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He’s found suc­cess in both IT and prop­erty de­vel­op­ment. What’s next for Satin­der Gar­cha? Hos­pi­tal­ity, it seems, with the launch of his first lux­ury bou­tique ho­tel be­fore the year’s end and three oth­ers in the pipeline


So said the King of Hearts in Alice in Won­der­land. Satin­der Gar­cha is build­ing his own Won­der­land—one dot­ted with high-end res­i­dences and bou­tique ho­tels; no flamingo cro­quet here, but there’s polo aplenty, thank you. The be­gin­ning of this story, or at least as far back as he can re­mem­ber, was a young boy fas­ci­nated with de­sign and me­chan­ics. “As a kid, I rou­tinely took apart and put back to­gether—not suc­cess­fully most times—my toys and elec­tron­ics, to see how they were built and how they worked. It was my hobby, my pas­sion and my way of learn­ing.” The be­gin­ning of any suc­cess­ful prop­erty de­vel­op­ment pro­ject is in find­ing the plot, says the founder and CEO of El­e­va­tion De­vel­op­ments, a bou­tique lux­ury prop­erty devel­oper. “There’s an adage in real es­tate that one makes money when one buys, not when one sells. The big­gest coup is find­ing a suit­able build­ing or site.” His com­pany, which was founded in 2005, spe­cialises in lux­ury homes and good class bun­ga­lows—prime ad­dresses it ac­quires, build­ing in place of old build­ings it tears down mod­ern state­ment homes “not only con­structed with su­pe­rior ma­te­ri­als but by su­pe­rior ideas”, as the com­pany web­site vaunts. His strat­egy is to own and lease them out for the long-term, selling only when there’s suf­fi­cient up­side—his­tor­i­cally, tens of mil­lions. While the com­pany con­tin­ues to welcome prospec­tive buy­ers who sub­scribe to its vi­sion to get in touch (a foot­note duly ad­vises: “Prices start from $10m”), ho­tels are now on Satin­der’s draw­ing board. But he’s not just into build­ing them—he wants run them, and re­de­fine the five-star lux­ury bou­tique ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence in the process. Life. Ex­pe­ri­ence. Experiment. Pas­sion. Sanc­tu­ary. Fun. Six words that un­der­score the phi­los­o­phy of Gar­cha Ho­tels, a ho­tel man­age­ment com­pany that Satin­der cre­ated in 2013 to gear up for his four bou­tique ho­tels in the pipeline. Part of its unique propo­si­tion: char­ac­ter­ful old build­ings that he’s over­hauled for sump­tu­ous stays and ex­cel­lent ser­vice.


“Our pas­sion is gen­uine old-world hos­pi­tal­ity, ex­tra­or­di­nary aes­thet­ics and, most im­por­tantly, a fun-filled en­vi­ron­ment,” he says. In the last five years or so, he has picked up her­itage prop­er­ties in­clud­ing the old City Ho­tel in San­ti­ago, Chile; and in Sin­ga­pore, Mur­ray Ter­race ac­quired for $75m and six shop­houses in Syed Alwi Road for $23m, both in 2012, and the $50m Ber­jaya Ho­tel in Dux­ton Road (re­named The Dux­ton and to be re­vamped end this year) in 2013. Hô­tel Vagabond, the first prop­erty sched­uled for launch, sits along the bustling Syed Alwi Road in Kam­pong Glam. The mid­cen­tury build­ing re­minded Satin­der of Mi­ami ho­tels such as the De­lano, Raleigh and Betsy, of the same era and style. “I fell in love with the sym­me­try and pro­por­tions of the build­ing. It’s sim­i­lar to art deco build­ings that were built in the 1950s in Tel Aviv, Bom­bay and Mi­ami. It’s dif­fer­ent from the more or­nate tra­di­tional shop­houses in Sin­ga­pore from the 1840s to 1960s era, and quite a rar­ity here too.” With in­te­ri­ors im­per­a­tor Jac­ques Gar­cia on board this pro­ject, the 41-room ho­tel is set for de­sign dis­tinc­tion. It will keep its art­deco fa­cade and orig­i­nal ver­mil­lion shut­ters, and get a full, mod­ernising facelift in­side that will in­clude floor-to-ceil­ing golden trees hand-forged in Jaipur, and life-sized ele­phant sculp­tures emerg­ing from pil­lars and walls. No­mads stay­ing the night will lux­u­ri­ate on Ital­ian-made Egyp­tian cot­ton sheets and be privy to Satin­der’s point of view in terms of the eclec­tic mix of framed pho­to­graphs in each gue­stroom—all from his per­sonal col­lec­tion of travel shots. This “art ho­tel” will boast an in­ter­est­ing edit of sculp­tures and art­works per­son­ally se­lected by Satin­der and host art-themed pro­grammes for guests. It will also be the first lux­ury bou­tique ho­tel with an artist-in­res­i­dence pro­gramme; dee­jays and tat­tooists

are as welcome as pain­ters and mu­si­cians. Two artist ate­liers—spa­cious work-and-live stu­dios with pull-down Mur­phy beds—will be sited on the high­est floors.


