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Checking in to University Arms, Cambridge

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
Checking in to University Arms, Cambridge

Combining the best of British interior design and architecture, the University Arms in Cambridge is an effortless reflection of old and new. Editor Hamish Kilburn checked in to the Franklin Suite – and spoke to the leaders behind the project – to unearth the fascinating design story that’s written inside…

In the race for luxury in tier two cities around the United Kingdom, Cambridge city centre’s lack of statement hotels doesn’t exactly rank it highly among others.

Despite the city being riddled in history and context, substandard independents remain firm, not willing to set themselves aside from others in regards to design. But amidst the unimaginative and limited hotel scene, things are changing and there is one property in particular that is shaking up the competition to become one of the UK’s best luxury hotels. Cue the monumental unveiling of University Arms, Cambridge.

Image credit: University Arms, Cambridge

The 193-key hotel, which started life in 1834 as a coaching inn, reopened its grand doors in August of last year as interior designer Martin Brudnizki’s first full completed hotel project in the UK. “Cambridge has a really rich story that’s not just academic,” Brudnikzi told Hotel Designs. “It has a flourishing art scene – Kettle’s Yard is a haven for modern British art – and a food scene that’s worth investigating further. Of course, the architecture is wonderful and really quite awe-inspiring, however the city also has a unique sociable atmosphere. With it being small, you easily feel part of the city even after just a few days.”

Click here for interactively view room no. 201, the Stephen Hawking Suite | Image credit: ACT Studios

Following a number of large fires that broke out in the hotel, the most recent in 2012, University Arms closed in 2016. Working on the architectural restoration project from concept to completion, the team at John Simpson Architects were briefed to create new guestrooms, public areas, a gym and functional back-of-house spaces. “In terms of architectural language, the brief was to create a timeless appeal,” John Simpson from the architecture firm told Hotel Designs. “We wanted to create an architecture that honours the traditions and creates an aura that is present in so much of the historic buildings in the city.”

While the hotel’s shell was on the boards, Brudnizki and his team took the mass of inspiration from the history and culture around the city and infused it into thoughtfully curated interiors. “I always knew we wanted to create a hotel that reflected the academic heritage of Cambridge, whilst also feeling fun and approachable,” added Brudnizki. “The hotel is in the perfect location for university parents to stay at when visiting children or for those visiting the city for a weekend break. With this in mind, we created a hotel that combined academic references – the tie-patterned carpets, suites named after famous academics and the restaurant that feels like a college dining room – with comfort and elegance.

Guests now enter the hotel through an extravagant Porte Cochere entrance. “This element of the design references the scale style of the neighbouring Downing College, highlighting the historic association the hotel always had with the university,” Simpson added.

Image credit: University Arms, Cambridge

The large lobby is complete with two striking chandeliers that hang above both the minimalist check-in area and the concierge desk. On the walls, art curated by Adam Ellis hangs on chains and has been inspired by Cambridge’s roots, its past heroes and heroines and its many eras of charm. A poster-style piece “The Man in the White Suit” next to the lifts suggest that this hotel has been designed by and for the modern traveller to enjoy.

Upstairs, the corridors and guestrooms include nods at every turn to the heritage of the city. For example, the carpet that leads to the guestrooms and suites has been designed to replicate colour and style of the original Cambridge College tie. Each of the suites are named after a significant individual who had a relationship with the city and the interiors represent the character of the personality. The Franklin Suite, for example, was named after Rosalind Franklin, an English Cambridge-graduate chemist who made contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. The terraced suite located on the top floor includes literature about Rosalind Franklin that sit in a modern setting. “We wanted to make sure what we designed wouldn’t feel out of place or context,” added Brudnizki. “With this in mind, it was important for us to work closely with John Simpson, who is an expert in classical architecture, as well as the local area. The best way for us to achieve this was through carefully selecting artwork that rooted the project to Cambridge and that would tie the narrative together.”

In all the rooms, which come in four categories, attention to detail is immediately evident. The ‘do not disturb’ signs are shaped as bookmarks, while the writing desks – think ink quill and paper rather than emails – were inspired by the traditional student desks that are finished with coloured leather tops.

Click here for interactively view room no. 907 | Image credit: ACT Studios

The bathrooms in the suites, complete with underfloor heating, are both stylish and lavish. Victoria + Albert baths positioned by the windows, accented with gold legs, create an immediate statement – as do the gold shower fittings from Vado. The walls, meanwhile, have been painted in the same light blue that is associated with the city, keeping the interiors balanced and tame in all the right places.

