2nd mpu review

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MINIVIEW: Lough Eske Castle Hotel, County Donegal, Ireland

1024 576 Hamish Kilburn

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MINIVIEW: Lough Eske Castle Hotel, County Donegal, Ireland

Guest reviewer Stuart O’Brian checks in to the only five-star hotel in County Donegal…

The first indication of the attention to aesthetic detail that runs through the entire Lough Eske Castle hotel site is the six-foot bronze dragon that greets visitors at the top of its long, winding, forest driveway entrance.

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The hotel has experienced a recent change of ownership away from the Solis brand, but thankfully the new owners have seen fit to keep this magnificent beast on its staff roster, along with a dozen or so other animal (and human) sculptures dotted around the grounds.

This corner of Ireland’s North West coast is abundant in natural beauty, something the Lough Eske Castle hotel’s original architects, and its current custodians, kept front of mind when considering exterior and interior décor. On this visit in December 2018, with the mist hanging in the woods around the site and the outdoor winter wonderland Christmas lights outside, the sense of seclusion was palpable.

The ‘castle’ building itself has some history, built as it was by the local O’Donnell family in the 1400s, rebuilt in the 1860s, burned to the ground in the 1930s and then renovated in its current form in the mid-Noughties.

Aesthetically, the exterior has the feeling of two personalities – the restored grandeur of the castle building and the more contemporary dining/function rooms, plus courtyard and garden accommodation that sit somewhere between the two. In fact, if you approach from the ‘alternative’ rear entrance and its views of the new-build accommodation building you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally stumbled into a different hotel.

Internally, the same merging of classic and contemporary styles, plus Gaelic flourishes, is to the fore. The public spaces are a mix of high-ceilinged larger rooms and cosy nooks, while the 98 guestrooms contain bespoke furniture and commissioned artworks, with décor neutral with wood panelling and space (especially in the huge MEPA-appointed bathrooms) in abundance. All rooms have oak furniture and the majority feature dramatic four poster beds.

freestanding bath in the middle of a modern bathroom

Image credit: Lough Eske

There are actually multiple room styles on offer, each sharing the same design cues but managing to feel very distinct – the Castle Suites are all regal flourishes, bare stonework, antiques and lead-lined windows, the Courtyard Rooms are converted stables, while the Garden Suites were built in 2007 during the renovation with a more modern touch.

Spas are a given in the world of five-star and Lough Eske Castle has a well-appointed annex in its gardens dedicated to wellbeing, with a glasshouse waiting/relaxation area, indoor pool with hydrotherapy/sauna facilities and secluded treatment rooms – all flooring here is either sandstone or wood, adding to the sense of class and closeness to the natural world.

And, of course, being in Ireland the hospitality on offer in the contemporary Cedars Restaurant (clean lines, floor to ceiling windows, views of the castle grounds) and Gallery Bar (floor to ceiling drinks cabinet, leather seating, oak tables) is casually exceptional.

Main image credit: Lough Eske

Technology expert Jason Bradbury reviews Eccleston Square Hotel in the future

730 565 Hamish Kilburn

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Technology expert Jason Bradbury reviews Eccleston Square Hotel in the future

Healing heating, holographic entertainment and a toilet that tells you your food printer what snacks to make, technology expert and futurist Jason Bradbury spent a night future gazing in the technologically enhanced 19th Century luxury of Eccleston Square Hotel, London

We’re living back to front. As technology marches inexorably forward, gaining speed at an exponential rate, it seems that the simple and the authentic have more value than ever before.

The resurgence of vinyl is a great example of this, independent coffee shops and organic grocers too – and so is a certain type of boutique hotel. In order to understand what a night in the hotel room of the future might be like, it’s necessary to appreciate why many of the standout disruptors in the current market are looking backwards, hiding their high-tech flaunts and instead focussing on experiences and simply good service.

