Hotel Walther brings back the old with new and artsy interiors! This 4-Star Superior hotel, set in the most scenic and charming little village called Pontresina, just celebrated its 110th anniversary. To most of us Pontresina doesn’t mean much except when mentioning its super glamorous neighbour and friend St Moritz!
Hotel Walther, also member of Relais & Châteaux, is run by Thomas and Anne-Rose Walther, third-generation of Walthers who took over the family business in 1997 and since then invested over 35 million Swiss-Francs in renovations. Their passion for hospitality and their guests allied with their vision and innovative spirit led them to take chances that not many of their peers would dare to take, especially nowadays. They understand that in order to stay relevant, a business has to reinvent itself every so often to keep up with the times and the changes.
Over 1.5 years ago when planning the big anniversary, Thomas and Anne-Rose Walther decided that it was time to invest in revamping the entire ground floor and bring some of the prestige and allure of the early to mid-century back.
They took a leap of faith and hired Zurich based Interior Designer Virginia Maissen who brought with her not only her stunning and undeniable taste but also renown artist Rolf Sachs for his signature style. Their design perfectly marries modern and traditional. Every single detail, from the Pantone colors, to the fabrics used, to the lines drawn on the carpets, has its place and reason to be. And as beautiful and artsy as the furniture is, it also is functional with always the comfort of the guests in mind.
ABOUT THE DESIGN
The entire ground level (including the reception area, bar and smokers lounge and dining hall) feature the hotel’s legacy and history. Antique treasures and decorations have been reinterpreted to reflect the hotel’s history: original ceilings and rounded archways from the early century have been exposed with the help of local craftsmen. Specially designed wall tapestries, curtains, and carpets have also been added to compliment the furnishings of each room with warmer tones.
The internationally renowned artist Rolf Sachs was brought in to create a lighting installation for the new bar which would not only highlight Rolf’s signature style but also underline the region’s culture. The vibrant and colorful bar will surprise you as it defies the typical Alpine style while keeping it real at the same time. And although, the style of the bar, in my opinion, is clearly more modern and flashy than the rest of the hotel, it still clearly follows a story and a thread. Artist Sandro Fabbri’s paintings of silhouettes illustrate the flow of light and emotions seamlessly.
One cannot miss the 70 hanging lights in the form of buckets and milk canisters! They are not there just to procure light. They clearly entice the inquisitive minds and make you wonder. And I believe the artist’s intent is to pour energy and light into a room where generally people come to overcome their stress and open up to friends and strangers alike. No wonder he named his installation “Splendurir” which means “Pouring light” in Romansch.
My grandparents got this hotel in the 1930’s. Times were very difficult then – between the two World Wars. After WWI, everything broke down and banks took over all the hotels. My grandfather worked for a bank which sent him to check out hotels in Pontresina. His own father owned a hotel in Flims.
After some very difficult years, especially after WWII, he was first able to purchase the Steinbock then the Palace Hotel Pontresina. He changed the name to Hotel Walther and in 1963 my parents took over until 1997 when they passed on the torch to my wife and I.
Were you always expected to take over?
No, there was never any pressure. We do the same thing with our kids. We don’t care about what they do as long as they do it with their heart because then they will do a great job. If they decide to take over the hotel, it will be great but if not, we will do everything in our power to support them. They have to live their life and not ours.
How do you keep up with the changes in hospitality?
Our business has completely changed in the past 10 years. The digital world transformed our business model which I believe to be a very good thing. We have to learn a lot because the old model is now obsolete. You have to be open and see opportunities everywhere because every medal has two sides. Today more and more hotels are owned by big companies so everything works and looks more or less the same across the board. There is nothing there that touches your soul. We think differently. We want to touch our clients in a deep way.
This is a family business. Our staff has been with us for many years, some for over 30 years. The only thing we sell in hospitality is Emotions. At home, you can eat and sleep for less money, there is no reason to go to a hotel or restaurant. You go because you want to experience something different and feel touched. Everything else can be bought with money but emotions cannot. As humans, it is in our DNA to feel emotions, love and to want to belong. We need a sense of community, a nest to go back to when we need it. We hope to be that nest!