If the lobby lounge area is described as the heart of the hotel, the guestrooms the brains, then the soul is quite rightfully reserved to the bar and restaurant located on the ground floor. Brudnizki’s masterful hands have created a welcoming environment that has attracted not only guests but also loyal locals. Guests entering for dinner or to have a drink at the bar enter via a separate entrance to those staying at the hotel. “They still arrive at the front of the building, through grand doors, so there is a sense of occasion and not a sense of separation,” explains Brudnizki. “The bar itself includes a spacious lounge area, with mixed seating and larger tables to encourage communal imbibing. During the day you can use the bar as a place to work or even enjoy an afternoon tea. Whilst at night it becomes a great place to sit back with friends and enjoy drinks before dinner in parker’s Tavern next door.”

Image credit: University Arms, Cambridge

The public areas overlook Parker’s Piece, a large plot of grass that is rumoured to have been where the rules of Football Association emerged from (probably over gin and tonics). The library, which, when pushed, Brudnizki admits to being his favourite area of the hotel, is a clever blend of indoor/outdoor interiors, designed to be light, bright and open for all.

It’s refreshing to see an upscale hotel in Cambridge bravely achieve what no other hotel in the area has managed to; take on the history and heritage of the city and seamlessly blending into the architecture and the fabrics. Through true collaboration between MBDS and John Simpson Architects – both of which were winners at The Brit list 2018 in their categories – University Arms is now a timeless gem, in a league of its own operating in a modern city with a storied past.

Main image credit: ACT Studios

19-The-Imperial-Lounge-with-The-Imperial-Bar-at-the-far-end-beyond-the-dividing-screen-1024x658

MINIVIEW: New-look Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik

1024 658 Hamish Kilburn
Design firm Goddard Littlefair injects golden-age glam into the former The Grand Hotel Imperial…

Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, situated just above Dubrovnik old town, was originally built in the 1890s and went on to serve the great Mediterranean cruise liners docking in the city in the early 20th century. Then called ‘The Grand Hotel Imperial’, with a French Riviera feel and the glamorous cachet of an international clientele, the hotel was a roaring success for many decades, but, during the Yugoslav war, it was shelled and then used to house refugees. The hotel was subsequently brought back to active life in 2005, and most recently was renovated under the watchful eye of design house Goddard Littlefair.

“When we were first commissioned, the hotel was already very well established and incredibly popular, with a wonderful location overlooking the old fort and the Adriatic, right on the edges of Dubrovnik’s historic old centre,” commented Martin Goddard, Director and Co-founder of Goddard Littlefair. “Whilst it had been majorly refurbished in 2005, costly building works meant that the interiors weren’t the main priority at that time and were primed therefore for a completely new treatment.”

“The brief to the design team was to unlock the true potential of the four-storey hotel’s spectacular location, architecture, reputation and history.”

Goddard Littlefair was initially commissioned towards the end of 2016 for a phased set of redesign works, with the first two now completed and including the reception and lobby, The Lobby Lounge, The Imperial Bar, The Executive Lounge, all connecting and guest-room corridors and all of the hotel’s 149 standard and executive rooms and nine suites. A refurbishment of the hotel’s existing restaurant, Porat, on the lower-ground floor, will follow in late 2019.

The brief to the design team was to unlock the true potential of the four-storey hotel’s spectacular location, architecture, reputation and history. “Our inspiration lay in bringing back the romance of the hotel’s former glories,” Goddard commented. “Layering glamour into each individual space by means of a Riviera palette, soft detailing, a 1920s yachting influence and a subtle evocation of the hotel’s original elegance, whilst at the same time balancing that with clean and contemporary lines.”

Reception

Guests enter via a metal revolving door into a stunning, double-height reception, with tall, arched windows and cool ceramic flooring in a bespoke two-tone diamond pattern, created by Goddard Littlefair and inspired by the old stone streets of the city. The reception is spacious, soothing and calming, so that guests relax instantly, especially during the intense heat of the summer season.

The visitor’s eye is immediately taken by a spectacular central chandelier, made up of eleven, sculptural, globe-shaped and antiqued brass pendant lights, hanging from chains in rows of three on antiqued brass rods. Each individual pendant light within the chandelier houses seven fluted, ribbed glass tubes, concealing the bulbs, with the ribbed glass treatment used matching seven bespoke vertical wall lights in the reception’s waiting area. The feature light was designed by Jana Novakovic, Interior Designer at Goddard Littlefair and was manufactured by Croatian lighting company Dekor, who worked on most of the lighting on the project. The scheme’s overall lighting consultant, especially focusing on architectural lighting, was DPA Lighting Consultants.

The ceilings in the reception feature newly-instated decorative mouldings, whilst the walls are clad in inset dove-grey panels at the upper level, with feature areas of moulded timber panelling at ground floor level, located around and behind the reception desk and also enclosing the lobby waiting area opposite, where huge-scale arched windows – technically at first floor level – flood the space with natural light, with glare lessened by transparent sheer curtain panels and off-white blinds with a striking blue trim at the top of the windows.