Eccleston Square Hotel in London was the setting for my experiment in hotel room time travel. It’s a fine example of how well integrated smart technology can enhance a stay. Notable in-room features include LED clear-to-opaque glass in the bathroom, gestural lighting controls, a massaging bed and an improbably positioned outside/inside courtyard. All of these elements are design decisions that will have echoes in the rooms we will choose to book in the year 2049 (although few will have the Eccleston’s claim of being mere steps away from Winston Churchill’s front door).

Image of in-room ipad next to lighting controls

Image credit: Ecclestone Hotel London

 “The hotel room of the future will still rely heavily on technology, but it will be engineered for invisibility.”

30 years from now, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is currently the subject of deep moral conjecture will be commonplace. All retail, education, medicine, travel and data-centric areas of our lives will be handled by our personal Block-Chain driven A.Is. Much of our entertainment will be virtual visualisations; what we now call Augmented and Virtual Reality, immersive movies and games so convincing they’ll be indistinguishable from reality. It’s logical, therefore, to assume that when the mundane in life is handled by our personal A.I assistant and our persistent screen experience digital, we’ll seek out authenticity as an escape.

The hotel room of the future will still rely heavily on technology, but it will be engineered for invisibility. The down-lighters and wall switches that are currently in hotels will be replaced by neuro and mood interpreting imaging, ambient and natural light emulation, aimed at inducing calm and/or focus. Glass wall room dividers won’t just switch to opaque, they’ll transform into shimmering living jungle walls or expansive movie screens or personalised news feeds created by holographic projection. Think Minority Report, but without the need for gloves.

Modern bathroom

Image credit: Eccleston Square Hotel, London

In order to get a handle on all this future gazing, it’s sometimes helpful to have tangible examples to hand. The recently launched Magic Leap mixed reality headset offers insight into how a futuristic hotel room could be brought or augmented with ultra-high definition virtual assets. By 2049, several exponential leaps up the curve, the headset might be unnecessary, imaging handled by a projector and a glass room divider infused with highly refractive silver particles.

That’s entertainment, but what about the health and wellness opportunities offered by the hotel room of the next decade?

“Beyond just heating, far infrared light offers all manner of health benefits including immune system support, helping to alleviate stress, psoriasis and relieving joint and muscle pain.”

Astectherm is an example of an advanced technology that predicts the kind of hybrid between practical and health orientated benefits that might find itself in the guestroom in 10 years from now. I was able to install a working sample of this thin, flexible infrared thermal heating fabric between the electrically operated curtains during my Eccleston Square Hotel stay. More usually, lengths of Astectherm would be installed in walls or under floor and ceilings. Beyond just heating, far infrared light offers all manner of health benefits including immune system support, helping to alleviate stress, psoriasis and relieving joint and muscle pain. This system is an excellent example of an invisible technology that could offer in-room, spa-like health and wellness advantages for the future hotel room user checking in.

Hyper-personalisation will drive much high-end retail and leisure experiences in the future. The 3D printers that are still mainly the preserve of industry today will perhaps print bespoke, nutritionally focused meals in the kitchens of tomorrow. In order to compete, a morning in an Eccelston Square Hotel room circa 2049 will, for example, have to offer a high-end personalised breakfast and coffee experience. To give a sense of where our future caffeine fixes might come from, I tested the Ikawa Personal Coffee roaster in my room. As well as infusing the suite with a gorgeous aroma of freshly roasted green coffee beans, the tiny app-controlled machine offers concrete insight into the quick, delicious and bespoke snacks and meals we will come to expect in the near-future. In future in-room coffee machines, the ingredients will be determined by a stool and urine analysing toilet and other health monitoring wearables. If your morning bathroom routine flags a rise in your inflammatory markers, you might find turmeric in your freshly-roasted, non-dairy latte.

