Tallink City Hotel is celebrating its 20th anniversary! We hereby republish the interview with Meelis Press, architect of the renovation project of 2021


Tallink City Hotel

The thorough renovation of Tallink City Hotel, which occupies the legendary “Teenindusmaja” (service centre) building built in 1974 in the heart of Tallinn, lasted almost a year and cost 10 million euros, and reached the finish line in 2021. During the renovation, all 324 hotel rooms, the lobby, the 228-seat restaurant and the common areas were thoroughly upgraded. The events area on the 10th floor was also updated for events, meetings and conferences. The hotel’s interior designer, architect Meelis Press, shared from where he drew inspiration when creating the hotel’s interior and what challenges the very short design and construction process posed during the tense times of the pandemic.

The hotel’s concept and completely new service solution were born as a joint creation of the hotel team and focus on Tallink’s strengths, bringing together the well-known and much-loved concepts and brands both on land and at sea, in the heart of Tallinn.

You were also involved in the previous reconstruction of Tallink City Hotel. Does the current situation in the travel and hospitality sector set certain conditions for the design of a hotel? If so, then what kind?

So much has changed since the design work of the original City Hotel 18 years ago. At that time, the hotel was rebuilt from the legendary Teenindusmaja. I remember that somewhere in the corner of the building there was a striptease bar with a stainless-steel pole from the 90s … and that was the reality from which we had to take a completely different path. But we, the architects, did not have much experience with hotels at that time. During the Soviet times, hotels were built for foreigners, without designers having any previous experience of visiting any. So, for example, it happened that there were upright spiral stairs that led to the upper floors of the Pirita TOP Hotel, along which people had to climb up and down with their heavy suitcases. The directors’ offices were halls measuring tens of square metres, and those of the deputy directors were almost the same size – the administrative wing took up a large part of the building. We had to make a turnaround with the Teenindusmaja, and offer the coolest service at the coolest location. All in all, this concept lasted well, nearly 18 years – usually about every 7 years a building is renewed according to a new concept.

Speaking of the current upgrade of City, there was a reasonable time slot for updating the hotel, as travelling completely halted during the pandemic situation. To begin with, we asked ourselves that were travel to resume now, what mark would this turbulent time have left on our travel expectations? Most likely, we thought, the expectations would not be the same as before: we have reconsidered our expectations. For example, in the meantime we have learned how to operate our business at a distance, without physically meeting our clients or colleagues. While before, you were either at work or on a trip, now you are able to combine travel with work. This is a great skill and makes our travel much more flexible, thereby making life more enjoyable. We must also take this into account in accommodation – we need some private workroom here to hold our ZOOM meetings.

Where did you get your inspiration from? What inspired you and what principles did you follow in creating the interior design?

We started the work in spring and the whole field of vision up to the horizon was full of dandelions. After half a year of great depression, we finally had a day of rejoicing in the garden! The dandelion is an extremely powerful decorator in nature and a good mood creator. Like a child, I would like to share this joy and simple beauty, and so the house was filled with beautiful spring flowers. Now we have them everywhere in City – inside the carpet, the ceiling, the wall and the furniture – an eternal spring has taken over in this building. The hotel is our temporary home and there is never too much happiness in any home.

Tallink City Hotel reception

The story of the metal organ pipes on the façade of the building was such that when I was figuring out the facade of the City at the beginning of the millennium, we had just had a daughter. It seemed that it she really liked when I hummed all the melodies that came to my mind. One of my own childhood melodies had been swirling in my head for a long time, and as I was figuring out the façade, I thought that it would be good to translate the same melody into notes on the façade, into organ pipes of different heights, like a line of musical notes. True, it turned out that there was a big price difference as to whether you made these stainless poles the same height or different heights. The price difference might have been twice, and it just wouldn’t have justified itself at the time. Maybe at some point in the future, on better occasions, it will be possible to make the organ pipes “play different sounds”; but there is nothing wrong with the current façade either.

This is an old house, it has old pipes, etc., what were the main challenges – what became more interesting or more complicated than expected when doing the spatial planning.