A bespoke, three-person reception desk is to the left of entry. The desk features a Carrara marble top and dark-stained timber panelling to the front, matching the wall panelling behind, with sculptural brass desktop lights by Dekor at each end. Behind the desk, set within timber-panelled wall surround, is a triptych of artworks by Croatian artist Antonia Čačić, specially-commissioned for the project by the scheme’s art consultants ARTIQ. The 3m-long abstract triptych incorporates a palette of soft hues inspired by the colours of the Dalmatian coast.

Reception desk with bespoke marble-topped and timber-panelled desk with rear artwork triptych by Croatian artist Antonia Čačić

Image caption: Reception desk with bespoke marble-topped and timber-panelled desk with rear artwork triptych by Croatian artist Antonia Čačić

The Lobby Lounge

Two lighting features immediately take the eye, one at the centre of each area. First, a bespoke chandelier in The Lobby Lounge, inspired by 1950s bathing caps, has cascading white porcelain petal shapes set on a brass framework and was made by Imagin. Secondly, The Imperial Bar meanwhile features a bespoke, six-armed chandelier in brass with spherical opal glass shades, designed by Goddard Littlefair and manufactured by Dekor. Wall lights in the space, with ribbed, cylindrical glass surrounds are identical to those in the reception waiting area.

The ceiling in The Lobby Lounge area is painted white with new added decorative mouldings. The right-side wall is painted a pale shade of blue, as are the inner arches of the French doors that line the wall and open out on the terrace. Pole-hung curtains line the French doors in off-white, with a blue leading edge.

The spaces feature three zoned seating arrangements, demarcated by individual rugs in blues and whites with a touch of coral, in a take on an antique Persian rug, set on top of timber chevron flooring that runs through the entire space. The three rugs were designed by Goddard Littlefair and made by Hotel Designs Recommended Supplier Brintons. The two end ones are identical, whilst the central one is subtly different. Each seating zone features a table, with a Carrara marble top and either fine brass legs or a more substantial dark-timber pedestal, and each has a different seating arrangement. Chairs at both the end-of-room set-ups are scoop-back armchairs in a blue-grey velvet with a woven pale grey fabric back, whilst the central chairs are all in grey with a contrasting dark blue piped edging and antiqued brass studs. Sofas are in upholstered in a linen fabric, whilst scatter cushions are either in blue with contrast piping or else in blue or rust, introduced here in small doses for contrast, with a central textile-design panel. A number of higher tables for dining line the inside wall of the space, in Carrara marble and brass, with peacock blue velvet-upholstered ‘shell’ design chairs with ebonised timber legs.

The Imperial Bar

Image caption: The Imperial Bar

The Imperial Bar

The Imperial Bar has a pronouncded deco feel. Located at the far end of the space, the bar is announced via a demarcating, stand-out brass surround screen, featuring brass shelving and fretwork panels set within its side arches and across its top section, where LED lights are also concealed. The screen was manufactured, along with all joinery, mouldings, case goods and furniture on the project by Internova. Dark timber detailing links the screen to the dark timber used for the furniture legs. The brass screen was also specially-designed to house a spectacular art piece – a second commission by Croatian artist Antonia Čačić, which sits at the centre of the screen and is in fact a triptych once more. Two of its three sections sit within the screen, with one facing each way, with the third at the other end of the space, to the rear of The Lobby Lounge. Further artwork in the bar area includes a series of 12 specially-commissioned monochrome photograms of local flowers, printed as negatives and arranged on unique, vertical-rod brass picture rails.

The ceiling in The Imperial Bar is painted blue, for added drama and a moodier feel. The windows in the bar all have classic, white-painted shutters at their sides, for a subtly different feel from The Lobby Lounge. The bar also has its own table and chair arrangements with a more silky, cocktail feel to the furniture including a ‘love seat’ sofa, banquettes by the windows and small, round scatter cushions in gathered brown velvet with a trim and central large button either in the same brown or contrasting orange piping.

The Executive Lounge

Immediately beyond The Lobby Lounge and The Imperial Bar is the 88 sq m Executive Lounge, a further long and slim space, with entry through a double door. Hilton grades its rooms as standard, executive or suites and The Executive Lounge is for the exclusive use of guests who have booked executive rooms or suites. Essentially, rather like an airport lounge, this space offers a quieter area for guests, who can to use the space all day long and have breakfast here in the morning for example or make use of the complimentary afternoon wine and cheese served here.

