Contemporary interior design, a touch of Art Deco and subtle design elements that tell a story through the ages.
Historic hotels have lots of stories to tell by default and interior design is a great way to tell these stories. It gives the hotel a sense of place and helps them stand out from the crowd.
The Ambassador Hotel Zurich is housed in the Utoschloss (Uto Castle) behind the Zurich Opera House and a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Zurich. The small luxury boutique hotel with its 44 rooms is a proud member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and boasts with an impressive history.
A Hotel full of History
A wide range of astounding events happened in and around the Ambassador Hotel Zurich from when the building was first erected in 1899. The neo baroque building was originally created to house shops and luxury apartments. Built on water it stands on 1000 pillars of oak, causing the cellars to flood nearly 100 years later. But let’s start from the beginning back in the late 19th century.
The Utoschloss was fitted out with electricity and each apartment had its own private bathrooms
This was a true luxury in times where only one tenth of the city’s apartments had a bathroom to call their own.
Despite the real estate crisis of the 19th century, the city of Zurich was experiencing economic growth and soon became internationally known as a silk trade city. The latter becoming the proverbial read thread (no pun intended) in the interior design of the recently renovated Ambassador Hotel Zurich.
Before we take a look at the subtle design elements that refer to Zurich’s history as a silk city, however, let’s go back in time once more. To a time filled with extremes, the roaring 20s. Wild parties, technical advances, in particular in the automobile industry, the Spanish flu and World War I sure made for interesting as well as turbulent times.
Strong and determined women shaped the history of the Ambassador Hotel Zurich
Enter Emma Zschokke, an entrepreneurial woman with a vision who took over part of the Utoschloss and turned it into a pension – ‘Pension Andrea’. Unlike in a hotel, guest had to stay a minimum of 5 nights and for CHF 10 per day they would have 3 meals included.
Fast forward to May 6th, 1939, on the eve of World War II, the Swiss National Exhibition was inaugurated. The Pension Andrea, now called Pension Seequai, had been taken over by yet another strong and driven woman, Viktoria Ziegler. She and her husband Hermann Ziegler, both had years of experience of working in Grand Hotels, such as the Kulm St. Moritz, which is where they had met.
Viktoria soon became known as the ‘tough business woman with a good heart’ and was even nicknamed ‘migrant mother’. She welcomed Jews, important personalities as well as ordinary people, escaping the Nazi regime. The Pension Seequai became a safe haven for those in exile, such as the famous writer Walter Mehring and poor refugees were provided with free meals.
Frozen Lake Zurich and Swiss espionage
After a calm decade during the 1950s, the 1960s once again brought some excitement to the pension, including a generational change of management, a name change and an international espionage scandal.
The refurbishment of the pension, soon to be renamed Ambassador Hotel & Restaurant, began during the exceptionally cold winter of 1962/ 63. To date, it was the last time Lake Zurich completely froze over. People came from all over to go ice skating or simply walk across the lake.
As it appears, the posh new name of the hotel, not only attracted an international business clientele, but also a Swiss spy. Alfred Frauenknecht, an engineer and director of procurement at Sulzer, smuggled 140’000 secret drawings of mechanical tools and parts for the fighter aircrafts Mirage to Israel.
Hippies and Opera Singers
The 60s and 70s were also marked by violent youth revolutions as well as the hippie movement. On the flip side, the Zurich Opera gained further international recognition and the Restaurant Ambassador became the hotspot for opera singers and other artists. Luciano Pavarotti, Udo Jürgens and Ruedi Walter amongst them.
Further refurbishments and change of management took place in the decades that followed, during a time where Zurich was put on the map as a global financial center, but also struggled with the AIDS epidemic, a growing drug problem and a recession.
Here we are, back to the time when the cellars of the hotel flooded. The city of Zurich was booming, globalisation, the bilateral agreements with the EU and the growing number of corporate headquarters, such as Google, attracted an elite crowd to Zurich and the city’s finer hotels.
Fast forward to 2020
2020 – a year that none of us are likely to ever forget, the Ambassador Hotel is once again at the brink of change. The Ambassador Hotel is taken over by the Meili group, a Zurich based real estate investment group run by the Meili brothers, who also owns a handful of hotels.
A new era for the Ambassador Hotel Zurich
After nearly 3 years of comprehensive refurbishments, the boutique and lifestyle hotel reopened its doors as the Ambassador Hotel Zurich in spring of 2023.
The hotel’s design concept, quite literally, takes you on journey
By dedicating each of the five floors to one of the silk trading partners, Britain, Spain | Americas, France, Asia and India, it embraces Zurich’s significance in the silk trade. A collection of memorabilia is on display behind glass in the corridors and the rooms feature colours and décor respective to the country or region.
On the other hand, the concept also highlights the important role women have played in the hotel’s history and brings back to life the early days of the hotel with Art Deco and Art Nouveau design elements. With Art Deco being back en vogue, the overall style of the hotel still feels very contemporary.
The red thread of the design concept
One of the recurring design elements are the mulberry leaves, which is the silk worms main source of food. You’ll find them as brass inlays in the floors, engraved on wood panelling and embossed in faux-leather menu covers.
While the large lampshades above the reception desk and the bar are reminiscent of silk cocoons, the name of the Bar & Restaurant – SILK – as well as the attic lounge – Cocoon – also pay homage to the silk trade.
Elegant bedrooms with a distinct masculine feel
The rooms feature a similar overall style, but vary in terms of size, shape, layout and colour palette. Observant guests will notice subtle design elements, such as colours, engravings, décor and books that correspond to the floor’s country or region.
The contemporary bathroom design features brushed dark brass fittings by Dornbracht, corrugated glass shower partitions and industrial style sink cabinets.
Needless to say, a lot of thought and consideration went into the design concept, which renowned Zurich based interior designer Ina Rinderknecht was responsible for.
Dining and Lounging at the Ambassador Hotel Zurich
Restaurant & Bar SILK – A relaxed ambiance in a sophisticated space
I was happy to find some delicious vegan options on the menu at dinner and at breakfast and I appreciated the interiors and the ambiance alike.
Yet, at the same time, as a vegan (interior designer), I felt somewhat distraught by the fact that part of their concept is to filter their cocktails through cow’s milk and a silk cloth. I might be biased, but taking into consideration the current trend, which is moving away from the (over)use of dairy, I think there are more sustainable ways of telling a story.
Cocoon Lounge – A stylish escape from the city’s hustle and bustle
The Cocoon Lounge is a cozy lounge under the roof, featuring an honesty bar and a quiet spot for hotel guests to relax, read a book or get some work done. The space, which can also be rented for small meetings, is a true insider tip… so please don’t tell anyone 😉
The Roof Terrace – Zurich’s best kept secret
Since the weather wasn’t really playing along neither during the opening night nor during my stay at the Ambassador Hotel Zurich, I made a mental note to go back to the Ambassador’s rooftop terrace for sundowners on a warm summer evening.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed my staycation at the Ambassador Hotel Zurich. The overall vibe is sophisticated, yet personable and relaxed. Spending a night smack in the centre of Zurich, in an architectural landmark, in a lively by day, but quiet by night neighbourhood, felt like a true privilege.
Happy stylish discoveries!
Photography: Courtesy of the Ambassador Hotel Zurich
Book ‘Ambassador Hotel Zürich’ by Bernhard Ruetz
Note: This blog post was created in collaboration with the Ambassador Hotel Zurich (press stay).