Image caption: Ikawa Personal Coffee Roaster – thanks to coffee gurus @Steampunkcoffeemachine & @Anyalou and Ben from imperialteas.co.uk

While we currently have the Apple Watch, in the future we’ll see far more discrete wearables, which will offer a much deeper insight into our general wellness. Take sleep for example, a critical part of any hotel room experience. At the moment, Some hotels offer a vague ‘good night guarantee’ based on little more than firm pillows. Eccleston Square Hotel already takes its bedtime more seriously than most, but as well as a mood lighting and an electronically adjustable bed, in 10 years time its beds might map guests’ REM and movement signatures. They high-tech beds might compare them to a block-chain powered pattern from thousands of my previous nights’ sleep, cross-referenced with a range of biological and psychological markers, blood sugar readings from bathroom analysis and wearables and even neurological data. And if this is all sounding a little too Sci-Fi, I took the liberty of installing a Nokia Smart Sleep sensor in my Eccleston Square hotel bed.

“The app data showed a high ‘Sleep Quality’ score of 90 per cent, only twenty seconds of snoring and a longer period of ‘deep sleep’ than on previous nights at home testing it.”

Perhaps it was exhaustion from setting up all the gadgets- or the massage – but the app data showed a high ‘Sleep Quality’ score of 90 per cent, only twenty seconds of snoring and a longer period of ‘deep sleep’ than on previous nights at home testing it. This level of detail, while insightful today will seem laughably trivial in ten years, but again, Nokia’s gadget is a fine example of where we’re heading.

Image Caption: Nokia Sleep Sensor. 2. Bed’s Massage Remote Control

The Eccleston Square Hotel has several rooms with distinctive private outdoor spaces. It achieves this by cleverly slicing up what would be larger areas and then giving each outdoor triangle the perception of space with large mirrored walls. This is another precursor to a future trend; the use of spacial sensory imaging, both auditory and visual, to create outdoor experiences, but on a considerably smaller scale. Looking beyond 2049 and it’s not implausible to imagine something like a Star Trek holodeck that transforms a tiny 24m² courtyard into an infinite forest in which you can jog by virtue of a 360° treadmill.

Image caption: Courtyard in Eccleston Square Hotel Room showing outside mirrored wall

It’s a contradiction for sure, but technology will deliver what the hotel guest of the future will desire most, authenticity. The design ethos, eco and energy awareness, food and customer service expectations of the discerning hotel guest a decade hence will still be central to their choice. What will change is the availability of bespoke, luxury personalised services, many of which will have echoes of a bygone age, a time when the gadgets that distract us today hadn’t been invented. Of course there will be no obvious gadgets in the hotel room of the future, just ‘real’ services and experiences. And when reality can’t be delivered, we’ll be happy to accept the perception of it.

Jason Bradbury can booked for futurology talks at jla.co.uk and found on YouTube  & Instagram. Thanks also to the lovely staff at Eccleston Square Hotel. 

 Main image credit: Twitter @JasonBradbury/Eccleston Square Hotel London

Large suite in King Street Townhouse

Checking in to King Street Townhouse, Manchester

800 447 Hamish Kilburn

With hotel design in the north enjoying a major moment, editor of Hotel Designs Hamish Kilburn checked in to the design-led King Street Townhouse, to marvel over Manchester from a totally unique perspective…

“Manchester is a shrinking violet,” said no designer, ever! It’s impossible to ignore the scale of construction that is happening right now in the UK’s third largest city. It has become, in its own right, a hive for hotel design and is going through what is reported to be one of the largest city centre developments the north has ever seen. According to TOPHOTELPROJECTS, there are currently 18 first-class and luxury hotel projects listed for Manchester with 2,907 rooms in the pipeline. Seven of these projects are scheduled to open before the end of the year – and a further eight are slated to be unveiled in 2019.

This has pushed open the floodgates to the launch of new hotels and turning a page to a new chapter of class, character and style – and the striking hotels are making London just a little bit jealous with the city’s jaggedly jaw-dropping cityscape skyline as a major focus.