The Executive Lounge features a refurbished white ceiling and applied mouldings to the walls, with inset panels in a rattan wall covering from Phillip Jeffries. Flooring, for the upper two thirds of the space, is an inset carpet with a timber outer layer and brass trim from Ulster Carpets. Two gilded mirrors at the far end are by Water Gilders, with a small salon-hang arrangement of art between the mirrors, once again curated by ARTIQ. Bespoke tables run along the far end and down both sides of the room, with table tops featuring two different designs in Carrara and Nero Marquina marble, with ebonised timber pedestals. Bespoke seating includes three sofa seats below the antiqued mirrors in a peacock-blue velvet with ribbed scroll backs, with chairs opposite featuring a pale blue leather seat pad, a dark timber frame and a cane back. Seats accompanying the tables down the sides are in a dove grey with an ebonised timber frame and scatter cushions feature fabrics from Tissus d’Hélène. Curtains on the outer side of the room are full-height in an off-white with a blue leading edge, featuring the same design used for The Lobby Lounge.

A long, thin island credenza runs down the centre of the space, with timber ribbing and brass detail shadow gap, a Carrara marble top and integrated timber trays, accessorised by a small terrarium of succulent plants set beneath bell jars, as well as a number of books and geometric objects of interest. Table lamps here have a brass stand and ribbed ivory shades. Armchairs to either side feature a dark timber frame and caramel leather upholstery, whilst small accompanying incidental tables have a Carrara marble and timber top with criss-cross brass and bronze legs. Above the central credenza is the room’s major lighting feature – a four-part brass ring chandelier with crystal elements and inset LED lights, bespoke-designed by Goddard Littlefair and made by Northern Lights.

Each room features a bespoke Axminster rug from Brinton's

Image caption: Each room features a bespoke Axminster rug from Brinton’s

Guestrooms and Corridors

The hotel features an Imperial Suite, together with eight other suites and 149 executive and standard rooms. Linking corridors are inset-carpeted with timber borders in light oak and carpet runners, with a bordered bespoke design in a subtle colourway running from greys to varying shades of blue, so that it seems to fade at the border, made specially for the project by Brintons. Walls are in a pale off-white wall covering from Muraspec. Room numbers are announced via bespoke wall lights in a brass finish, with layered bronze plates announcing the room number via a cut out number in the front plate, visible against the second plate thanks to a subtle shadow. These were made to Goddard Littlefair’s design by Dekor.

The design feel of all the rooms is light and fresh, with classical clean lines and a refined and elegant colour palette of blues and silvers, plus the sparing use of pale pinks. Flooring is a natural light oak, supplied by a local company in Dubrovnik and arranged in a herringbone pattern. Each room features a bespoke Axminster rug from Brinton’s, with two used for the suites. The rugs in the suites are in a pattern that suggests the Middle East, with a whipped-edge border and the colour palette inverted from one to the other in blues, turquoises and ivories, with a touch of gold, whilst the standard room rugs have a more abstract, floral pattern.

In the guestrooms hang a combination of prints by Raul Perčič and another local artist, Branka Ridicki. Hanging squarely above the bed, Branka’s paintings imagine townscapes in abstract composition and were selected for their success in capturing the feeling of Dubrovnik’s winding streets and undulating roof-scapes. Photos and prints of Dubrovnik centre on the sea and seaside life, with blues and oranges giving way to some hints of orange. The pictures hang in pairs with brass picture lights above, whilst the suites feature four works of art each.

The beds feature full-height panelled headboards with the panels arranged in a single ‘bird’s beak’ pattern, with a blue-painted frame and upholstered in a soft gold silk-linen. The bed linen is all in white and the bedside tables alongside are oval-shaped, with a small inset drawer and open shelf, in dark-stained timber with a timber top and drawer, along a laminate body in grey with a linen texture and timber plinth. The bedside lights are fixed to panels and are in a geometric leaf print on linen with antiqued brass, made by Dekor. A floor light has a metal base and is finished in bronze and a softly-curved geometric four-section shade in ivory linen. Some rooms alternatively feature a fully-metal, slightly shorter floor light with a demi-globe rounded head. The hotel bathrooms were also lightly refreshed in the scheme, with new wall-lights, mirrored panels and decorative mirrors with brass frames and leather-hooked top detail.

Circular dining tables/desks are in timber with a bell-shaped solid wood pedestal and additional gilding at the pedestal neck. The minibars are rectangular and panelled with chamfered edges, finished in dark-stained timber, together with a lacquered, low-sheen turquoise finish, with circular pulls for the drawer handles in a dark metal. Furniture in the rooms also includes an armchair and, depending on the room, a mix of other items including a stool, chaise or bench. The chaise, where present, is upholstered in a textured grey fabric with a ribbed back, a bolster and scatter cushions, which are made up of a variety of silk and linen materials with either geometric or abstract prints with a deliberately ‘worn-in’ look to the textile pattern. The bench is in a pinkish blush faux leather with tufted buttons and piping details, whilst the stool is in a turquoise faux leather with a turquoise top and piping and a base upholstered in a sandy colour. The armchair is upholstered in sky blue velvet, with ribbing to the inside of the back with a double-layered rear detail.

