A perfect world
When Olow Frank arrived at the Grand Hôtel for his first day at work in 2002, one of his dreams had come true. Straight out of high school, he had decided to aim for a career in the hospitality business and sent job applications to several hotels. However, only one replied – Grand Hôtel, widely considered the top hotel in Sweden. He started out as a luggage porter working the night shift. After two years, it was time for the day shift at the reception, and for the past 12 years, he’s been the hotel’s head concierge.
“I had dreamed of working at the Grand Hôtel, but never thought it would happen. To this day, I’ve never worked anywhere else,” he says.
He still remembers his first day here. “The hotel was so big, I was afraid I wouldn’t find my way out at the day’s end. Even now, I still find new shortcuts all the time,” he laughs.
Frank is one of the Grand’s 320 employees, many of whom, like he has, have been loyal to the hotel for years. The staff is made up of 35 nationalities, a fact which, according to the hotel’s CEO Pia Djupmark, is a key ingredient in the hotel’s enduring success.
“They are our software, our DNA,” she says. “The hardware and the product can always be copied, but not the people and their pride in what they do.”
Walking around the hotel, you can understand Frank’s worry on his initial working day. The Grand Hôtel is indeed huge, and the corridors with their gold-plated mirrors, plush carpets, gigantic flower bouquets, pillars and lots of marble seem to never end. The exact size is 48,000sq m – some 2,000 more than Stockholm’s Royal Castle, located just across the water. Just like the castle, the hotel has played a significant role in the Swedish capital ever since it opened, in 1874. It’s the place where international stars, politicians and Nobel laureates stay when they’re in town, and also where Stockholmers choose to visit when they want a staycation to celebrate a wedding anniversary or a big birthday.
“Régis Cadier, who built the Grand, did it because he saw that international trade was just starting to take off and felt that Stockholm was missing a large, international hotel,” Djupmark says. “Cadier built this to welcome important clients and celebrities and to throw huge parties. That’s how it has continued throughout the years. What’s new is the guests who come here to elevate their everyday lives. Stockholmers have gotten better at staying at a hotel in their own town.”
Djupmark came to Grand five years ago from Radisson Hotels. She found a hotel which was fantastic in many ways – but also in dire straits economically. By appealing to a wider range of clients and modernizing the hotel’s marketing strategy she has played a key part in making the business profitable again.
The stable financial situation enabled new investments, such as the major renovation the Grand has undergone over the past four years, in which almost all the rooms, public spaces and restaurants have been remodeled. This summer, two new signature suites and a new façade were unveiled. Swedish architectural firm Tengbom changed the color of one of Stockholm’s great landmarks from terracotta to light ochre.
The suites are the work of acclaimed interior designer Martin Brudnizki. Born in Sweden but based in London and New York, he is hailed for his restaurant interiors, including London’s The Ivy, but this is his first project in his home country. With the suites at the Grand, he has aimed for a cozy yet elegant feeling to suit the modern traveler.
“We decided to create a space which felt like a home away from home, with the added indulgence of staying at a five-star hotel,” Brudnizki says.
For inspiration, he did not need to go far. “The suites needed to feel like the ultimate hideaway – peaceful but still fun. I felt inspired by the residential look of my mother’s own home in Stockholm and sought to recreate the ambience at the Grand Hôtel.”
Standing in the hotel’s lobby, it’s amazing to think that when the hotel opened, guests rode right into the entrance hall with horses and carriages. And while this five-star establishment has always been one of the most luxurious in town, in the early days the Grand only had two toilets, which, however, was more than the Royal castle, which only had one.
“Our aim is to respect our history, but never become old and boring,” Djupmark says. “We are a destination in our own right. What we want to do is create this perfect world for our guests.”
Published: July 17, 2018
Last edited: July 17, 2018