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September 16, 2022updated 02 Nov 2022 12:27pm

How Raffles is preserving London’s history at the Old War Office

By Robert Jackman

Charlie Walsh of the OWO told Stephen Bayley at Spear’s 500 Live why Raffles was a natural partner

Raffles’ first hotel and luxury residences in London will seek to honour the heritage of their host building – Whitehall’s legendary Old War Office – said Charlie Walsh, the OWO’s head of residence sales.

Walsh was appearing at Spear’s 500 Live in London, in conversation with Stephen Bayley, one of Britain’s most outspoken architecture critics.

‘We chose Raffles because they are always keen to preserve the heritage and history of the cities they operate in,’ said Walsh.

‘We were actually offered more money by other developers, but their ideas had no soul. We know a lot of our buyers are looking for something genuine.’

Walsh also revealed that British buyers made up the largest category of those buying OWO residences (which range from £4 million upwards), just ahead of American buyers.

He told the audience that one of the joys of the project was the exquisite traditions and features of the iconic building – from which much of Britain’s war efforts were planned.

‘The OWO has fireplace surrounds that go back to the 18th century, predating the building itself,’ he said. ‘There are only a handful of craftsmen who can work with those.’

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Asked by Stephen Bayley about the ‘brave’ decision to retain the Old War Office name, Walsh said the project aimed to honour the past while creating a new future for the OWO.

‘The vision we have created is one of a celebration of life – which is particularly important to people after the pandemic.’

Commenting on the growing popularity of hotel residences in London, he said his buyers wanted the security of having their apartment looked after by a recognised brand.

The two also discussed the changing nature of luxury in the 21st century, with Bayley offering characteristically memorable comments.

‘I always think of Coco Chanel’s comment about how luxury isn’t the opposite of poverty – it’s the opposite of vulgarity,’ he said.

Bayley also praised Raffles’ decision to limit its brand to a small number of ultra-premium hotels and residences, rather than over-extend into other areas.

‘Good branding is very much about those intangible things,’ he said. ‘Creating a strong brand is an almost mystical process.’

Watch our interview with Charlie Walsh here:

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