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History, Reinvented

Everything old is new again at these storied spots

Take a quick glance at the façade of Paris’ Hôtel Plaza Athénée—with its vibrant red geraniums dripping down over quaint Juliet balconies—and you might be fooled into believing that not much has changed since the property’s debut in 1913. But inside, it’s a different story.

The famed hotel recently reemerged from a $268 million face-lift, a 10-month affair that offered subtle yet dynamic changes, like new lighting to brighten up interiors, revamped restaurants and the addition of 14 guest rooms. The makeover couldn’t have come at a better time: The Plaza Athénée celebrated its centennial in 2013.

Renovating a historic property is a delicate art, of course. And in the case of Plaza Athénée—one of the city’s most legendary landmarks—the stakes are even greater. The hotel’s marquee restaurant helmed by Alain Ducasse underwent the most dramatic transformation, thanks to designer Patrick Jouin, who added mirror-back chairs and a Swarovski crystal ceiling installation. Inside Plaza Athénée’s bustling cocktail lounge, an illuminated glass bar appears to glow when the lights are dimmed. It’s in these spaces that the hotel feels the most contemporary, and yet, Athénée’s overall character remains unchanged.

Hôtel Plaza Athénée

Inside the Hôtel Plaza Athénée

The same can be said for Ashford Castle, a medieval estate-cum-luxury hotel in County Mayo, Ireland, that is completing a multi-year restoration. Dated florals and faded plaids have been replaced with a mix-and-match decor, such as striped silk wallpaper, dark-wood chests and chairs upholstered in Ikat. Irish resplendence still dominates, because that’s vital to the property’s DNA, but there’s something modern about the delivery—especially with the addition of a cigar lounge and billiards room.

An equally old-meets-new ethos came to San Juan, Puerto Rico this past December, when the Condado Vanderbilt completed a refurbishment that began in 2012. With guests like Charles Lindberg and Theodore Roosevelt, the Spanish Revival retreat is an established Caribbean icon. That signature aesthetic has been preserved—the lobby’s original lyre-shaped staircase is still intact—but there are now suites with European-style kitchens and 24-hour butler service. The renovation also introduced a 10,000- square-foot spa, which houses the island’s first hammam. It’s an unprecedented unveiling, and proof that even the most historic institutions can reinvent themselves anew.