Designing unique elegance for a chain hotel

The idea was to liberate the Holiday Inn Helsinki Expo from the facelessness of a large hotel chain. With Fyra, the hotel attached to the exhibition centre was given some character whilst remaining true to the brand guidelines.

Holiday Inn Helsinki Expo is a host for a variety of interesting events and international guests, yet, the interior of the exhibition centre hotel was not able to keep up with the competition of today. It was as if the hotel, built in 1997, had been forgotten in the shadow of Messukeskus, the Expo and Convention Centre in Helsinki. The original interior with dark tones did not make an impression on the exhibition guests nor did it attract business people from the surrounding office buildings to have lunch.

The objective was to modernise the hotel focusing on creating a unique combination of Nordic elegance and influences drawn from the concrete skyline characteristic to the Pasila neighbourhood.

The lobby was a closed space that needed to be turned into a cosy living room that would welcome everyone, not just exhibition guests, to sit for a cappuccino or enjoy some tapas. The objective was to create the best event hotel in the Nordic countries – a hotel that beckons and withstands a steady customer flow for the next 20 years.

There were many challenges ahead. The lobby floor was maze-like and anything but spacious. In addition, the interior needed to adhere to the detailed brand guidelines and safety regulations of the Holiday Inn chain. The strict rules define use of colours, materials, prints, furniture and its placement as well as signage. How do you create something unique with a premise like that?

“Well, it wasn’t the easiest of assignments”, says Mika Vakkilainen from the Finnish Fair Corporation, and the commissioner of the project.

Interior Architects Fyra was chosen to take on the project as the Finnish Fair Corporation had been happy with their previous work. In 2016, Fyra had renewed the premises of the company building. Now Fyra was assigned to design the lobby, the restaurant, the reception area and 245 hotel rooms along with the corridors. The project included also the design of the hotel guest sauna facilities, a new gym and a sauna and lounge facilities available for private occasions.

Passageway with potential

The two-and-a-half-year project – consisting of the building service systems as well as the interior modernisation – began with the fundamentals. Attention was first placed on the functionality of the heart of the hotel, the lobby.

A more spacious feel was created by knocking down an old enclosed office that was in the middle of the floor. The new reception desk was placed near the entrance. The big, bulky staircase was replaced with a lighter, more delicate spiral metal staircase designed by the principal designer for the project, Architects Davidsson Tarkela. Wider passageways were created in specific areas to avoid congestion and ensure a smooth flow of people. Narrower passages between slender seating groups were created as a contrast to ensure cosier atmosphere. Soft rugs, embedded in the floor according to the safety regulations, accentuate the lounge groups.

In order to attract not just hotel guests but other clients as well, a passageway from the Expo and Convention Centre conference facilities to the hotel was created. This enables easier access to Open Lobby and Fazer Restaurant Platta. Other restaurant entrances were also created.

“Now you cannot miss the hotel and the restaurant from the street or from the Expo and Convention Centre”, says Tiina Närkki, partner at Fyra and head of the project.

Local colour from details

The next step was to add some local colour and Nordic vibes to the hotel design.

The bright Holiday Inn brand colours were introduced in a more subdued palette drawing from the Nordic nature. Lots of natural materials, such as wood slats for the walls and leather for armchairs, were chosen for the surfaces and the furniture. Timeless furniture suits the demands of the busy exhibition centre hotel: the sofas in the rooms are also spare beds and the lightweight chairs are easy to stack away to make room for different events.

Influences from the aesthetics of the surrounding Pasila neighbourhood can be seen in the floor materials of the lobbies and the restaurant. The grey concrete was chosen to mirror the floors of the Expo and Convention Centre. Concrete slab floor is resilient and able to withstand the pressure of heavy foot traffic caused by thousands of daily visitors. The interior design also took into consideration the constantly changing exhibitions by creating display areas suitable for anything, be it motorcycles, boat engines or books.

“This way you get to enjoy the convention atmosphere at the hotel, too”, says Mika Vakkilainen from the Finnish Fair Corporation.

The long, straight hotel corridors were given character with large prints of old exhibition posters. The posters depicting fairs from past decades were discovered in the Finnish Fair Corporation offices during Fyra’s previous project. They are now displayed in the elevator lobbies. The posters were also a source of inspiration for different themes in the room design.

A variety of details is what creates an atmosphere. The monotony of the corridors is broken by the rhythm of the lighter and darker sections. Decorative tiles embedded in the concrete floor are used to add a special touch to the restaurant. The glass-enclosed wine storage elevates the appearance of the bar and enhances the experience of enjoying a high-quality wine carefully chosen by the restaurant.

Best in Nordic countries – and beyond

The renewed hotel opened its doors to the public in March 2019. The Finnish Fair Corporation is very happy with the result and believes the modernisation will attract more customers.

“Fyra truly succeeded in creating a timeless, fresh interior without making an exact match to the brand specifications and heat remaining faithful to the colour palette and elements the rules stipulate”, Vakkilainen says.

“At the opening party several exhibitors said that now that the hotel looks so nice it is impossible to stay anywhere else during an exhibition.”

The Holiday Inn chain is also really satisfied with the result. The aim was to have the finest event hotel in the Nordic countries but, as one brand representative said, they ended up with the finest Holiday Inn in all of Europe.

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