Amidst Penang’s UNESCO World Heritage neighbourhood of Georgetown lies a bespoke luxury hotel mixing history and innovation. Just four years old, The Prestige Hotel was inspired by a film about Victorian-era magic. Featuring 162 rooms, an all-day dining restaurant, a rooftop infinity pool, events spaces and a retail arcade, it has become a destination for business and leisure travellers looking for local charm with a sophisticated edge.
It’s not every day we come across a hotel concept that draws its influence from cinema. The Prestige Hotel takes its name from the 2006 film The Prestige starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two magicians in 1890s London who developed incredible magic tricks where people appear to be in two places at once. The film captures the atmosphere of vaudeville and spectacle and recalls real-life escape artists like Harry Houdini who could disentangle himself from straitjackets and handcuffs upside down and submerged in water. Some of the stunts and technological trickery invented during this time were precursors to cinematography.
Interestingly, many aspects of contemporary life derive from the Victorian age which refers to the time of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) a period of incredible social change and technological innovation across art and science. For example, in science Charles Darwin published his seminal theory of evolution, in literature Charles Dickens published his famous tales. Of relevance for today’s post-Covid world, the smallpox vaccine was made mandatory for children and the first telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
While designers often look to history to reinvigorate contemporary life, this hotel project by Singapore based Ministry of Design reinterprets heritage in an interesting way. The company, with offices in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, began with the location – a lush island mixed with colonial history. This led the designers towards a theme they titled ‘Tropical Victorian Eden’ as their website explains: “the design neither mimics heritage nor is purely modern. Combining the most characterful elements of the historic context with an innovative and modern sensibility, we sought to “transpose heritage”; not to be ruled by it, but to run with it in order to create something fresh but yet familiar.”
This theme of transposed heritage with references to the tricks of illusion continues throughout the building in a series of design features using mirrored hallways and patterns. Wainscot, a decorative white panelling applied to lower walls frequently seen in Victorian-era homes is reinterpreted into trapezium lines in a dynamic take on tradition.
The ground floor is planned like a historical English shopping arcade with the hotel reception alongside eating and shopping areas. The retail spaces include a fine dining restaurant, a coffee place, a beverage outlet, a convenience store, and a florist producing a lively atmosphere. The Glasshouse restaurant references a conservatory, or sunroom, with lattice patterns and metal-framed walls. A mix of tropical plants and furnishings create the allure of a tropical garden. Mirrors, a recurring design element throughout the hotel, clad the end walls to deliberately create the illusion of multiple rooms. Two zones create different dining experiences at this all-day dining establishment: green banquettes facing out to Church Street for people watching, or white wicker chairs at the back for alfresco dining within lush landscape areas.
The black-and-white floor pattern which seems to magically appear and disappear before your eyes serves to delineate areas throughout the ground floor. The hotel lobby features a maze pattern in marble and bronze which guests may follow in a playful way to reach the reception desk. The desk, made of mirrored stainless steel, seems to balance on chrome spheres. Behind the desk a cloud wainscot feature on a curved wall echoes Victorian interiors but with an added hint of whimsy.
Stepping into the lift-cars, another Victorian design element – patterned wallpaper – is reimagined. Rendered in floor-to-ceiling polished tinted metal the graphics feature heritage buildings around Penang, and local botany such as coconut trees, birds of paradise and hibiscus.
Touches of magic and illusion continue in the guest rooms of which there are four types: the Deluxe is the standard size while the Premier Deluxe Suite, Loft Suite and the Deluxe Trio have living areas and provide options in terms of layout and space to suit varying needs of guests. All rooms feature quirky elements including beds that seem to levitate and hidden doors which open to reveal toilet cubicles and cupboards.
The vanity mirrors are another example of reinterpreting traditional design. Victorian style mirrors, usually heavy and elaborate are refigured in angular forms, using polished brass and integrated light. The idea again plays upon optical illusion and perception, appearing as two mirrors but floating as a frame on top of horizontal mirrored wall.
A custom-designed shower and wardrobe enclosure made from champagne bronze tinted metal and glass is a key feature of the Premier Deluxe Suites. Aesthetically it recalls the elaborate magic props used in performances like Houdini’s escape box. For families a Deluxe Trio room is ideal because it features a king-sized bed and a single bed in a separate room. The Loft Suite spans is designed for travellers on long business trips and couples who desire more space to relax with 45sqm layout spread across a lounge area on the ground floor and bedroom on a mezzanine. A specially designed clock above the sofa doubles as a wall feature, casting a fractal pattern from the angular wainscot lines.
The top floor features an infinity pool which is an excellent place to watch the sunset over Church Street pier, as well as a gym with chandeliers and mirrored ceilings to create the impression of space. There are two event spaces, the Angier and Borden function rooms which are named after the lead characters in The Prestige movie can host events for 110 guests while two gazebo spaces have lounge seating outdoors for more intimate soirees.
Part of the prestigious Design Hotels portfolio, The Prestige Hotel is a new build on the site of a late-1900s maritime warehouse. Its innovative design and close proximity to the historical sites of Penang make it the perfect base to explore this multicultural harbour city.