How to Realise the Paradox of Classic Modernity in the Heart of Sweden

The Elite Plaza Hotel is an interesting find among chain hotels. Centrally located at Västra Hamngatan in Gothenburg, Sweden, the hotel is housed in a stately neo-Renaissance building dating from 1889, and boasts enough of the original stucco ceilings and mosaic flooring to be a poster-child of the potential of renovation. It’s within walking distance of the Central Station and the Gothenburg Opera. But what really piqued our interest? It’s a chain hotel that defies its ‘chain’ identity, seeming to exude an individuality and particular charm distinct from any other lodging in the Elite Hotel brand.


The building itself has changed multiple hands, once the Svea Fire and Life Insurance company premises, once a university, once laid fallow for a period, and now a five star hotel, part of the Elite Hotel brand that is itself a member of the Design Hotels. The re-design project for the interiors began back in the late ‘90s, beginning a close relationship with design company Gunnar Svensson; the then-owner of the company has since retired, but his son Fredrik Svensson has taken up the family mantle. His company’s work is that of the opulent fifth floor.


“We are more like independent hotels in a chain, than a chain who build hotels everywhere in the same way,” Carlo Mandini, hotel GM, tells us, and the result with Elite Plaza is a hotel in which one feels immediately and simultaneously both at home and in the comfortable lap of luxury. With such a fine-tuned style combining the classic touch of a stately restored building with modern twists (including a focus on modern art, music, and a close attention to smell, the hotel’s restaurant is inspired by a railway station), the pair are conscious of the need for timelessness and practicality.


It is, they insist, not a trendy hotel, but a hotel with trendy and changeable accessories. And this is because it is, equally, a hotel that caters to the practical needs of its guests: “we wanted to make each room both a nice room and also one that works as a blank canvas, so that our guests can mould it” Fredrik explains when we sit down with him and Carlo to talk over the design.

Demonstrative of this ageless compound style is the lavish and cinematically beautiful 185 square metre Svea Suite, the largest of the hotel’s three unique full suites, and the one that really preserves the classic style of the old building in counterpoint to the other more modern suites higher up in the hotel. When the Svea Fire and Life Insurance company owned the building, the suite served as the Presidential Suite for the company director, and in 1909 it became the company’s boardroom.


The architectural renovation was overseen by Lars Helling, and the 1st-4th floors of the hotel were completed by the team at Stylt Trampoli.

Fact File:
Smoke-free since 2009
127 rooms
8 conference rooms
Facilities include sauna, gym, restaurant, and bar


How to juggle so many balls so flawlessly as to win the project a five star hotel rating? We sat down with Fredrik and Carlo to find out their design and hotelier secrets.

The Plus: Could you take us through the renovation process?
Fredrik Svensson:
We got a lot of the interior by using the building as it was designed from the very beginning. If you look at the ceilings, if you look at the staircase going out, or the beautiful venetian area in the back, we really worked with the old nice part of the building, and we took out the colours of the ceiling and restored the entire nice part of the site, and we combined that with modern furniture and modern artwork.


TP: So you’ve kept a classic touch?
Carlo Mandini:
Yeah, the classic touch. We are a modern hotel with modern accessories, you could say. Or trendy accessories.

TP: How would you describe the signature design of the hotel?
The signature of the design in this hotel, I would say, is classic modern furniture in the mix with a nice, old building. It was important for us that the hotel would feel wonderful now, and in five years, and in ten years: not to make it too trendy that won’t last.


TP: It’s individual, for sure – what is it that connects it with the other Elite hotels?
There’s still a feeling that you recognise it as a guest when you’re entering an Elite Hotel. Maybe you can’t really put your finger on it, but it’s a feeling that you get. And that’s part of how we do the design: with classic modern furniture and fixtures, together with the music that you hear when you enter the hotel, how it smells… this is very important for us.


TP: What do you want people to feel when they live in your interiors?
I would want the guests to feel a bit like they’re at home. I want the design to be simple in the sense that you don’t need to have a degree in science to turn on the lights, or open the wardrobe. Of course it’s important that it looks nice, but there are so many other things in a hotel room which are important for guests who travel around the world many days a week.


TP: If you had the option to choose to live and work in a different city, where would you choose and why?
I think I would choose London. It’s a beautiful city: the old architecture of the houses, and the variety of products that they have, and the paint and woodwork, really going into the detail, which I like.
CM: I think New York City, because I very much like the dynamic thing, the pulse, and so many different people are together. It looks like everything works very well, and I’d get a lot of exploration done in that time. Plus I like the people, and how they behave. Something makes me feel very good there, I feel like I’m comfortable in that city.

TP: What next?
Carlo and I are working together on a big project at the other Elite Hotel here in Guthenberg, Elite Park Avenue: extending the conference banquet area.
CM: We think we should go back to how it was in the beginning, to have these special houses, which are architecturally very nice houses to start with, and then you can turn this little dirty diamond into shining diamond.