Opening to stunning views of the valley from its location in the Aravalli hills at Udaipur, RAAS Devigarh is an all-suite luxury hotel housed within an 18th-century palace fortress. The palace was restored some twenty odd years ago; opened to the public in 1999, the interiors of the old hotel were swathed in white plaster as a marked departure from typically embellished palace interiors – as was the norm then – while the exteriors were pristinely preserved.
The current owner, who took over the property in 2016, has a repertoire of creating luxury boutique destinations that craft elevated narratives infused with authenticity, such as the award-winning RAAS Jodhpur, designed by the Lotus Praxis Initiative (a collaboration between Studio Lotus and Praxis) With the intent of creating a bespoke hospitality experience at the Devigarh Fort, Studio Lotus was brought on board to address the dilution of the visitor and spatial experience brought on by previous restoration drives, which had been impacting revenue generation.
Primary amongst these concerns was the need to streamline circulation within the three-storeyed public building sited adjacent to the pool. Housed in the same facility, the Gym, Restaurant, Bar and Rooftop areas could only be collectively accessed through a dim service stairway, with the existing main staircase offering disconnected routes from the suites. The haphazard approach and lack of outdoor spaces marginalised the hospitality areas into defunct pockets instead of maximising the potential of the west-facing poolside location that offers panoramic views of the valley.
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Additionally, since the interiors were masked in white, there was no shift in experiences between spaces – under-utilising areas which could add differentiating layers to the overall narrative.
The main architectural intervention has been the insertion of a crafted metal staircase to create connections between the spaces of the pool-side public building. The stepped forms of the palace and metal chequered plates were woven together as inspiration for its design of folded perforated sheets and plates bolted on free-standing MS columns. Painted in the same grey as the local stone and casting gentle shadows of its perforations, the contemporary staircase sits lightly against the heavy form of the public building: plugging effortlessly, as if it always existed, without disrupting the overall vocabulary.
Acuity in defining connections has helped create a sense of arrival, previously unexplored, for the second level Restaurant, which now has two new points of entry and zones of transience. With demand for more outdoor space, part of the interior has been converted into a ‘verandah’ with porous edges that can be peeled open; existing columns have been sandblasted to reveal the natural stone, while coats of lime plaster tinged in the same green as the existing fresco and bespoke furniture (produced by Mangrove Collective) bring colour and intimacy to the space. A custom-designed bar in acacia wood and brass also doubles as the buffet counter. The outdoor restaurant deck, extended in the same visual language as the metal staircase, reinforces the striated appearance of the latter through wooden louvers that have been installed to shade the lower levels against direct sunlight.
Crafted as a secondary destination, the Durbar Hall is tucked away from the other hospitality spaces. A laborious process of sandblasting portions of the Hall led to serendipitous discoveries of grey and red stone underneath, which added richness to the space. The banality of the existing expanse has been broken through contemporary inserts of plush furnishings and low-hung lights, creating interconnected yet intimate seating spaces. Since the Hall is not glazed, blinds have been installed along the balconies to screen off the chilly winds. While the central area emulates living room settings, the niches have been turned into cozy baithaks with space for performances included into the circulation corridor. A wenge-wood bar, deep tones of materials and vintage game tables add nuance to the theme of laidback luxury.
The design team has also worked on extending the hospitality experience by revitalising dead terrace spaces, above a line of sunken suites; developed as a small herb & flower garden developed by Edible Routes, the space gives guests a peek into the organic produce supplied to the kitchen.
Completed in September 2018, the transformation has resulted in the hotel nearly doubling its F&B revenue and boosted visitor footfall by 30 percent in the past year alone.
Studio Lotus’ interventions of creating connections and differentiated experiences have helped guests embark on journeys of discovery and revelations – transforming their stay at RAAS Devigarh into engaging memories they are likely to revisit.