PARKROYAL ON PICKERING
Parkroyal on Pickering's outstanding facade made it an instant talking point when the hotel opened early last year, a maze of modern glass interspersed with explosions of greenery and curving, contoured terraces, a paragon of dramatic vertical landscaping. WOHA, the Singapore-based architectural firm that designed the property, is known for elegant, forward-thinking structures, whether it's in the practical, green-integrated Hansar hotel in Bangkok or the photogenic sprawl that's Alila Villas Uluwatu.
In the post-W backlash against “hip hotels”, people are beginning to remember why they never decorated their own homes with flashing neon lights and uncomfortable angular furnishings, returning to a desire for the plush luxury of boring beige couches and plain white 500-thread-count sheets. Parkroyal on Pickering steers clear of the former pitfalls with impactful public spaces but comfortable private suites.
The lobby is a privilege, with its three-storeys-high ceiling, warm vertical gardens, pebble-filled ponds that line walkways, and interior elements that echo the contour-line patterns found on the exterior. Instead of modular sofa sets, there are wicker-basket pods lined up in a row – this decade's answer to Eero Aarnio's red-and-white Ball Chairs? – that face windows. Past the elevator lobby is Lime, the hotel's giant all-day dining venue, with outdoor and indoor seating and a really, really big breakfast spread.
By contrast, the rooms are appointed in neutrals, with minimal splash – certainly not spectacular, but definitely functional. The open-bathroom layout favoured by hotel designers today maximises the feel of space, and everything has a well-defined place and purpose, whether it's a thin-rimmed bathtub skulking discreetly in a corner or a flat-screen TV set almost in the wall. It all seems so very un-designed, actually, until you realise that that is the point of good design.
Comfort and theatrics meet best at the swimming pool, an entire outdoor oasis level set in the middle of the building structure that offers plenty of pockets of privacy. Gaze upon the linear infinity pool and the views beyond from deck chairs (or from the gym behind them, with treadmills set up so you can run towards the horizon, so to speak) or hide away in some of the many tented husks, the insides of which are chock-full of man-sized cushions. Some of these pods of solitude dwell directly adjacent to the pool, others are situated further afield amid strategically placed plant life. You won't get much of a tan lying around in any of them, though there's sufficient seclusion that you could get up to a whole lot else – but then again, you have your perfectly practical room for that.
Excepting cities in China, few Asian urban landscapes are transforming quite so rapidly or comprehensively as Singapore's. The city-state's island of Sentosa, for example, which just over a decade ago was as demure a take on the theme park as it's possible to get, now buzzes with the relentless energy of the vast Resorts World development, with its Universal Studios, Adventure Cove, aquarium, casino and several large hotels.
Fortunately, not all Sentosa is so brash. For years it was occupied by the British army, several of whose bungalows are still dotted among the tropical greenery. A pair of these, now beautifully renovated in gleaming white with contrasting terracotta roofs, serve as the centrepiece for what is arguably Singapore's most uniquely atmospheric and luxurious hotel.
Occupying a grassy knoll behind a stand of fine old trees, Capella Singapore is as elegant a fusion of ancient and modern as you'd expect from starchitect Norman Foster, its handsome colonial frontage merging almost imperceptibly into curved contemporary accommodation wings and garden villas that sweep out from the sides and spill down the hillside towards the sea below. Its public areas – an intimate lobby, a Chinese restaurant, meeting rooms and a spacious library-cum-residents' lounge – are largely housed within the two heritage buildings, while guestrooms and suites occupy the new structures.
I'm cocooned for the weekend in a three-room (bed, bath and living) villa hidden in the gardens and shaded by thick foliage. Of course it's wonderfully luxurious and cosseting – Pratesi bed linen, walk-in wardrobe, private plunge pool, rainshowers indoor and out – but as I can never work out quite where in my 1,400 square feet of space I want to relax, next time I'd probably downsize to a Premier Room, sit out on the balcony and spend hours gazing out over the Singapore Strait. Nonetheless, I'm so comfortable here that, save for a late-night excursion to nearby Sentosa Cove and an afternoon stroll along the island's southern beach, I don't leave the hotel at all.
I'd been told Sunday brunch at The Knolls Mediterranean restaurant is a local institution – and having made serious inroads into the superlative spread I need no further explanation as to why. So blissful are the gardens with their three tiers of swimming pools and dense tropical plants that I then settle down in the shade to read and snooze. And when the sun finally disappears behind a large rain tree, it's only a few steps to Bob's Bar, where I recline on a divan and, Tiger beer in hand, watch the stars begin to peep through the billowing equatorial clouds.
It's a routine I could easily get used to.
As I step into the early-evening rain, a woman in an electric-blue cloak rushes out to greet me. She ushers me into a cement grey building with a playful mural of a muscular policeman lassoing a rope around a red taxi that dangles in mid-air. Overhead, vine-covered metal trellises unfold like origami across the facade. I've just pulled up at Naumi, one of Singapore's most talked-about boutique hotels.
Painted by Singapore street artist Tr853-1, the mural is one of many specially commissioned works that dot the property. Inside, past the sleek reception counter, a projector throws pixelated pink and blue images onto the wall. A video work by local artist Aiman, the flickering vignettes are tiny street scenes that unite to form a woman's face. Revamped late last year, the 73-room hotel is brimful with elegant design details, with furnishings by the likes of Tom Dixon, B&B Italia and Poltrona Frau. Even the lifts are arty, enveloped with swirling floral patterns that slowly shift in colour as you climb higher. White Jacket, the design studio responsible for the interiors, describes the effect as transporting you into a “dream world”.
Once upstairs, a dimly lit corridor leads to my open-plan Habitat room, a cosy sanctuary soundproofed by Parisian acoustic experts. Designed with a clean, minimalist aesthetic, the centrepiece is a lantern-inspired bar that doubles as a vanity counter complete with sink and mirror. Made of a translucent alabaster, it looks like a sculptural light installation. Adding to the ambience, punctured metal corner lamps dangle low beside the bed emanating a soft glow.
While the rooms are charming, the crown jewel of the hotel is Cloud 9, a trendy rooftop infinity pool and bar with a sweeping view of the city. Usually teeming with guests dipping in for a late night swim and nightcap, it's a favourite among locals and out-of-towners alike.
Since its multi-million-dollar facelift, the centrally located hotel has garnered a diverse following. Positioned between the financial district and Singapore's museum hub, it attracts a mixed crowd ranging from bankers to the art-inclined. And though the new Naumi has almost twice the number of rooms than its previous incarnation, it remains pleasantly intimate. Perched at the end of a sleepy street of colonial-era shophouses, it manages to feel sequestered and hidden away from its bustling surroundings.