The Imperial Suite contains a living room, dining room, bedroom and bathroom and has great views out from the front second storey of the hotel, overlooking the town’s famous old fort and the sea.

For this and other suites, the design treatment links to the standard rooms, with subtle differences, including a marble-print fabric for the wall-lights, for example, and headboards with a padded chevron treatment in a light blue faux leather and a brass trim between the upholstery and the framing timber surround. Curtains in the suites uses the same fabric as the wall lights, coupled with white sheers. All suites have applied moulding and panelling featuring a pale grey wallcovering and a white paint surround.

All the suites also have sofas, upholstered in a very light off-white linen-type material with arms that splay outwards and a long and loose back cushion. Armchairs in the suites are slipper-style. upholstered in duck-egg blue velvet with a contrast trim. Bedroom armchairs are curved with vertical piping detail to the interior of the back panel that looks like ribbing and are upholstered in a grey woven material, whilst a rectangular ottoman features a turquoise faux leather top and fabric sides that match the textile used for the armchair.

Lighting for the suites includes four-armed chandeliers, suspended on a chain, with a linen shade. A table lamp has a faux-leather wrapped brown base, a linen shade and a contrast trim to the top and bottom in dark brown. A coffee table has a Carrara marble top and timber legs, whilst two side tables are black-lacquered demi-lunes. Bedside tables are in a linen-effect laminate with brass legs and handles and a timber trim.

Image credit: Gareth Gardner

Dark-toned room with high ceilings mixes plush velvet and low lighting

Fitzrovia’s mysterious and magnificent The Mandrake Hotel

1024 681 Hamish Kilburn

Nestled under a canopy of plants in London’s Fitzrovia district sits The Mandrake Hotel, an unlikely yet very welcome neighbour to this part of town. Hamish Kilburn takes a peek inside…

Blink and you will miss it. The unassuming framed ornate wrought iron gates are the first of many indications that rules have been broken when designing the concept of The Mandrake Hotel. Unlike other luxury hotels in the area, such as Charlotte Street Hotel and The London Edition, The Mandrake’s entrance is very low key – almost as if its exact whereabouts is on a need-to-know basis, which of course it is.

Five years in the making, and a first for the Fustok family, The Mandrake Hotel sits in a former Victorian office block and has been artfully converted into the cool, urban boutique hotel that it is today.

During fashion week last year, when The Mandrake opened, its unique Bohemian-Gothic style led to it becoming the venue of choice for British Vogue’s editor Edward Enninful and a stream of A-listers who followed. The most recent neighbour to move in and name the hotel its premium local hangout spot is Facebook’s new swanky London headquarters in Rathbone Square.

One thing that is immediately apparent when entering the building is that the design elements of the hotel feel very personal. Interior designer Tala Fustok’s creativity literally runs through the walls of the hotel. “It was important to keep the honest feel of the building, and preserve its identity,” explains Fustok in a recent press release. An example of this can be found in the public areas that have been carefully curated with surrealist sculptures to portray the feeling that nothing in this hotel is what it first seems.

The Lobby. Image credit: The Mandrake Hotel

Striking pieces of art depicted by nature make a lasting impression when entering the strangely calming lobby. Industrial-style walls marry nicely with the understated yet stylish reception desk. The lobby hangs under a large gothic-style chandelier, lit by 30 wax candles, and the soft ambient lighting is well balanced to welcome guests into a curious new world.

The theme of outdoor indoor space has been well examined throughout the building, with natural light and the hotel’s incredible terrace being seen from almost all corners of the public area. A modest courtyard is poised and readily equipped for all occasions and looks up to the terrace, above which is a large living wall of plantation.

Outdoor terrace looks down onto a palm courtyard

The terrace. Image credit: The Mandrake Hotel

The dramatic Labradorite bar, at some 30ft in length, is the hotel’s source of energy. The dark Victorian panelled mahogany long bar is balanced by the room’s inspiration of nature. This area is rich in greens, with a gentle riot of Parisian fabrics and thick verdant palm textures of green, purple and red. Above the bar hangs the specially commissioned mythical-gazelcock (part-impala, park peacock) by Enrique Gomez de Molina, adding the mixture of eclecticism and humour.