How did you have the idea to make such a drastic change to your hotel?
Our last big renovation to the ground floor took place about 30 years ago but the look and feel remained the same. We decided that this was the perfect time to re-invent ourself. We thought a lot about it and concluded that we wanted to go back to the original feel, nothing trendy but something solid and timeless. Friends of ours recommended Virginia Maissen whom we didn’t know then. We gave her all of our documents and she came back with a clear vision respecting our philosophy and mission. We needed the DNA of the hotel to be omnipresent and at the center of the story. She got this perfectly! We are so lucky to have found her.
You took a definite risk hiring her since she wasn’t quite the household name.
We knew we wanted to work with her and her team from the beginning. When she first presented her mood boards with the green lobby and the blue dining room I thought OMG, where is this going? But when she explained why I got it. She had a clear and logical explanation for everything she presented. Her arguments were so convincing and honest that it all made sense. The colors she picked were colors used 100 years ago in this region. We trusted her and let her do her thing. We had a few more shock moments which we both compromised on! Then as it came together more and more, we got even more excited and understood the philosophy behind it all. It’s her first big project but it was also very good for us because we were working with a person and not an Ego. She also understood that this wasn’t a gallery project, that it had to be as functional as beautiful.
Now that you can see the full picture, how do you feel about the outcome of your work and collaboration with Virginia?
This is way better than Costes in Paris! Way better taste and style in my opinion. This is solid, not so trendy that it would be outdated in 5 years. There is an intellectual research behind Virginia’s design. We could think that all the pieces came together slowly, here and there, but on the contrary, it was all thought through and meticulously put together. There is definite story and continuity in what she has done here.
How did you ally forces?
Virginia came to me and told me that she was pitching her idea to the Walther family. She wanted to ally forces with one or two more people to make the project more interesting. The truth is that this was not a given for her since she’s not as established with big offices and team. So by partnering up with others, who are a bit more recognized, it would give her more credibility and power.
The Walther family were very courageous to hire her. Really Bravo! One must have the guts to hire someone they hardly know for such a big undertaking and investment. It’s not like they had seen a lot of her work. At the beginning we discussed me doing the entire bar and she the rest but we realised that it wouldn’t work because all of the design has to come from one person. So we decided that I would create the lighting installation. It’s more of an art piece that has been added to the design. It gives it a nice touch.
A bar is a place of Communication where people come to open their soul. People at bars are open and that’s why my buckets are facing down. The little holes are very important because they give the object a slight feeling of translucidity, of oneness.
In fact I should one day to a similar installation where in one room, the buckets would face down (with holes), and in the next room (which would remain closed), they would face up (without holes) as an analogy for people who are closed-up and reserved. These are common human characteristics – some people are open and others are closed. This is something that occupies my mind quite a bit when I create because in my work, emotions have the lead role. It’s not about the decor or style but about bringing about emotions. I have a deep love for all functional forms that are nostalgic.
I love the shape of a bucket! I’ve known buckets all my life. There are tons of associations with buckets. And here in the mountains, buckets were used, back in the day, to get water from the fountain of the village, get milk from the farmer, etc… So there is a big link between buckets and this region.
In fact I have a funny one at home. It’s a bucket that I stole from a fire department!! In France, in public places, it’s still mandatory to have a bucket in case of a fire. It was a law back then but now it’s more of a symbol because I doubt that a bucket would put out a fire! So I don’t have a bad conscious about my action 🙂
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere!! There is so much I want to do in the future. I have so much energy and drive and so many ideas!
Do you have any design pet peeves?
I hate design exhibitions! I leave feeling empty, uninspired, which is totally opposite of how I feel when I go to an art exhibition where I come out of full of ideas, inspiration and energy. I find a lot of the designs to lack soul. Often the materials used have no depth or feeling. Not everything of course. I like when there is a story, humour, emotion.
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