Compared to 50 years ago, the current understandings of a good room environment are very different. At that time, the room under the ceiling was quite sparse – a couple of light fixtures and that was it; in this way you could allow a nice high ceiling. But with the arrival of summer, the building became suffocating; and in the winter, there was not enough warmth. Today, we prefer a precisely tuneable climate, cooled air, good air exchange, lots of nice mood light, mobile connection expanders, WIFI and all kinds of control devices, smart and less smart modules to organise our lives, devices that secure us, such as sprinklers, sensors, cameras that need kilometres of pipes and cables behind the ceiling. When fitting these solutions above the ceiling, they make the ceilings low. To get a good mood in the house, we removed the ceiling panels in some places and combined the floors into one, adding skylights to provide more space and natural light. Most definitely these were not cheap solutions, but they were really necessary.

When the Teenindusmaja was first converted into a hotel, there was no proper documentation from the Soviet era, and no one remembered the exact physical structure of this building. It was a very different time to today. It was quickly overrun, and all sorts of surprises were just hidden from the eyes. All kinds of things began to emerge when we started optimising every corner and actually breaking down the walls. You see from an old picture that the pole looks as thin as a pencil, but in reality, it is three metres long – and no one knows why. Such unexplained matters from Soviet times. There were such moments of surprise, but overall, the bigger problems got solved.

After all, the design and construction period was enormously short (one year in total), and within that short period we encountered the fact that the plants manufacturing finishing materials were closed due to the virus. There are no materials, you don’t know when you are going to get them… But the construction company did well and the building was completed.

In Tallink City Hotel, we have introduced new solutions, such as a spacious reception with several desks, offices and a lounge-style seminar room. Could this be the new reality in hotels now?

It can be said that time makes things better, because over time good ideas emerge – for example, those good old Swiss mountain castles that have more history than other hotels were built for accommodation during the summer, for a short period. It was difficult to achieve good profitability in a few months and to find a new team every spring… Over time, the winter period was also tested; skating, toboggan and ski rental were added, they told people to come and try it, and they discovered that people also enjoyed it in winter. Then it appeared that the British also liked to play golf outside of England or Scotland, and the hotel was able to expand its clientele even further. This is how it is discovered every day: “polo players? – ok, we need a stable, this way we could also make the blue-blooded happy!” For the White Turf, which takes place on white snow and lake, the entire elite has now been gathering for 111 years in a row.

Relaxation area

And so, each new era, today and in the future, brings out some eye-opening nuance. The new Tallink City Hotel captures some of the new nuances, and resembles the dreams of clients more. The new nuance is, for example, a very spacious lobby or living room, where you spend time as you experience different moods – socialising behind a long table in the bar area, “holding hands” in the corner by the fireplace or slipping into a quiet corner of the library. Or, communicating via ZOOM in your small office. The relaxation area features saunas of different temperatures, a quiet room for laying down or all kinds of treatment facilities that were not necessarily expected from a city centre hotel before. The hotel has special hotel rooms for families with children and a children’s play area next to the restaurant – while you dine, the little one is playing with other kids, though within sight. The restaurant has a large, two-storey wine wall, where the great selection of wines of the City Grill House restaurant is displayed to you with pride.

On the restaurant side, the new open kitchen is made special by a unique charcoal grill – are you a great grill master yourself and have you already been able to try this grill before the chef was given access to it?

The meat cooked on the right fire is already in our DNA code; we have been cooking on campfires for hundreds of thousands of years already – I guess that is what we need and is the right thing to do. I also have a very beautiful Norwegian grill and we have had a great time around it. But this is of course amateur class compared to the new City Grill House restaurant’s Mibrasa charcoal grill.

City Grill House

Which solution or room were you most satisfied with?

In term of the rooms, I would have to say the small rooms, as it is always easier to get a better result with larger ones. You sit on the spacious windowsill of a small room of the City, a pillow behind your back and get a sense of the fast-paced bustle of the city centre. These small rooms are quite cute. But the two-storey restaurant with a wine wall, running through the hotel, also turned out nice. Here, you will find cosy tables with very different mood, whether you have arrived alone, in a pair or in groups. And most definitely, the entire lobby area, that is, the living room, turned out good. I would really want to take some time off and just enjoy a place like that, in the centre of the city.