How do you find the soul of a hotel?

Fyra wanted to make the Original Sokos Hotel Vaakuna special. This is how it happened. “Something totally different.” That was the essence of the assignment for renovating the Original Sokos Hotel Vaakuna situated in Seinäjoki, western Finland.

Fyra had previously renovated the Original Sokos Hotel Lakeus which is situated in the same town, in the Ostrobothnian region. The regional characteristics provided the inspiration for the refurbishment.

“We wanted this hotel to have a completely different profile. Starting the project was easy since we had already done the Lakeus hotel with Fyra”, says Merja Kivioja, Hotel Manager of both hotels.

Kivioja refers to Vaakuna, built in 1991, as “a basic hotel building” that, in terms of architecture, had nothing particularly worth preserving. As the building had to undergo a plumbing renovation, the company decided to renew everything from ventilation to the building service system, energy-efficient windows and a completely new interior. However, the first thing was to find the soul of Vaakuna, to find that special something that separates it from Lakeus as well as all the other hotels.

Inspiration from a cinema

Fyra began the Vaakuna design project in the beginning of 2016. The hotel is situated in the city centre, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, adjacent to a shopping centre. The 5600-square-metre hotel has 147 rooms.

It was obvious from the very beginning that the focus would be on the prestige of Vaakuna and supporting local operators.

“We went further into concept development to find depth and layers to the story of the hotel”, says Eva-Marie Eriksson, co-founder of Interior Architects Fyra and leader of the project.

“We delved into the history of the hotel. If you find a point of reference, something from the past of the location, it makes the design process so much more productive. The concept won’t be something put together haphazardly.”

Soon Fyra came upon a fascinating piece of information: years prior to Vaakuna, there had been a cinema called Bio Rex in that same location. This immediately started conjuring up images of a dramatic, grand and, perhaps, a bit theatrical atmosphere with dark colour tones – all something totally different from Lakeus.

“The concept started taking form naturally as we presented it to the client and began building upon it together”, Eriksson says.

“The name Vaakuna, in and of itself, is historically significant [the first hotel Vaakuna was opened in Helsinki for the Olympics in 1952] so we wanted to maintain the classic style instead making something ultra-modern.”

The renovation began after Christmas 2016. It was put on hold for the summer 2017 to make the most of the peak season in tourism. The rooms in the last wing will be completed in May 2018.

“A space has to be designed in a way that it leaves a lasting impression on the customer. The materials and the functionality of the interior solutions are important but it is equally important to create an outcome that stays with the client”, Eriksson says.

This is how the atmosphere was created

A dramatic cinema-like atmosphere was created by using big graphic patterns, eye-catching surfaces and bold colours: only the bed lined is white. Fyra added a finishing touch with brass details and thick fabrics. Use of local suppliers, products and materials was a priority.

Supporting everything local is important because the customers are looking for a unique experience even from a hotel chain. Another reason is the fact that this is Ostrobothnia, a region known for its people and the pride they take in their roots.

Lighting is one of the key elements in all of Fyra’s interior projects. Here, too, it had a role in creating an atmosphere. Merja Kivioja is happy with the lighting design.

“It is the greatest feature in the hotel. Fyra really paid attention to that aspect. We can now easily create just the right kind of atmosphere.”

A cinema in your room

During the design process the building layout was simplified and unnecessary space was utilised.

Useless corridors were removed and the space used for making some of the rooms bigger. This enabled equipping some of the rooms with a sauna and building a gym for the hotel. Fyra also designed a few movie rooms that, instead of TV, have a projector and audio equipment incorporated within the interior.

“It’s always good for a hotel to have something special to offer the customers”, Eva-Marie Eriksson says. The hotel restaurant and reception area underwent a lighter refurbishment to match with the rest of the hotel.

Merja Kivioja is happy with the project.

“What’s best in Fyra is their ability to envision the project in its entirety. They can transform a space into something special.” That is, into something unique.

Photographer: Sampsa Pärnänen

Other references