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International architecture and interiors practice, Red Deer, has redesigned iconic central Bilbao institution, Hotel Ercilla – restoring the building to its original glory as a landmark venue in the industrial Spanish city.
Originally brought to life in the 1970s as the first purpose-built hotel in Bilbao, Hotel Ercilla was the go-to destination for every celebrity visiting the vibrant Basque region. From the 1990s onwards, little work had taken place on the design, resulting in an incoherently brought together mixture of styles and influences.
Recognising the different values and needs of the contemporary traveller, Red Deer has consolidated the original 325 bedrooms into 285 and placed more of the focus on the social hubs of Hotel Ercilla. In addition to the rooftop lounge and bar, there is an opulent interior bar and lounge, along with a reception, an elaborate powder room, in rich blue and vintage gold, and a number of conference and function rooms located on the lower ground floor. The bedrooms have been divided into five types: Stylish, Stylish City View, Vintage, Vintage Premium and Suites.
Now reworked to its former glory as an iconic destination, Red Deer has interlinked the hotel’s heritage with a new concept: ‘Vintage Glamour the Bilbao Way’. The concept for the 13-storey hotel has been created alongside brand and design agency, 0120, who has created the visual branding for the revamped Hotel Ercilla and who, in true collaborative form, shares a workspace with Red Deer in its London offices.
Honouring the grandeur of the 1970s and 80s in all its brashness and eclecticism, Red Deer has created a colour and texture palette straight out of the era, transforming the previously tired building.
‘The concept was almost self-evident in the history of the hotel and the nostalgia the owners had for all the good memories they had of time spent within the hotel,’ explains Red Deer’s Lionel Real de Azúa.
‘It was important we combine that pride in the heritage with their determination to have fun – so we just connected the dots to create a colour and texture palette straight out of the era. Ochre, crème, chrome, pink, burgundy and dark blue, vibrant splashes of tweeds, houndstooth and dogtooth were used to construct a bold geometric effect and reference Bilbao’s own strong trade history with Britain as an industrial port city, softened through the use of velvets and sumptuous faux furs in true 1970s style.’
At the heart of the project was Red Deer’s commitment to remain true to the concept, but with the added flexibility to achieve it. ‘Our longstanding commitment to sustainability was achieved through careful reuse and repurposing of existing materials and maintaining or restoring a significant proportion of the original furniture and finishes across the building, further celebrating the history of the site,’ says Lionel. ‘Negotiating cost and budget against the concept and Marriott Autograph’s design guidelines was the biggest challenge, but we’re used to (and adept at) working with pre-existing materials and getting the most out of what little we have to work with.’
Locally sourced oak panelling was added along with travertine (a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs) and an abundance of chrome. The new flooring in the bar uses woven recycled PVC, and frosted geometric globe lights throughout the building add an atmospheric, almost cinematic quality, that completes Red Deer’s contemporary reinterpretation of Hotel Ercilla’s past, using the furniture to make their mark on the project.
Located in the heart of Bilbao and within walking distance of the Guggenheim and Casco Viejo – the city’s medieval quarter – the family-owned hotel will attract both international guests and the local community, acting as a key social hub in the city as Red Deer intended, creating an iconic destination as we gingerly dip our toes into travel after lockdown. ‘The core features of the refurbishment are the rooftop bar and the ground floor bar – both of which are spacious and almost panoramic, so I don’t see these affected by the pandemic,’ adds Lionel.
Possibly the highlight of Red Deer’s design, the wraparound roof terrace on the 13th floor provides unrivalled views of Bilbao. With a lounge and bar operating both in and outside, the terrace looks set to become an unmissable destination for concerts, screenings and DJ sets.
While Hotel Ercilla undoubtedly has an unrivalled strong bond to Bilbao and its residents, the building also holds a deeply personal connection for Red Deer itself, as Co-founder, Lionel, who is of Basque origin himself, oversaw the redesign. Travelling from the airport to the hotel, Lionel would pass his family village – and so Hotel Ercilla acts as not just a homecoming for Bilbao but for Red Deer, whose passion for local design and history has brought it firmly back to life.
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