Four Seasons Astir Palace, Greece

Pic: Gavriil Papadiotis (Gavriilux)

The Astir Palace hotel complex first opened in 1958 , running successfully as a city resort during the 1960s. Entering into its new design phase, the Astir’s renovation saw Lighting Design International (LDI) to complete the new exterior and interior lighting schemes for the two hotels, Arion and Nafsika. From design to construction, the project took three years to complete; LDI was brought on board in July 2016 and the resort re-opened in April 2019. 

Sandra Brookes, Senior Designer at LDI, sat down with arc to discuss the firm’s involvement in the renovation project: “LDI has an extensive hospitality and residential lighting portfolio. Therefore, understanding and achieving lighting design with the Four Seasons’ ethos of ‘a home away from home’ in mind was key for the success of the project. 

“LDI has worked with Four Seasons Hotels on numerous occasions and understands the group’s vision. The brief was to design a sophisticated lighting scheme with a residential feel and fortunately this is what LDI is known for.

“While the structural elements, outer shell and some of the exterior walls were retained, the building was completely renovated and LDI worked closely with the project management and design teams in order to create a high-end lighting scheme both for the interior and exterior areas at both hotels.” 

To realise the new lighting schemes for each hotel, the LDI team devised a mock-up room to test and present the new lighting solutions to the contractors and project team, in order to ensure the value and appreciation of specification was achieved. 

Fortunately for the lighting designers, the brief at the beginning of the project was maintained throughout the duration of the renovation. “It took a lot of lighting mock-ups and tests, hard work and many hours to get to the level of quality desired. What made this project special was that the two hotels were unique, yet had a distinct lighting ambience that unifies them,” explained Brookes. “Arion’s look is more sophisticated and aimed at couples and singles, while Nafsika is more relaxed and family orientated. The lighting helped to enhance each hotel’s distinct personality.”

Nestled within its own pine-clad peninsula, the resort overlooks Athens Riviera, offering the best of both worlds; a laid-back seaside escape and tranquil forest environment. The Arion hotel building is a boomerang-shape, offering views across both the sea and the pine forest. “Arion stands tall on top of the hill; its façade visible from a distance. It was therefore decided to emphasise its shape by introducing an array of narrow washes of light to its ceiling,” explained Brookes. “This was achieved using two separate details: miniature custom-built fixtures mounted at a high level on the balcony walls, softly up-lighting the soffits, while at each room level, similarly discreet, low-glare uplights integrated within the existing twinned columns create a visual rhythm, highlighting their metallic surface. Carefully implemented detailing allowed cabling from the new fixtures to be concealed within the columns that had to remain otherwise untouched.

“To increase Arion’s sense of perspective, LDI integrated a concealed flexible linear LED fixture within an existing marble niche wrapping around the entire building at first floor level. This creates a unifying line of light to Arion’s outer shell perimeter.”

When guests first arrive at Arion, they are welcomed with minimal aesthetics in the reception area. The team deliberately chose dimmed lighting levels to create a calm atmosphere in this space. In contrast, the lounge-lobby boasts a double-height, voluminous space with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the sea. A focal point in the space is a timber bar with marble countertop that is highlighted with pinhole downlights above it and concealed linear LED details integrated within its fabric. Decorative lighting adds distinguishing features to the space.

“We had the opportunity of having a new and more current lighting scheme and control system incorporated within the buildings, leaving minimal lighting aesthetic visible. Leaving the guests to enjoy the warm and inviting lighting ambience without knowing where the equipment is located,” added Brookes.

“LDI designed the lighting layouts with the existing structure in mind, but with the advantage that most of the equipment was concealed from view successfully by the new interiors. Bespoke tailored details were developed in conjunction with the interior designers and incorporated within furniture and the building envelope.” 

One of Arion’s special features is its spa. An arcade-like corridor, which is illuminated by daylight filtered through wooden ceiling slats and artificial lighting details, leads visitors to the treatment rooms. The lighting fixtures used for this purpose are provided in low-level concealed skirting details, creating a linearity effect. “Concealed feature backlighting to the strips themselves and ceiling recessed downlights with low-glare optics create pools of light along the main circulation axis,” elaborated Brookes.

Throughout the interior public spaces, including the restaurant and bedrooms and suites, fixtures from Reggiani dominated the lighting specified, with an array of mood adjustable fittings, along with fixtures from LED Linear used throughout. 

