In conversation with: Charlie North, VP of Interior Design, Ennismore

Editor Hamish Kilburn catches up with Charlie North, Vice President of Interior Design at Ennismore, to discuss branding, longevity and why the company has launched AIME Studios…

Profile image of Charlie North Hotel Designs Ennismore

It’s a typical winter morning in London. Not that you could tell the time of day by looking at the pearl-grey sky that has swallowed up the architecture. I am on my way to the Ennismore headquarters, not the first time in my career. It’s a buzzing hub, aptly located in the same building as one of its hero projects, The Hoxton Southwark, that shelters creative thinkers; some of the industry’s best storytellers.

I glance down at my phone to read a press release that’s just pinged through. It reads: “Ennismore announces AIME Studios – an award-winning team of interior and graphic designers”. That’s the thing about Ennismore, it’s a proactive company; always looking ahead. On the surface, it is a doer not a thinker. Although, when you scratch beneath the various brands the group has managed to scoop up or conceive over the years – 12 to be precise – you start to see the result of careful thought that has gone into its strategy to make Ennismore the fastest-growing lifestyle hospitality company, and perhaps the most diverse.

In an instant, my neatly written draft questions for Charlie North, the group’s Vice President of Interior Design, have become irrelevant, like a fashion moment slipping away. And I am forced to ad-lib, which feels rather exciting and appropriately more human.

A red lounge setting inside Hoxton Holborn

Image credit: The Hoxton / Ennismore

Ennismore is somewhat of a pioneer on the hospitality landscape. Throughout more than a decade of success, the company has been extremely transparent on how it has achieved its status and respect in the industry. Make no mistake, it is the people from the inside that amplify Ennismore’s forward-thinking vision. Key to making blue-sky concepts tactile realities are the design team, led by North who has more than 16 years’ experience in interior design, having worked for David Collins Studio and Martin Brudnizki Design Studio in the past before his career evolved into what it is today.

A modern, laidback contemporary design scvheme inside lobby of Hoxton Poblenou

Image credit: The Hoxton / Ennismore

“When it comes to interior design, we naturally gravitate to rich and layered spaces, which are well-curated through artwork and accessories,” North tells me. “The newly launched AIME Studios is about bringing together different disciplines.” I am told that it is made up of 30 strong interior and graphic designers responsible for creating brands and spaces including Gleneagles, The Hoxton, SO/, TRIBE and Working From_.

“We never walk away from projects when they finish, we live with them.” – Charlie North, VP of Interior Design, Ennismore.

AIME Studios replaces what was formally Ennismore Design Studios. “It differentiates itself from other design studios as it has a vested interest in the brands we work on and prioritises the longevity of its designs,” North points out. “Always with the guest experience front of mind, it is a fully integrated creative studio that uniquely covers brand, graphics and interior design, which together tell authentic stories through every guest touchpoint.”

Being in-house team, and working with outside studios, many would argue that Ennismore has the best of both world. “We work closely with Ennismore’s F&B studio, Carte Blanched, to produce well-thought-out restaurants and bars,” the designer adds. “We have strong working relationships with operational teams and years of brand related experience. We never walk away from projects when they finish, we live with them, so it’s important to us that our designs will stand the test of time, both functionally and aesthetically.”

A lifestyle lobby in a hoetl with art gallery on the wall

Image credit: TRIBE / Ennismore

Since 2017, AIME Studios has worked across 22 properties, designing a staggering 2,865 hotel rooms, 30 restaurants and bars and 17 meeting and event spaces, and counting! With each opening, the industry has bore witness to brands, not just the ones that Ennismore touches, but also other brands it inadvertently influences, become more human-centric. And the softening of lines, I believe, starts in the lobby, where first impressions are made. “As we create lifestyle hotels, our lobbies have always been a space to encourage interaction and engage with the local community – a place where people are welcome to relax and make themselves at home,” North explains. “This is especially so in The Hoxton, which is always designed to feel homey and understated, and focuses on the way the guests feel in the space.”