The building itself was originally designed by local Mancunian architect Edward Salomons

Cue the launch of King Street Townhouse, which adds to the growing portfolio of the Eclectic Hotel Collection. The 40-key boutique hotel is small enough to have its own quirky personality but not to ever be confused with insignificant in any stretch of the imagination – its trendy interiors certainly make up for size. Located on Booth Street, on the fringe of the city’s central retail district, the hotel has attracted more than just city travellers and the occasional editor. The hotel has become ‘the place to visit’ for those wanting to experience the city from a totally unique perspective.

The building itself was originally designed by local Mancunian architect Edward Salomons and originally built in 1872 for the Manchester Salford Trustees Bank. The Eclectic Hotel Collection unveiled the hotel at the end of 2015 with the aim to respectfully expand on the allure and unique qualities of this historic building with a baby grand hotel providing the need for new contemporary accommodation in the area.

“The rich history in each of our properties is a part of our charm at Eclectic Hotels,” said Eamonn O’Loughlin, Founder of The Eclectic Hotel Collection in a press release. “Our intention was to respectfully expand on the allure and unique qualities of this historic building with our baby grand hotel providing the need for new, luxurious, contemporary accommodation in the area.”

Checking in to the hotel is an intimate experience. Guests turn left to a small, functional check-in desk. Monochrome tiles lead the way toward the grand staircase and a single lift. The wallpaper in each of the corridors is fun and quirky.

Each guestroom at the hotel is different, I mean really different. Because of its boutique label, the hotel owners were able to play around with different looks in each of the 40 rooms and suites. The result is that in each room, something different stands out. For example, in one room I viewed, an intricate headboard immediately attracted attention, giving the room a delicate feel. In another, a large free-standing bath, positioned under the window frame, sits on a slab of tiles.

Room 10

With the hotel being sheltered within a grade II listed building, the modern architects AEW Architects were limited as to what they could change. Using this as an opportunity for the hotel to give a nod to the heritage, the team worked on ways of how they could balance modern into the sensitive project.

Art, as it should be in all hotels, is a major focus. Many of the pieces have been curated to obviously depict major milestones in the city’s history while avoiding looking and feeling too cliché. Although the theme is the city, each room has a different take on what Manchester means.

Upstairs on the seventh floor is where the real point-of-difference is situated. The hotel is the only one in Manchester to have its own rooftop infinity pool, offering a totally unparalleled perspective over the city that stretches out towards the iconic Town Hall, Beetham Tower and the horizon beyond.

Just below that on the sixth floor is an open terrace and a suitable meetings and events venue area that recently and appropriately sheltered Hotel Designs Meet Up North.

From up high to down low, the The Cellars are reserved for the best screening seats in the house. Its own luxury cinema, in fact, and a private wine tasting room, complete with original red-bricked ceilings and walls create a unmatched atmosphere.

The Eclectic Hotel Collection currently operates a total of four destinations within Manchester and has a wealth of knowledge in respectfully converting historic buildings.

Overall, King Street Townhouse is a striking example of how Manchester is cutting the ribbon on design gems that have been designed to create unforgettable moments – moments that help lift an Instagram feed to new heights. The small hotel with a big personality – and even larger heritage – certainly makes its mark and turns a new page of luxury in the cultural and eclectic city of Manchester.

Opposites attract at Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay

800 533 Hamish Kilburn

Nestled behind vibrant streets, where thousands of Gap-Year backpackers find shelter in cheap hostels, rises a luxury hotel with personality, style and unmatched ocean views. Editor Hamish Kilburn checks in to the Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay to see for himself how opposites in South East Asia can attract after all…

Perched on a hilltop facing south, with Phuket’s Patong Beach to the left, Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay’s location was certainly not compromised when local architect Rachapuk Sungkhaphunt from Greenity Co. Ltd designed the foundations of what was said to be ‘a new kind of luxury’ away from the wild, bustling and polluted streets behind Patong Beach.