The guestrooms

Considering the hype, only 34 guestrooms, three suites and one incredible penthouse are sheltered on three levels, each designed to unlock a chic, unique, cosy, quiet, high-ceilinged refuge, worlds away from the hustle and bustle of London life below.

All guestrooms are carved around the palm tree-studded interior courtyard, which centres the hotel and provides rooms with ample natural light. Designed with a mixture of maximalist bohemian throughout, the rooms create “a glamorous constructed garden of Eden” as Fustok puts it.

There is a sense of harmony as if two cities are colliding in the room’s interior fittings. Indulgent Parisian jewel-toned velvets, gilding mirrors and commanding metallic coffee tables add a flare of glitz in the interiors. This is balanced with a cool London city vibe of earthy-toned drape curtains, an curvaceous wing chairs.

Guestroom with statement circular mirror on the wall

Image credit: The Mandrake Hotel

“I wanted to keep the feel of the building’s natural, raw energy,” explains Fustok when describing the well-proportioned rooms and high ceilings of the Victorian shell. Clean lines have replaced the unusual period mouldings, resulting in bedrooms that envelop you in their infinity of moody hues. Striking vintage one-off pieces compliment the dark paint tones, while accents of colour are added by interesting artwork. Together, 33 different chandeliers and vintage panel screens covered with lush botanical plants in the guestrooms echo the bohemian vibes weaved around the hotel.

The pièce de résistance is The Mandrake Suite, painted in dark sultry tones that echo through from the bar and seductive hallways. The luxurious bed is swathed in Bedouin-style folds of fabric. A standalone bathtub set on a slab of black-veined marble adding to the majestic look and feel of the suite.


Image credit: The Mandrake Hotel

As I descend down the lift towards check-out, the courtyard emerges and the sense of coming back down to earth feels very real. My conclusion is that, among the hundreds of hotels to open in London, The Mandrake stands as a shining example of how taking risks and following the heart when injecting a hotel’s personality pays off. Bravo Tala, the rest of Fustok family and all others who were involved in creating what we hope to be the first of many truly transformational boutique luxury hotels.

Fitzrovia’s ever-evolving trendy hotspot is rumoured to soon welcome a new Bluebird cafe as well as one of London’s premium HIIT and spin studios, Digme Fitness, which will open directly opposite the new Facebook offices in Rathbone Square. With these major openings, I get the feeling that The Mandrake’s quirky shell could soon well become ‘the local’ for many premium businesses nearby.

The Henrietta Hotel review, Covent Garden: Ideally located boutique stay with louder than life interiors

1024 525 Adam Bloodworth

Londoners, and visitors to London, will know Henrietta Street, even if they don’t know it by name. The unassuming road is one of four framing Covent Garden Piazza, and has celebrated restaurants Flat Iron, and new opening Frenchie, on it. It also houses the relatively new Henrietta Hotel.

You’d blink and miss it. Behind a stately jet black door, the hotel is purposefully unassuming, to the point that this reviewer walked past it twice, without spotting it on both attempts at entry. Once in the day, and once at night. Thankfully I wasn’t hungry.

At first sight the lobby is equally unassuming, like a private home, only past check in, things quickly get eccentric. In the adjoined bar and restaurant, eponymously titled Henrietta, and upstairs in the rooms, the hotel’s design is loud and proud. In fact it’s why guests visit the Henrietta in the first place.

The intimate bar and lobby area (Picture: Hotel Designs)

The eye-catching design is by Parisian designer Dorothee Meilichzon, whose design firm, Chzon, has been at the receiving end of plenty of awards. Those include Designer Of The Year by Maison & Objet In 2015, and being called one of the best 20 designers in the world by Wallpaper magazine in their W* Power 200.

The main design themes are mismatching textures and patterns, and boldly bright colour schemes which compete for the eye’s attention.

The Henrietta Hotel is a relatively new project from artisanal hospitality group The Experimental Group, behind London bars Joyeux Bordel, Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels and Experimental Cocktail Club, who also run bars and hotels in Paris, New York and Ibiza.

The 18 rooms are spread thinly across the three floors of this tall, skinny ex-townhouse. Doors have pineapple door knockers and old fashioned (read: proper) manual keys, there’s not a key card in sight.

Chzon have made each room its own individual design statement. Embellishments are everywhere, from the golden skirting boards, to the retro amenities (radios, clocks) to mismatched fabrics.

Statement seating in our room (Picture: Hotel Designs)

The care taken to differentiate not even every room, but every inhabitable space within even the smallest rooms, is impressive. Designers and creatives will poke around for hours, although the sum of the parts taken as a whole can lack cohesion and feel overly busy.

We felt this way particularly about our bed stead, a sort of interpreted Art Deco think piece, it needn’t have been so busy to have been beautiful.