Close up of bed inside Hoxton Southwark

Image credit: The Hoxton / Ennismore

If I was to pick a brand that would represent AIME Studios and the Ennismore coolness, it would be Hoxton, because of its laidback, almost boundless public areas and its overall refined look and feel – it doesn’t try too hard; it’s confident but not arrogant. The Hoxton is probably the brand that most people associate Ennismore with, but North and his team have worked across a plethora of hotels from Gleneagles to Tribe and every Hoxton in between. So, what is the designer’s approach when he starts a project – is it always the same, I wonder? “When we design a city hotel like a Hoxton, we do a detailed research process focussed on the local area,” he explains. “We cover everything from significant historical use of the property and the district, neighbouring properties and also the local community, upcoming artists and brands that could collaborate with The Hoxton brand.”

Close up of lighting inside TRIBE hotel

Image credit: TRIBE / The Hoxton

The team that make up AIME Studios, over the years, have proven itself to be diverse in design, creating many layers suitable for each brand – the designers have been able to breathe life into both new-builds and heritage buildings alike. There is no greater example of this than Gleneagles. “The brand has a long history so any design decisions are made with the knowledge they will impact the story of the next century,” North says about the design approach for Gleneagles.

Through design, the team have sensitively and cleverly brought each building into a new era – done through intuitive space-planning and ever-so-subtly breaking conventional boundaries when it comes to materials and lighting. “Whatever the project, our designs are based on an in depth analysis of the brand we’re working on, and the location we’re in,” North adds.

Gleneagles spa, with soft colour scheme of pink and green

Image credit: Gleneagles / Ennismore

The most recent addition to the Gleneagles clan, of course, is its wee townhouse in the heart of Edinburgh. “Our mission was creating a space that felt like an extension of The Gleneagles Hotel, which was built in the 1920s,” North recalls. “When conferring with the brand team responsible for shaping the future of Gleneagles, we all agreed to refresh the interior design, modernise the paint schemes, simplify the fabric selections and embrace contemporary nods to lift a beautiful building of the past, into the present day. We kept subtle references in shapes of custom-made furniture and joinery details, but we contrasted these with fresher fabrics to sit alongside a very contemporary selection of artwork. The artwork is curated specifically to focus on current active Scottish artists. As a result, we have a building that represents the best of the history and the future of Scotland.”

Bar inside Gleneagles Townhouse

Image credit: Gleneagles Townhouse / Ennismore

Given Ennismore’s position in the industry, as both owner and designer, it has got a unique opportunity to make a difference, ethically do the right thing and redefine trends. As I look around the hotel design scene, one cannot ignore certain trends and movements happening in the wake of bold moves from lifestyle brands. The private members model being introduced in a lot of lifestyle hotels is an interesting conversation that was, perhaps, allowed to evolve now that there is a wider embracing of working remotely.

“The hospitality world has adapted to provide spaces to work and play and sleep,” explains North. “Members clubs have always been an important blend of socialising and networking, a place for important meetings and greetings, so it makes perfect sense to incorporate a third dimension through accommodation. Gleneagles Townhouse has shown that a private members club can also be a hotel which welcomes the public. By creating additional members only spaces, it’s an additional perk for the guests who want to amplify their experience.”

Working From_ in Chicago with relaxed interior design scheme

Image credit: Working From_ / Ennismore

As a mega brand, Ennismore has conquered by authentically growing and recognising worthwhile and meaningful hotel development opportunities. So, what’s next? “Plenty,” North says with a quiet confidence. “This year we’ll be finishing The Hoxton, Charlottenburg, The Hoxton, Brussels, along with Working From_Brussels, and The Hoxton Edinburgh. We’re also working on an exciting project in the Middle East which is currently under wraps!” If any group can layer conscious hospitality while ushering in a refined take on luxury in the region, my safe bet is on AIME Studios and Ennismore.

Main image credit: Ennismore