting positions were changed, so there was quite extensive re-plastering and joinery work.
“The style of the hotel had been quite dull, with low light levels and dark-coloured joinery. The new look is much brighter, with a lot of lighter materials which really opens up the interior.
“Downstairs the bar and restaurant areas were substantially altered – there had been two bars, but we removed a wall to create one large open bar space. The restaurant area was given quite an extensive overhaul, with mechanical and electrical work required to modernise it. Throughout the hotel there was an upgrade of the fireproofing of all ducting and a new fire alarm and new emergency lighting was installed.”
The Morrison has two restaurant areas: the Halo Room where a buffet is served at breakfast time and which is available to private diners later in the day and the Morrison Grill, where Dublin’s first Josper Grill Oven has been installed – this is a cooking device that combines air, fire and charcoal at temperatures reaching 500°C to deliver perfectly cooked steaks, poultry, fish and grilled vegetables.
Before the hotel could be handed over to the client, an additional prerequisite to be negotiated by Walls Construction was that all works had to be passed by inspectors from the Hilton organisation. O’Toole said: “The hotel was not allowed open until the inspectors had signed off on the fixtures, fittings and finishes, and had independently passed things like the safety systems that had been put in place.”
Comprising more than 300 hotels in 25 countries, DoubleTree specialises in distinctly-designed properties. Rooms are high-spec with flat-screen TVs and integrated sound systems, but O’Donnell commented: “The DoubleTree organisation was more flexible than you might think – they understood that this is a boutique hotel, with its own particular character and charm. They were prepared to go along with things like the light boxes used for illumination in the bedrooms.
“Other distinctive features in the bed rooms include suspended light fittings, a pull-out make-up shelf, and chaises longue’s with little side tables for guests books and or glass of wine.
“Because there is so much variance in the layout of the bedrooms, we had to work very closely with Walls – of the 138 bedrooms in total, about half are completely different to each other. So for example, some of the rooms only have a shower, some have a combined bath and shower and some have a separate shower and bathroom.”
The interior of the hotel also required some structural work to improve the acoustic barrier between the bar and the restaurant area and between the bar and the bedrooms immediately above. The exterior of the hotel has also been given some up-lighting to give the Morrison a stronger presence on Ormond Quay and to make it more of a landmark building.
Walls Construction business development manager John Nolan says that the company hopes to work again with the Martinez Hotel and Resort Group as Elena Baturina seeks to further develop her portfolio of hotel properties – reportedly, she hopes to have possession of 14 four-star hotels across Europe by the end of 2015 and was shortlisted as a potential buyer of the Trinity Capital Hotel in Dublin. She told us: “I believe in the recovery of the Irish hotel sector and I will continue investing in those projects we find commercially advantageous as they arise. I am convinced that Ireland has a huge potential in the touristic field, and the conditions prevailing in the country, are very attractive for investment – definitely more convenient and pleasant that in many other European countries.”
Certainly, NODA and Walls worked well together. O’Donnell said: “We had a great relationship during the project, which involved one of the most aggressive programmes of work that I have experienced – in addition to the 138 bedrooms, the restaurant and bar, during the 10 week period they also had to renovate and refit the hotel’s meeting rooms and conference facilities. We had someone on site every day of the week to deal with any issues immediately as they arose. Everyone worked really well together and everyone was geared up towards achieving a good result for the client. It is a good result, delivered on programme, on budget and with everyone delighted with the look of it. I expect the redesign to be entered for the 2014 Sleep Awards!
Part of the PJ Walls Group, which was founded in 1949, Walls Construction currently employs about 250 people with about a third of the construction companies turnover coming from fit-outs – notably it did the fit-out on the new Salesforce office at 1 Central Park, Co. Dublin, where 100 new jobs are to be created by the software firm. Fit-outs aside, the company has a very diverse portfolio of projects, ranging from industrial, commercial and public building project. Nolan quipped: “The Irish market is too small to specialise, but we would have particular competence in the areas of healthcare, 3rd level education, industrial buildings and fit-outs.”
Current projects in hand by the construction firm include the Telecity Data Centre, the redevelopment & refurbishment of the Mater Private Hospital, the new A+E department at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny and a new factory building at Liebherr Cranes in Killarney. Last year, the company completed the UCD Students’ Centre, which includes a 50m Olympic-sized swimming pool. The Students’ Centre and the Bord Gáis Networks Services Centre in Finglas, which Walls also completed, both won two RIAI awards each this year – with the Students’ Centre winning the coveted ‘public choice’ award. For more than three years, Walls Construction have been working on various projects at Google’s European head quarters. Nolan said: “At the moment, we are not forecasting any major upturn in the short-term, but we do see business holding steady, especially repeat business from existing clients.” ρ