The bedstead was maybe a bit too much (Picture: Hotel Designs)

However, the bathroom – with its gradual lighting enhancements – was a shimmering pale pink room which succeeded in feeling airy, while relaxed and calming.

The bathrooms feature generous natural lighting (Picture: Hotel Designs)

A statement bathtub embellished with marble finishes took up a third of the room, with bespoke toiletries bagged up below branded towels. The room found the perfect harmony.

The gentle colour schemes in the bathroom (Picture: Hotel Designs)

There are four grades of room which range from a comfortable double to a suite, although there isn’t much difference in size or amenities between the rooms. That said, the suite – at around £500 – isn’t outrageously priced considering it comes with its own intimate rooftop terrace.

Staying at the Henrietta is really suited for guests exploring the area, so the hotel’s facilities are minimal. Breakfast, however, is included and can be served in the room and features classics alongside an excellent twist on the classic porridge, with dates.

Of equal prominence to Chzon’s design is the famous British chef Ollie Dabbous, who is in charge of the food in the restaurant. Dabbous’s menu is ingredient-led with a French sensibility (simple, whole cuts of meat, finely served) and the restaurant features the same zany, whimsical interior design by Chzon as the rooms.

Bespoke bathroom toiletries (Picture: Hotel Designs)

The premise of “restaurant and cocktails” is an exciting one, given the hotel’s owners; we trusted our French, gentlemanly barkeep to make us the cocktails that suited our palettes.

The a La Carte has five rotating starters and five mains. A smoked duck, pomegranate and chickpea flatbread was freshly baked and well-balanced, and deep with flavour. A theatrical dish of stracciatella had a flavour that was delicately policed by bold blood orange and pecans.

The a La Carte (Picture: Hotel Designs)

The sirloin arrived as delicately plated as it was to taste, as was a veal tonnato, served classically with a wave of puntarelle for flare.

As delicately plated as it was to taste (Picture: Hotel Designs)

Desserts though, are best. The rhubarb crumble is light! But so ripely full of flavour, and arriving with a fresh glass of rhubarb juice, still feels as hedonistic as the full slab of crumble you’d find homestyle elsewhere.

And warm, fresh madeleines with Chantilly cream could, predictably, be scoffed 12 times over.

‘Normal’ prices are, shall we say, best suited to a celebration, rather than mid-week treat – but go for the Sunday Brunch or the spectacularly well-priced pre theatre dinner for £30 which is unmissable for food of this quality and notoriety (Dabbous has a new restaurant, Hide, which, opening this summer in Piccadilly, is already talk of the town).

The view from the rooftop suite (Picture: Hotel Designs)

The Henrietta will have extroverts squealing with excitement – but it packs a loud and bold punch that is divisive.

Hotel Football Manchester

Hotel Football, Manchester

954 508 Daniel Fountain

Manchester is going through somewhat of a renaissance in the hotel industry.

Recent openings – including Hotel Gotham – have put the critical and commercial spotlight on the city, drawing some of the attention usually hogged by the capital down south. During this wave of stylish, quirky and conceptual openings came a project by former Manchester United stalwarts Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs – Hotel Football.

Hotel Football ManchesterIts location overlooking the club’s iconic Old Trafford stadium, affectionately known as the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, might suggest this is a haven just for followers of this particular megaclub. Far from it.

Hotel Football ManchesterAny supporter of the ‘Beautiful Game’ will be pleasantly surprised by the ubiquitous football-themed touches throughout – like a mural of great footballing memories accompanying guests on their ascent or descent of the main staircase, the stadium-esque facilities for the gentlemen’s toilets in the Old Trafford Supporters Club in the hotel’s basement or the guestroom bathroom design, with a nod to football changing rooms. Most of the hotel art, too, was commissioned by the hotel and made by University of Salford students.

The interiors are modern and slick, if not slightly ‘corporate’ at times. But make no mistake, the attention to detail is prevalent throughout – and despite this being a ‘themed’ hotel, guest comfort and satisfaction has not been overlooked.

Given the market this hotel is undoubtedly looking to tap into, the corporate and event spaces are excellent appointed and have the ability to cater for various-sized parties. The Owners Room and The Boardroom for smaller meetings, to the Stadium Suite and Players’ Lounge, which can take up to 500 people and match-day hospitality is also available.

Hotel Football ManchesterThe hotel has been well pitched – it is consciously not too over-the-top in being Manchester United-themed (considering the disdain with which some football supporters perceive the club), but rather more focused on football as a whole. The staff throughout the property are also commendably friendly and helpful; whether or not they are Manchester United fans seems irrelevant as they all appear to be genuinely invested in the success of the project. Overall, this is a hotel that knows its USP, does what it says on the tin and does it well. It’s fun, quirky and different – definitely another success story for the Manchester hotel scene.

