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Tue 17 Aug 2010 04:00 AM

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Refined design

Lebanon's latest landmark, Le Gray hotel Beirut, is setting new standards for hotel interiors in the region, says Fida Slayman.

Refined design
The hotel features “traffic-stopping” design features, says Campbell Gray.
Refined design
The property is set in the heart of downtown Beirut.
Refined design
The atrium seating area.
Refined design
Rooms contain carefully-considered pieces of art.
Refined design
Gordon’s Cafe.
Refined design
The pool lounge.

Lebanon's latest landmark, Le Gray hotel Beirut, is setting new standards for hotel interiors in the region, says Fida Slayman.

The new Le Gray Hotel Beirut has only been open for nine months, yet so perfectly does the building complement its surroundings that one has the feeling that it has always been there. Framed by the Blue Mosque, Martyr's Square and the refurbished Ottoman buildings of Downtown Beirut, the striking seven-storey hotel offers views of Lebanon's famous snow-capped mountains on one side, and the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea on the other.

The hotel is the fourth property to bear the Campbell Gray name, and marks the company's first foray into the Middle East. "It's not so much the Middle East I'm interested in," said Gordon Campbell Gray, chairman of Campbell Gray Hotels, "but Beirut."

When Campbell Gray speaks of Beirut, it is almost how one would speak of a lover; in his eyes, the city is sexy, voluptuous, sumptuous. And like a lover with gifts, Campbell Gray has lavished on the city what he believes to be his sexiest hotel yet. Designed with renowned interior designer Mary Fox Linton, the hotel has 87 rooms, including 62 executive suites of 60m², 10 corner suites of 90m², and two presidential suites measuring 170m² and 220m².

More than 500 pieces of art, sourced personally by Campbell Gray from Cuba and the Middle East, adorn the walls. "We have a fantastic art collection," he said. "It's about the rooms having two or three pieces of art that have been considered, and I think that's what makes our design shine out as being lovely."

The hotel's interiors reflect Lebanon's love affair with wood. Cedar features strongly and timber adds to the richness of the design. The custom-made furniture, original to Le Gray Beirut, is all made of walnut.

Stone floors, timber ceilings, natural slate and granite underpin the design, and are complemented by handmade silk, wool and cotton fabrics. Clean, clutter-free surfaces give a final soothing touch to the hotel's restrained style.

The pool and bar area embody the sensuality and hedonism that has come to symbolise Beirut. The rooftop purple-glass infinity pool is flanked by sunloungers and tables in blood red, "the last colour you'd expect to put in the heat", according to Campbell Gray.
"I think we've gotten sexier with this hotel than we've ever done before and maybe it's given us a taste to do it again in other places," he said.

Along with Fox Linton, Campbell Gray sourced and engaged international artisans to produce the fabrics, lighting and furniture used in the hotel. "We wanted lamps which look like indoor standard lamps for the rooftop terrace, but they just don't exist," he explained. "We scoured the world and finally found somebody who could make them."

A signature design piece of Le Gray Beirut is the backlit metal wall exhibited in the lobby. Decorated with cut-out butterflies and flowers, the wall stands as a "traffic-stopping piece of design", said Campbell Gray. "The woman we found to do it just did lampshades - it's really about finding the right artisans and asking them to go a little further."

Yet all the design in the hotel, Campbell Grey claimed, would be meaningless if it were not also comfortable. "I'd say that a lot of contemporary design has started to get very into its own self-importance, and doesn't really serve a purpose. I think the new wave of hotels have almost become a cliché of their own modernity and silliness."

A piece of furniture which is not comfortable cannot be an example of good design, he said. The definition of luxury, he continued, relating an anecdote, "is coming home and having somewhere to put my keys".

"In reality it's about sitting at a desk and the reading light being perfect, and the bedside table being the right size - just being layers and layers of thinking it through, so that when you sit down in the chair it doesn't only look beautiful but it's also super comfortable."

The curtains completely block out the light, the bed, sheets and pillows are of the highest quality, and all the lamps in the room can be turned on and off easily. "It's so simplistic, but staying in fabulous hotels around the world as I do, it really is amazing how uncomfortable they can be."

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