Secluded on its own beach, the Nafsika hotel stands proudly on the sprawling rocks leading to the water’s edge, with “an architectural language of strong vertical concrete walls. These rectilinear geometries were framed at the slab edge with a small marker of light and further highlight with a soft wash of light,” explained Brookes. 

“The intrinsic beauty of this façade highlights the visual journey, with its ever-changing lighting composition depending on the viewing angle, new perspectives are modelled with light from top to bottom across its length. It’s a façade that keeps the interest alive as in every corner there is a new panorama to be discovered; from the impactful first impression gathered at the top entrance with the pillar forest of light to the inviting ambience crafted with light in the social pool area at the bottom, the façade is ever present with its silent, soft, yet powerfully lit backdrop.” LightGraphix LD151 high-powered uplights were used to light the exterior columns situated at the entrance to Nafsika, with surface mounted LD10238 and LD10237 spotlights used to highlight other features. According to LightGraphix: “The linear-lensed LD38C wall washers installed were RAL colour matched to the façade so they blended seamlessly into the architecture. Miniature LD51 spotlights create a subtle wash up each of the balcony walls, and elsewhere LD64s, LD242As are being used extensively.

“As part of the lighting scheme, LDI wanted to create a wash of light on the balcony ceiling between the hotel rooms. Working closely with our specials department, they came up with the novel idea of orientating the LD47 wall light up, instead of down, and mounting it near the ceiling. However, since there was no recess depth, a new, custom surface-mounted version was developed.”

The interior lighting of Nafsika is dramatic and modern, mixing bold decorative gestures highlighting its “livelier atmosphere”. Turning the traditional hotel layout on its head, the Nafsika entrance lobby welcomes guests onto the top floor, offering stunning views over the Mediterranean Sea. Upon entering the lobby, guests are welcomed by a lit Antony Gormley sculpture with a backdrop that “resembles a forest of illuminated pillars.”

A distinctive lighting scheme guides visitor to descend from the top floor lobby to the swimming pool area below, via a series of interlaced, cohesively designed spaces. 

The Avra Lounge’s jewel-like pendants take centre-stage, as you enter the restaurant’s reception area, creating a bold visual impact on the dining space. LightGraphix and Orluna fixures were used for the F&B lighting, with Orluna mini recessed warm dim tilt lamps for the pizza counter. 

“Oversized bespoke decorative luminaires with integral spotlights help to retain a clean soffit and introduce drama,” elaborated Brookes. “The space presents floor to ceiling windows and seamless lighting integration with indoor/outdoor spaces was key. The warm welcoming atmosphere is provided mainly through decorative fittings and soft lighting integrated within the furniture and building fabric.” 

A sense of intrigue is achieved through the use of varied finishes and a nuanced lit canvas that combines light and dark. One of the design focal points in the interior is the marble slatted corridors. The beautifully selected marble slats are both front and backlit with a careful balance, creating an elegantly lit canvas. 

“Being a summer resort in Greece’s warm climate, both hotels public areas are closely linked to the outdoors. The newly lit façade provides a balanced and considered candlelit-inspired scene to the external presentation. The softly uplit features, such as columns and pilasters, combine with the warm glow achieved in the terraces, provides an inviting illuminated ambience with visually discreet luminaires. Again, Reggiani fixtures were used for the majority of fixtures, along with LED Linear throughout, LineaLight special mini step washers for the rooms and RCL’s DR7 recessed downlighter, for the ballroom.

“For both façades, a consistent use of fixtures with 2700K LED sources has been used throughout. Light fixtures and concealed lighting details have been painstakingly specified and designed to eliminate glare and views to sources as much as possible from all angles. All fixtures used externally have been specified with finishes that can withstand the harsh coastal environment,” explained Brookes. 

“For both interiors, low-glare and concealed architectural lighting discreetly illuminate the spaces throughout, while decorative fixtures provide warmth at a more domestic scale. The luminaires specified use either warm or tuneable white (2200K-2700K) LED sources. The all-day bar and restaurant spaces use tuneable white and warm-to-dim LED sources to complement the natural daylight cycle in these spaces. A Lutron lighting control system was used to allow the lit canvas to be adjusted using scene setting capabilities.” 

Overall, the two hotels present distinctly different design profiles, yet are intrinsically linked by a cohesive lighting scheme that draws on the outdoors and surrounding nature to create modern and stylish designs throughout.