Based on a stay in March 2017
hotelfootball.com

The Landmark London hotel

The Landmark London, Marylebone

900 573 Daniel Fountain

One of the many things I love about London is the way tradition and modernity seamlessly merge – it’s impossible to ignore its ‘grand old dame’ vibe and yet it’s often at the cutting edge of numerous fields; architecture, cuisine, music, art. And if a hotel typifies these two faces of the capital, it’s The Landmark London.

From the outside, its archetypically Victorian façade immediately gives away the building’s roots as one of London’s great railway hotels – one of several constructed during the golden age of steam travel; the other tell-tale clue being its adjacency to Marylebone station. It was a labour of love for one of imperial Britain’s greatest railway visionaries and entrepreneurs Sir Edward Watkin, who had plans for Marylebone to become an ‘international hub’. The latter never came to fruition, but his ambitious plans for a hotel (then called the Grand Central) were imagined in 1899 and his vision can still be seen today.

Landmark London hotel

Looking down at the Winter Garden on the ground floor of the atrium

TheLandmark4

Inside, all the trappings of modern luxury expected at a five-star property ease you back into the 21st century. The beating heart of the hotel is the grand atrium with its Winter Garden restaurant and elegant public spaces. The glass ceiling of the eight-storey-high atrium allows natural light to stream in and gives the room an almost Greenhouse-esque and tropical feel. It’s a magnificent space to be in, and the hotel’s management have made the wise decision to use it for food and beverage as well as breakout offerings. This is best illustrated by the Gazebo, where guests can take afternoon tea or grab a bite to eat, but can also double up as a space for a drinks reception for the hotel’s numerous corporate events.

Landmark London

One of the public spaces – complete with grand staircase – of the Landmark London

Indeed, the Landmark’s corporate offering has recently undergone a freshen-up and it now boasts some of the most exquisite rooms for hosting small exhibitions, conferences and meetings in London. While most hotels in the capital can and do host corporate guests, few can offer more sumptuous surroundings. The 11 meeting and event spaces – with a capacity ranging from intimate 6-person interviews right up to 750-people drinks receptions – not only incorporate the elegance of the hotel as a whole, but also provide functionality and the state-of-the-art technical facilities required. As superb as both the majestic Grand Ballroom and Empire Room are, for me the ‘jewel in the crown’ is the Drawing Room where stunning wood panelling, unbelievably detailed ceiling work and elaborate light fixtures give the room a distinct feel from the other offerings, a perfect setting for parties of up to 150.

With the hotel having gone through a series of renovations throughout its various incarnations and long but not-always illustrious history, I was fascinated to discover that the current, healthy selection of 300 rooms and suites is less than half of the building’s original 700-room offering. This slimming down has allowed for larger-than-usual room sizes – especially considering the NW1 location of the Landmark. From the 35sqm Superior rooms to the 52sqm Family rooms right up to the 160sqm Presidential suite, the hotel prides itself on its spacious rooms with king-sized beds, flat-screen televisions yet traditionally, classically luxe décor. And it’s easy to see why. The furnishings and upholstery continue the theme of opulent golds, creams and browns in the public spaces which is perfectly juxtaposed by the cool, black-and-white marbled finish of the bathrooms. This is indulgent and decadent design, without being tasteless or tacky.

Landmark London

I’m next shown the spa, pool and gym facilities, which again considering the location are fantastic. And utilising the space well, designers have even managed to include a small but well-equipped gym as well. I’m visiting the Landmark for a separate F&B event, which allows me to see the TwoTwentyTwo Restaurant and Bar (named for the hotel’s 222 Marylebone Road address) and the Mirror Bar (named for, well, I’m sure you can work it out…) both of which contain refined, chic and ornate interiors. The former delighting with its extensive fine wine collection in library-style, glassed casing; the latter tapping into the Victorian heritage of the building and creating an intimate and relaxed spot for pre-dinner cocktails or after-dinner nightcap.

I leave the Landmark after my all-too-brief visit remarking what a fine job several people have done in nearly 120 years in maintaining this gem of a building. Indeed, as designers will always say, success comes when good design is incorporated with functionality. The Landmark undoubtedly ticks the box for the first factor. And it’s hard to find better examples of a structure still completing the task it was built for, so long ago, with such aplomb. Is it entirely perfect? No. No hotel ever is, but renovation work and refurbishments are still planned in a bid to improve areas that require them, and this will only work to make this hotel even more appealing than it currently is. One can only trust that as the hotel develops, improves and modernises, it still holds on to its opulent, traditional and heart-warming charm. Here’s hoping…

Based on a tour in May 2016
Photos: Daniel Fountain // landmarklondon.co.uk