PROPERTY GURU SATINDER GARCHA has an affinity for real estate with history. He is launching heritage hotel Six Senses Maxwell in December, after the opening of Six Senses Duxton in April. A third property, The Vagabond Club in Syed Alwi Road, began welcoming visitors in January 2016.
All three heritage hotels represent a huge transformation of land space. They are made up of 28 conserved shophouses which are over a century old, and which Garcha acquired for S$148 million between 2012 and 2013.
The Singapore-based businessman’s preference for historical buildings is not, however, about nostalgia. Rather, the transformation of these buildings was an answer to Garcha’s penchant for spotting evolving trends, and responding to them.
“Gone are the days of having gold taps and full high-end marble. People want luxury in a slightly more sophisticated manner. I think heritage hotels convey that,” says Garcha. “There are many more layers of complexity and authenticity centered around these heritage buildings as compared to constructing a new building.”
Six Senses Maxwell is set to be the western cousin of the Duxton. That property, formerly a set of colonial trading houses, is lit with a moody Asian flair that hints at opium dens and oriental luxury.
In contrast, “Maxwell will be a mix of old European elements with Asian touches”, says Garcha of the Chinatown block of shophouses which is just minutes away from its sister hotel. “There will be handwoven silk Persian rugs, which took 18 months to make with special looms,” he adds of the top-shelf luxury details. “It has a lot more oomph, a lot more colour, unlike Duxton’s monotonic palette.”
You can thank French designer Jacques Garcia for the restoration of the 19th-century shophouses. His touch can be seen in some of the world’s most iconic institutions, from the Louvre’s 17th- and 18th-century art galleries, to the Art Deco Moroccan La Mamounia hotel in Marrakech. He is also the man behind The Vagabond Club’s art-inspired decor.Garcia pays homage to the building’s storied past, yet his signature baroque style still shines through. His deep attention to detail runs through all Maxwell’s 138 guest rooms — priced at around S$300 a night — and suites, which are outfitted with brass, lacquer and marble minibars, and handmade Lafroy Brooks bathroom fixtures.
Garcha, as a hotelier, is big on showcasing a city’s local culture. It’s important, he says, to be immersed in the specifics – another thing that the well-travelled guest seeks out today. He should know, since local touches are what he himself looks for in his own personal travels.
“I like to wander and discover the neighbourhood. I go into normal, nondescript venues with friends. I’m not a big fan of the Top 10, chi-chi places,” says Garcha.
Six Senses therefore weaves authentic experiential options into the hotel stay. Its heritage tours allow guests to experience what makes Singapore unique. One could choose to trek along the MacRitchie Treetop Walk. Or, for a taste of Singapore architecture, the hotel could help plan a visit to Singapore’s iconic Black and White bungalows.
One can appreciate how Garcha wants to bring street culture straight to the hotel guest. Garcha has set his sights on hiring a traditional ice cream vendor who has been at the trade for years. This “uncle” or “aunty” will make and serve ice cream sandwiches – a local dessert comprising a scoop or two of the dairy treat in between wafers or slices of bread – from a tricycle cart, the way it’s been done for decades in Singapore. The cart will sit at the five-foot way outside the Six Senses Maxwell, and sandwiches will be free. There’s one nod to modernity – the ice cream cart will be pimped out, so it can run on solar power.
“I never ever stay in big chain hotels,” says Garcha of his personal travels. “It’s boring. I don’t want to check into a 400-room hotel, it’s not going to change my life. We get to experience the neighbourhood more through smaller places, which are way more independent in spirit.”