Hô­tel Vagabond’s Septem­ber open­ing runs half a year be­hind Satin­der’s ini­tial plan, due to the com­plex­ity that comes with de­vel­op­ing a her­itage build­ing, which called for a length­ier de­sign and con­struc­tion process than he had orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated. “Our pri­mary ar­chi­tec­tural chal­lenge is fit­ting a lux­ury ho­tel into a space that has been de­signed for another use over a hun­dred years ago,” he con­cedes. “Be­fore we tear down any­thing in the in­te­rior, we clean, dust and eval­u­ate ev­ery­thing, and think hard about the pos­si­bil­i­ties. We have a di­verse team of tal­ented peo­ple on three con­ti­nents work­ing on each as­pect, con­stantly ques­tion­ing and eval­u­at­ing. We go through mul­ti­ple it­er­a­tions and let the story un­fold and evolve, and in many cases we end up in a dif­fer­ent place from where we started.” The New Delhi-born polo en­thu­si­ast likens busi­ness to the game. “Team­work, dis­ci­pline, how to win—be­cause you want to win in the game, just as you want a win­ning, prof­it­mak­ing busi­ness. But it doesn’t mat­ter if you fail, be­cause you’ll get up again.” Liken­ing his role in each pro­ject’s de­vel­op­ment to that of an editor’s, he says, “It’s my job to nav­i­gate this jour­ney by lay­ing down pa­ram­e­ters within which my team mem­bers do what they each do best.” Gar­cha Ho­tels has en­gaged Anouska Hem­pel De­sign (AHD) to re­vamp The Dux­ton. The el­e­gant ho­tel, which will boast the high­est room rates of the lot, will take on the new moniker, Blakes Sin­ga­pore. AHD will also work on the trans­for­ma­tion of Gar­cha San­ti­ago, while Jac­ques Gar­cia will spear­head the de­sign of Mur­ray Ter­race.


With his ho­tels, Satin­der is “very in­tri­cately in­volved in the de­sign process”, down to the uni­form of its door­man. He is there with his team at ev­ery sin­gle de­sign meet­ing. “Ev­ery de­tail of ma­te­rial that once can be seen and touched goes through me.” This con­tin­ues through to the day the ho­tel’s doors open. “This pro­vides the co­he­sive­ness I be­lieve is nec­es­sary to achieve a great end re­sult.” A strict be­liever of seam­less, top-notch ser­vice, all his ho­tels will go by a “dial zero for ev­ery­thing” pol­icy—inspired by Lon­don’s Chiltern Fire­house, a ho­tel Satin­der greatly ad­mires. “I firmly be­lieve that God is in the de­tails. Each of our projects en­tails metic­u­lous plan­ning, at­ten­tion to de­tail, in­tense scru­tiny and zeal­ous fol­low through. These val­ues were in­stilled in me early on, when I went to board­ing school at age nine.” He spent seven years at The Lawrence School – Sanawar, an ex-bri­tish mil­i­tary board­ing school in the se­cluded foothills of the Hi­malayas. Dis­ci­pline and rigour were weaved into his daily rou­tine, from the first bu­gle call at 6am to bed­time at 10pm. “The old phi­los­o­phy was to drive the kids re­ally hard and ap­ply strong dis­ci­pline and a strong sense of ca­ma­raderie. The school em­pha­sised not just aca­demics, but ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity as well: sports, so­cial work, etc. This stayed in my DNA.” He still fol­lows the regime of wak­ing early and ex­er­cis­ing regularly, es­pe­cially since get­ting hooked on polo since he and wife Harpreet Bedi moved from the US to Sin­ga­pore in 2001. Their move fol­lowed the sale of his IT con­sult­ing and con­tract­ing firm Peo­ in 2000 right be­fore the dot­com bust, which pro­pelled him into Forbes’ Sin­ga­pore’s 50 Rich­est List in 2013. For now, a typ­i­cal day for him is packed with site vis­its and meet­ings with ar­chi­tects, de­sign­ers, builders and ho­tel man­age­ment teams. De­spite this, he’s able to in­dulge in spend­ing more time with fam­ily, at­tend­ing par­ent-teacher ses­sions at his chil­dren’s school and, of course, fit­ting in polo sev­eral af­ter­noons a week for leisure. As he con­tin­ues to build upon his for­tunes with Gar­cha Ho­tels and El­e­va­tion De­vel­op­ments, Satin­der does not plan an end­point to his story of start-ups and suc­cess just yet: “I’m Sikh and Sikhism be­lieves in a life of con­tin­ual ac­tion. I in­tend to work hard to bet­ter my­self and so­ci­ety, in all spheres. To do the best I can at all times.”

OLD SOUL The iconic red shut­ters of the art deco shophouse that is now Hô­tel Vagabond; Satin­der sees ho­tels not just as places to stay, but so­cial and in­tel­lec­tual hubs

ECLEC­TIC MIX Per­sonal travel pho­to­graphs shot by Satin­der trig­ger wanderlust within Hô­tel Vagabond’s gue­strooms; Satin­der at a polo game with Team El­e­va­tion team­mate Joao Paulo Gan­non

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