The Strand Hotel at Nybrokajen is a Stockholm landmark, built in 1912 before the Stockholm Olympics and throughout its history a favourite haunt of actors from Dramaten, which is located a stone’s throw away, as well as stars like Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman. Now under the Radisson banner and part of their Collection group of hotels, the hotel has been renovated by the architecture bureau Wingårdhs over the last couple of years, and those renovations are now complete. We met General Manager Eva Kalling-Hansson to talk about the changes in the historic building.
To start it off, what can you tell us about the new incarnation of the Strand Hotel, and what’s new about the design?
This hotel has such a rich soul and a rich history, when we decided to do a total makeover and refurbish the entire house, we contacted Wingårdhs architects, and gave them the brief of our vision of this hotel, and the importance of keeping the soul and the history. Not all hotels have that, and it’s very strong in this hotel. So they went back, and did a lot of research on how to make the best of it, utilising the old style. So it’s about being strict in that sense, with a lot of respect for the old building. So they came back with a colour scheme that was very specific, utilising the colours of the buildings in the area, all the beautiful buildings you can see on Strandvägen, they’re reflected in the rooms and the public areas.
So you want to take inspiration from the local area when designing the interior?
Exactly, especially the colour scheme. The view [from the hotel] is one of our big things, it’s to die for. It was named the best hotel view in the Nordics by Conde Nast a few years ago. So the view, and all the buildings you see, is important. When I talk to the guests they say that they can sense it’s done with respect. It’s not minimalistic Scandinavian design, but you can sense it’s very modern. With an old touch.
When you’re renovating a historic building, how do you manage to do it while keeping the history intact? What are some of the challenges of that process?
The challenges are that when you knock through a wall, you don’t know what’s behind it. There are no architectural drawings, you know, where the pipes are etc.
Have there been any discoveries through that?
Quite a few actually. Behind some walls there were small empty rooms, so we could enlarge the rooms a bit through that. It’s interesting to do something in this old building, the entire building is classified as a blue property with protected status, so you cannot do whatever you want. So we have moved some walls but not a lot, we’ve used the old layout in a lot of ways. So it a challenge. The ceiling height on the first floor is five metres, so just to paint the ceiling is tricky. But I would say it has really gone well, because it has been open to the public all the time, we haven’t closed down the hotel because we have done the renovations floor by floor. So it has really been flowing. With the first floor, which is now hotel rooms, it used to be banquet rooms, up until the beginning of the 80s. So we could see that it had a completely different flow, they only had one bathroom per floor at that time, for example. It’s always been a hotel, which is quite unusual. Not many buildings [from that time period] have been built to be hotels.
Now that the renovations are done, what are the main changes in the hotel’s layout from the previous design?
When you come into the hotel’s entrance, you get a sense of the hotel from the first step inside, and it wasn’t like that before. You used to be greeted by a black wall. Now we’ve opened up the entire entrance to be more welcoming, you see this beautiful marble floor, and then with the reception to the left and the restaurant to the right. And you can see the beautiful staircase, before it was blocked by a wall. We have also amplified our welcome area, which now has its own space with windows overlooking the water. So we have more space in the lobby and lounge area for the guests. What we have also done in the newer building, is now you can reach our meeting rooms from inside. Before you had to go out, now we have access from the inside. We’ve also opened up a new entrance to the bar and restaurant on the corner. There used to be an entrance there, and it has now been restored. And when you enter there, there’s a beautiful golden baroque thing on the wall, which was bought in the fifties by Yngve Gamlin, and he bought it because it’s a canopy from over a bed. It came from the house of Maria Walewska, the mistress of Napoleon.
What were the original reasons for the renovation? Why did the hotel take this step?
We took this step with our property owners, the Freemasons. They own the entire block here. We made an agreement to continue our cooperation for a long-term period. They have a very long-term perspective. We decided to do this as a common project. The hotel was built in 1912, and this wasn’t a very central location at the time, it was considered remote. So the newspapers wondered if this would be a success. This is actually where the Vasa was built, it used to be the shipyard. So they built the hotel in 1912, and it was a success from the start, it was the place to be as a restaurant. The Freemasons owned this property but sold it in the 70s, and then they bought it back in 2011. And they will never leave! So it’s long-term ownership, and that’s why we have the project together. This is a Radisson Collection hotel, so it should be the crème de la crème of the hotel portfolio, it should have that specific touch. So we wanted to build on this hotel, and make it one of our crown jewels.
You’ve said that you want your guests to experience Stockholm in the way a local does, so how do you manage that, what steps do you take?
We have a specialised guest recommendation, where before guests arrive we ask them what their trip plans are and we give them the staff’s advice on what to do. So we have a long log of things you can do in Stockholm. So you don’t have to rely on the guide book, but can do what a Stockholmer would do if they were free for a couple of hours. So we have tailor-made suggestions for every guest. Otherwise, one of the reasons I chose this industry was that I am motivated to meet the guests on a daily basis. So I try to give my special advice, say where I would go with my family when I’m off. And the best way to meet the guests is during breakfast, there you can chat with them, and they have so many exciting stories from all over the world. We are not a very big hotel, we have 170 guest rooms, so we have the time to see the guests individually.
You’ve got the restaurant and bar here, The Strand, and a big part of this hotel’s history is that it was a restaurant/watering hole for Stockholm locals as well, like the people from Dramaten, Greta Garbo and so on, all spent their free time here. How do you as a hotel restaurant and bar make it attractive to locals as well, what are the important factors in that?
Stockholmers like to be in an international environment, and having the excitement of having guests from all over the world at the table beside you is one of the main attractions, you feel like you’re in an international world. You mentioned with closeness we had with the Dramaten people at that time, that is so true, because Dramaten was built one year before us. So they were kind of a sister building, and many artists were here and there are many stories about that. That is one of our aims for the future, to be the actors’ hangout.
When you have that kind of tradition in the restaurant here, how do you maintain those traditions?
Our menu has illustrations of how it used to be, with sketches from the 20s and early 30s, and we have stories of who was here. So we try to bring it to life through our storytelling. And we have our Greta Garbo tea for example, and the Madame Walewska cocktail, so we try to elaborate on the stories we have.
As a historical hotel, what are the challenges of the modern hotel and restaurant world? How do you keep up and keep developing into the next hundred years?
It is a challenge to run an old hotel. As I said, there was a time when there wasn’t a bathroom in each room. The layout is different, so it’s almost hard work to make it run as a hotel. But in another way, it’s easier to run an old hotel when it comes to promoting it, because of the story and the soul. A new hotel doesn’t have a soul. We have a huge soul, and a lot of stories, and the respect of our history.
As a final question, now that everything is open, are there any events happening here over the next few months we should keep an eye out for?
There will be a lot this autumn. So keep your eyes open from September. A lot will happen during the autumn.
Radisson Collection Strand Hotel, Nybrokajen 9