1999 New Kämp – Return of the King

"The pursuit of happiness” and realising one's own personal ambitions started to form a thread in people's lives from the 1990s. The annual Night of the Arts was some kind of physical manifestation of the change taking place: analysts spoke in terms of a novel “carnival-like” sense of community. The event, launched in 1989 and initially centred on the Esplanades and nearby streets, altered our use of public spaces, changed street life and permit procedures, and generally lifted the mood of the entire city.

A fresh kind of European resonance crept into talk of urban culture in the 'gos. Key tenets in the new vocabulary were respect for the built cultural heritage, making public spaces pleasurable, and residents themselves building a grass-roots sense of urban community.

It was into this process of cultural change that the new Hotel Kämp stepped in May 1999 when Merita Bank converted the building back into a five-star luxury hotel operated by the American Starwood chain. Although the hotel was brand new, the old Kämp insignia were once again to the fore. The new establishment on the North Esplanade marketed itself as exclusive, international, and cosmopolitan - just as if there had been no 35-year interruption in hotel operations on the site.

The Kämp property's return to use as a hotel had been prepared for a couple of years, from the mid-1990s. The Cold War had come to an end, the Soviet Union had collapsed in on itself, and Finland was beginning to dig out from underneath a traumatic recession and banking crisis. There was a perceived need for social change. Finland's accession into the European Union was one major trigger for the internationalisation of the country's political, cultural, and business life and for a “Europeanising” of the general intellectual climate hereabouts.

The quasi-mythical Kämp past and global tastes in luxury were neatly meshed when the hotel began to get off the drawing board and into reality. “The style of the hotel’s furniture and fittings contains discreet echoes from many chapters of Finnish history”, suggested Julian M. Reed the Managing Director of EAA International who was in charge of the interior design to the Helsinki newspapers. He also mentioned the example of the oak flooring in the main restaurant, which was copied for the new incarnation of the hotel. Old photographs were pored over intently when the wall-friezes were being painted and the mahogany panels polished. Copies of the artist Wetterstrand's original ceiling paintings were returned to decorate the banqueting room. The models for the chandeliers were taken from the cherished old Mirror Salon, and the chairs in the main restaurant were replicas of the Kämp originals. The bank's reconstruction job in the 1960s had seen a new “Mirror Room” created for board meetings, and this was kept intact and designed for dinners and receptions of up to 120 persons. It was restored as far as possible to its old glory with large wall-mirrors. In addition to the downstairs restaurant, the hotel was given a brasserie and a lobby bar. The main restaurant (The Restaurant Kämp) looked out on the Esplanade, while the windows of the less formal CK's Brasserie - its name providing a courteous nod to the founder of the original hotel, Carl Kämp - faced onto Kluuvikatu.

Just as had been the case in the 1880s, in its new guise Kämp's style represented international luxury without any compromises. Furniture was made to order in Italy, Finland, Spain, and the UK. The hotel rooms were decorated in a warm royal yellow, and the reception area was painted in burgundy and gold. The main entrance was now from the Kluuvikatu side, and the foyer area employed a three-storey atrium effect leading up to a cupola providing natural daylight.

The newspapers reported that the décor in the guest rooms boasted “top quality textiles and refined details, such as glass vases and fine porcelain”. The new hotel had a total of 179 rooms, including six Junior Suites and the sumptuous Mannerheim Suite, which weighed in at a hefty 258 square metres. Julian Reed naturally waxed lyrical about the lavish top-of-the-line suite, declaring it was Europe's finest. It was certainly very spacious, offering in its largest form (with a connecting suite attached) bedroom and living room/salon areas, bathroom and dressing room, sauna, a second bedroom, a separate dining room with a small kitchen to which meals were delivered, and an office/library. The celebrated haute couture designer Oscar de la Renta brought his new signature fragrance Oscar for Men to the suite's complimentary accessories.

The stories are compiled from Laura Kolbe's book Kämp – The Hotel and Its City (2015). Get your own copy at the hotel reception.