Number 2 Am Hof has been an important building in the heart of Vienna for decades. One of the most prestigious addresses in the Austrian capital, whilst today the square on which it sits, Am Hof, is dominated by the white Baroque façade of the Kirche am Hof (built between 1386 and 1403 by the Carmelite Order), the site was once Vindobona fort and military garrison, established by Roman troops in 98 A.D. Centuries later in the Middle Ages, the then Duke of Austria erected Babenberg Castle on the Am Hof, repurposing the remaining walls of the Roman fort into a palace.
At its height, the grand Babenberg Castle hosted such luminaries as Barbarossa and Walter von der Vogelweide, the famed minnesänger who starred in Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The castle was the official residence of Austria’s dukes until 1220 and the square in front of it was often used for jousting. Later, once the Habsburgs had moved to the castle of today, the square became a marketplace. Today, hundreds of years later, Am Hof is still used for markets, festivals and fairs and is very much the oldest and most historic square in Vienna.
The present building at Am Hof 2, affectionately referred to by many as “The Pearl of Vienna” and originally the headquarters of Austrian Länderbank, was erected more than a century ago between 1913 and 1915. The imposing six-storey edifice was designed by Ernst von Gotthilf and Alexander Neumann, star Austrian architects of the time, who had previously conceived a number of prominent structures in the city, including the headquarters of the Vienna Bank Corporation and the stunning private residence of David Fanto, the massive Palais Fanto. Their Austrian Länderbank building was amongst the first in Vienna to be fashioned in a neoclassical style, embodying the splendour of the Wilhelminian era whilst also incorporating elegant Jugendstil elements.
Unsurprisingly since the Wilhelmine Period roughly coincided with the Belle Époque era, the Austrian Länderbank building bears many beautiful hallmarks of the time, including an ornate frontage facing Am Hof, sculptured ornamentation above the stately Doric-columned portico and a gable decorated with three-dimensional figures. A frieze of Greek keys and rosettes and an elegantly protruding cornice unifies the building’s elongated side elevations with the magnificent front façade. Inside the building included many opulent features and careful detailing which were considered lavish for the early 20th century, including a wood-lined elevator inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which was used to ferry the bank’s directors to their offices, a grand marble staircase, oak parquet floors and rooms completely paneled in dark walnut. By all accounts von Gotthilf and Neumann’s creation for Bank Austria was something of a first in many respects, particularly one hundred years ago, so the job of renovating and restoring the structure a century later, let alone reworking it into a luxury hotel containing every modern-day convenience, was never going to be easy or straightforward.
The task of reimagining the interior of the 100 year-old building, and overseeing its transformation from a financial hub to a 21st century hospitality haven, was the job of interior design duo Colin P. Finnigan and Gerard Glintmeijer of Amsterdam-based firm FG stijl. Their incredibly visionary concept for Hyatt’s first property in Austria was not only elegant and contemporary at the same time – seamlessly and tenderly interlacing the old with the new – but also breathed new light, energy and vigor into a relatively rigid building that could so easily have become oppressive and pompous.
After three years work and despite a catastrophic fire, Finngan and Glintmeijer’s skilled and beautifully executed juxtaposition between the building’s history and the building’s future resulted in public spaces, corridors, restaurants and guest rooms which are a joy to behold and move around in, and feel as casual as they do smart. Whilst an underlying sense of decorum is palpable throughout the building, it is also a space to enjoy and be enjoyed.
From the outside and considering its slightly intimidating façade, one would imagine that staying at Park Hyatt Vienna – amidst the huge columns, fine marble, gleaming brass, wood paneling and alabaster ceilings – might be a stifling and staid experience. On the contrary, once inside sofas beg to be lounged on, cushions squeezed, chairs sat in and every handsome detail, exquisite nook and charming cranny beckons to be discovered. The entire building feels like it has been designed to be used, by people, rather than devised for looks alone with functionality and aesthetics coming second. Nowhere is this more evident that the hotel’s best suite.
