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Sitting pretty: Royal Hotel, Copenhagen

Michael Willoughby

Furniture seemed the obvious starting point for Space Copenhagen's refurbishment of Arne Jacobsen's paean to international modernism

Restored to perfection, the lobby of the Royal Hotel now looks as good as it did in 1960.
Restored to perfection, the lobby of the Royal Hotel now looks as good as it did in 1960. Credit: Joachim Wichman

What homage should the reverent architectural practice make to one of the world’s most visited design sites, the Ur-design hotel? Tasked with the refurbishment of Arne Jacobsen’s 1960 Royal Hotel, Copenhagen, first home of the Swan, Drop and Egg chairs which still inhabit it, Space Copenhagen chose to say it with furniture. 

With its semi-circular backrest, the firm’s Loafer chair echoes the lobby of this totem of international modernism, affording ‘protection’ from the enormous space, according to co-designers, Peter Bundgaard Rützou and Signe Bindslev Henriksen. 

Copenhagen-born Jacobsen created every­thing here, from building to cutlery via hardware. Fulfilling the 1956 commission from the airline Scandinavian Airlines System was his singular achievement. But while the hotel remained a destination for design pilgrims, the original masterwork gradually became eroded to meet guest requirements. Nor were worn elements replaced with those of similar quality. 

By the 21st century, only the exterior and room 606 were as built. A sensitive refurbishment was long overdue. The challenge, say Space’s founders, was to ‘bring the hotel to life for a new generation’ – avoiding a museum. 

To reinvigorate the lobby of the hotel (today known as Radisson Collection Royal Hotel, Copenhagen) the practice brought up the marble floors and wood and marble wall panelling to historical perfection. The spiral staircase was also refitted and given back its lost leather-wrapped handrails through referral to archival photos.

  • A Poulson signature lamp.
    A Poulson signature lamp. Credit: Joachim Wichmann
  • Bedroom suites once again reflect Jacobsen's sense of restrained luxury.
    Bedroom suites once again reflect Jacobsen's sense of restrained luxury. Credit: Joachim Wichmann
  • Space Copenhagen's velvet Loafer chairs complement Jacobsen's original furniture in the bar.
    Space Copenhagen's velvet Loafer chairs complement Jacobsen's original furniture in the bar. Credit: Joachim Wichmann

The firm stripped out the bar and retail space and added a curved version of its Stay sofa to its Loafer and Jacobsen’s Egg chairs. This gave guests space to socialise and work among the warm red, plum, petrol blue and brass which complements the wood and marble.  

Collaborating with furniture specialist Fritz Hansen, the team covered Jacobsen’s beloved bespoke chairs in new fabric. They unearthed some lesser-known pieces from a basement – his Mayor Sofa and Giraffe dining table – and installed them in the Café Royal restaurant. These sit side-by-side with dining-style Drop chairs and new Stellar Works’ Ren chairs. The team even bought one of Jacobsen’s Pot chairs - also once native of the restaurant – and put it back into production.    

Guests in the 259 bedrooms also benefit from reupholstered Egg, Swan and Drop chairs as well as Space’s Accent tables for Mater, the Fly sofa and its Copenhagen pendant. Amore mirrors were created in situ to reflect the skyline; while at the windows, a wide, white marble windowsill was reintroduced to draw attention to the view and the horizontally of Jacobsen’s design. Wood panelled walls and Kvadrat’s Fiord textile bedding add warmth to the black and grey tonality.

A former guest makes up in her Drop chair
A former guest makes up in her Drop chair Credit: Joachim Wichmann

To complete the tribute, the hotel’s nine meeting rooms have been stuffed with – and named after – Jacobsen’s sedentary design classics with archive lithographics hanging on the walls. ‘Our aim is to create a space for people to celebrate memories of the past, and create memories for the future, too,’ say Rützou and Henriksen. 



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