The Four Seasons brand is synonymous with luxury. With hotels all over the world it has an international reputation for excellence. Until recently, I thought it was just one of the many beautiful but impersonal corporate hotels. That is, until I read about its history and its founder, Isadore Sharp, and how he created these very personal hotels.
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History of the Four Seasons Brand
It all started with a three-story motor hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The son of Polish immigrants, Sharp worked at his father’s construction company building houses and apartments until a friend of his asked him to build a small motel on the west side of Toronto. Its success planted the seed of inspiration that was to become his first hotel: The Four Seasons Motor Hotel. It was then Sharp discovered that his real talent was business. Over the next 50 years, he went on to partner with some very influential people to build hotels his way and create the Four Seasons brand as we know it today.
A Luxury Hotel with a Personal Touch
The Four Seasons is now known for its impeccable service. The cornerstone of Sharp’s hotel management philosophy was the Golden Rule and it was how he turned his first hotels from a mixed bag to a five-star only luxury brand. He believed that a workforce that was treated fairly would in turn provide its customers with the service that would put their hotels on top. And it is still true; I recently had the opportunity to visit the Four Seasons’ newly built flagship hotel in Toronto. The staff was, from top to bottom, knowledgeable, helpful and — most rare of all — genuine.
In addition to service, Sharp was also a pioneer when it came to hotel amenities. His hotels were the first to include basics like shampoo, fitness centers and minibars.
Thoughtful Décor at the Four Seasons
A lot of thought goes into the décor of the hotels. At the Four Seasons Toronto, there are layers of design details throughout the property. Natural textures like smooth wood panels contrast with soft velvety curtains. If you look closely, you will find unique subtle unique details, like the courtyard garden that was designed in the shape of a rose that can only be seen when viewed from the rooms.
Throughout the brand’s development, Sharpe’s wife Rosalie took a hand in designing and decorating many of the hotel’s rooms, residences and restaurants. While less involved today, she recently designed Toronto’s Café Boulud, which features paintings by the controversial artist Mr. Brainwash.
The Four Seasons often feature original artwork by regional artists that provide a cultural connection to the surroundings. Most striking at the Four Seasons Toronto is the hanging porcelain and dark wood dandelion installation piece at the front desk by Canadian artist Alissa Coe.
Dining is an Experience
This same local philosophy continues in its restaurants. Its Toronto restaurant features the creations of renowned Chef Daniel Boulud. His menu uses seasonal foods from Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula to create its original delicacies. My personal recommendation for breakfast is the succulent Oeufs Meurette, a braised short rib on poached eggs. You won’t need to eat for the rest of the day.
Although 95% of the company was purchased by Prince Alwaleed and Bill Gates in 2006, Sharp is still in control of operations and strategy as CEO so visitors can be assured that they will still get the quality and personal service that made the Four Seasons what it is today.
Recommended Reading: Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, by Isadore Sharp