Exterior of the hotel

Image caption: Exterior of the hotel

Opened in December 2016, the hotel offers 214 elegantly appointed guestrooms and private villas as well as large public areas throughout. The hotel’s structure was thoughtfully designed using the natural landscape as a tool to stagger the individual blocks so that from all corners of the hotel, guests can marvel over the sweeping ocean vistas that extend over the Andaman Sea.

Guestroom image with stunning ocean views

Image caption: The hotel has been designed to capture striking views of the A Sea

Approachable by design, simplicity, minimalism and copious amount of space, interior designer Voravee Puranasamriddhi from Bangkok-based firm 1328 Pt Ltd led the interiors throughout the hotel. Vast emptiness and unused space captured my first impressions of the public areas. That’s because at first there is little to see, as the finest areas are rightfully to be enjoyed by guests only, and clearly detached from the loud streets across the bay.

Tall floor-to-ceiling glass doors open into a refined, elegant space

Designed to reflect more of a terminal than a lobby, the first building guests walk into when checking in on the ground floor is bare and offers just enough facilities for a member of staff to tick you off the list and direct you on. It shelters a constant flow of traffic and once guests have been filtered through this system they are picked up by a car and driven to the main lobby, which is situated three floors above the first terminal.

Unlike the main entrance, the lobby is striking with a strong, solid check-in desk sat in the middle of a modern, light and airy room. Tall floor-to-ceiling glass doors open into a refined and elegant space, while intricate wallcoverings, designed to replicate corral, burst with personality. The furniture is simple yet comfortable with under-seat lighting reflecting off the ceramic flooring.

Image caption: Lobby area

All guestrooms and suites are Asian-inspired with a modern touch. Wooden floors, warm colours and floor-to-ceiling windows create a blissful sanctuary allowing guests to unwind and take in the jaw-dropping views.

A control panel next to the large bed allows guests to personalise the ambiance to suit every mood

Offering by far, though, the most luxurious experience is the Luxury Private Pool Villa Panoramic Ocean View, which sit in the middle of the complex. Designed to blend Asian decor with Western, modern, spacious living – complete with a private infinity pool and decking – the abode allows you to enjoy the panoramic vistas of the bay from a premium perspective – whether that be on the balcony or on the edge of your own infinity pool, accessible from the decking, the living room and the large bathroom.

Image caption:  Luxury Private Pool Villa Panoramic Ocean View

Each of the resort’s 152 pool villas, the most in the Kalim-Patong area, feature a private outdoor sundeck and a six- or nine-metre infinity pools overlooking the ocean, providing guests checking in with privacy and seclusion as well as ultimate comfort and relaxation.

The lighting in the room is tasteful and well-designed. A control panel next to the large bed allows guests to personalise the ambiance to suit every mood. In addition to spotlight lighting, two pendants hang from the ceiling either side of the large bed. This, I believe, adds another dimension to the minimalist setup.

The bathrooms are large and again offer unmatched views through floor-to-ceiling windows that open completely so that the panoramic view is never sacrificed. A large twin tub sits above the infinity pool. Next to it is the walk-in rainfall shower. Above the large twin sink is an oversized mirror that reflects a spacious home-away-from-home feel.

Outside seating area at L'atitude 98 restaurant

Image caption: Outside seating area at L’atitude 98 restaurant

Dining at Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay has been designed to capture a multisensorial experience with two restaurants serving authentic Thai cuisine and international favourites amidst breathtaking sea views.

What I respect most about this hotel is that it may be a stones throw away from provocative streets of Patong Beach, but it is worlds away from the ‘in your face’ attitude that’s evident across the bay.

Wyndham Hotels and Resorts now has more than 9,000 properties worldwide. Recently, Hotel Designs sat down with the new Managing Director (EMEA) to discover what the next chapter for the hotel group looks like.