The best suites in five-star hotels literally come in all shapes and styles. Generally, they are always large. But from the contemporary to the traditional, and the cutting-edge to the whimsical, there is no hard and fast rule about how a showpiece suite will feel once you’ve put the key in the door and stepped inside. From my personal experience, those laden with grand pianos and huge chandeliers, and bedecked with acres of marble, miles of curtains and walls of dark wood, are the most unfriendly, unwelcoming and downright uncomfortable places to unpack one’s cases and lay one’s head. Not so Park Hyatt Vienna’s 170m2 Presidential Suite.
Situated on the high-ceilinged bel étage, overlooking the city’s most fancy shopping street on the corner where Am Hof meets Bognergasse, Park Hyatt Vienna’s Presidential Suite strikes just the right balance between tasteful opulence and warm livability. I felt right at home within moments of setting down my bits and bobs on a console and my MacBook in the office.
The oval salon is hung with a massive Josef Hoffman-designed Lobmeyr crystal chandelier, which was apparently increased from its original size to have greater impact in the main living space. Whilst huge and OTT it really is a thing of beauty. A three-metre curved sofa echoes the shape of the room, facing a large hi-tech TV casually sitting on the floor in front of a curved bank of 4.5-metre windows and plush drapes. Beyond them a balustraded balcony which, from the outside, accentuates the rounded corner between Bognergasse and Seitzergasse. An antique 1937 Bosenddorfer grand piano sits coolly to one side of the lounge – present but not screaming to be noticed – sans candelabra. Meanwhile in the dining room, a dreamy Casper Faassen painting enjoys pride of place in the middle of a huge wall, looking down on a silver leafed table equally equipped for eating and conferencing.
Towering walnut bookcases laden with gorgeous objet d’art fill one wall of the masculine yet comfy office, where a large L-shaped desk inset with champagne-coloured stingray is offset by a deep-buttoned ivory leather swivel armchair. And so it goes on, every space brimming with detailing, fabric covered walls, mother-of-pearl, silver leafing and more detailing. Not to mention marble – plenty of marble. For me the pièces de résistance are the spectacular wall of lapis in the master bathroom, and the 3-metre mother-of-pearl encrusted oval mirror in the guest cloakroom, which was so huge it was impossible to photograph. I almost forgot the Lalique taps, the mirrored bath tub fit for a pop diva, the custom-designed silvered four-poster canopy bed, and the slick black kitchen equipped with every convenience, complete with a separate entrance for clandestine room service deliveries. Yet, despite being surrounded by such glamour, lavishness, excruciatingly expensive finishes and valuable antiques and bespoke furniture at every turn, the suite was comfortable, entirely usable and functioned just beautifully.
Double-glazing and electrically-operated blackouts and curtains ensured that I slept like a baby, and room service breakfasts gently eased me into each day. And what I liked most about the suite, was that from the corridor outside, you had no idea what grandeur lay beyond the relatively nondescript single guest room door. Pure class.
Park Hyatt Vienna is a place that stirs guests’ emotions, welcomes them with open arms and rewards them with luxuries, pampering and fond memories, the latter being as much about GM Monique Decker and her spirited and caring staff than it is about the warm environment they have created.
The architectural beauty of Park Hyatt Vienna is that from an artistic and historical standpoint, inside and out Am Hof 2 is much the same as it was when the building first went up in the early 1900s. This is an incredible feat when you consider that inside now contains every modern-day hospitality convenience, seamlessly integrated into the old structure, and the hotel’s guest rooms are some of the most sumptuous and spacious in the city. A testament as much to Dutch interior design duo Finnigan and Glintmeijer as it is to Am Hof 2’s original creators von Gotthilf and Neumann, these four experts – spanning more than one hundred years of craftsmanship and design – have between them guaranteed that The Pearl of Vienna will stand proud over the Austrian capital’s most famous square for at least another century.
Nicholas Chrisostomou stayed in the EUR 5,000/night Presidential Suite at Park Hyatt Vienna in July 2017. The nightly rate includes Mercedes S-Class airport transfers, breakfast and taxes.