Hip in Hoxton

The Hoxton HotelPrèt a Manger boss Sinclair Beecham has opened a new hotel that reflects the historic past and artistic present of its location, while staying true to the Prèt ethos

Polyester rucksacks and leather briefcases, baggy T-shirts and pinstriped suits, the Rough Guide to London and executives’ reports. This moment when the worlds of tourism and business collide could have taken place at any weekday lunchtime at sandwich chain Prèt a Manger. But today it’s happening at the new business venture backed by one of the Prèt empire’s co-founders, Sinclair Beecham — the brand new Hoxton Hotel on London’s Great Eastern Street.

Located between London’s financial beating heart in the City and Shoreditch, haven of artists, architects and other creatives, the hotel is the first in a chain Beecham is planning. His ambition is to offer business-class quality services at budget airline prices to create what he defines as a “luxury budget urban lodge”.

The hotel hadn’t even been open a full week when BD Magazine visited, but its 205 bedrooms were already fully occupied. It looks as if Beecham will soon add another success story to his name.

The Hoxton’s architecture and interior design is by hotels specialist Bell Slater Partnership, while the fit-out of the ground-floor bar and restaurant was directed by Gabriel Murray on behalf of the restaurant operator. But the input of branding consultant Adrian Kilby — whose firm The Formation was behind Prèt a Manger — also contributed to the Hoxton experience. Alastair Bell of Bell Slater found this working relationship “refreshing”. “I thought branding consultants were brought in to do the menu,” he quips.

But squeezing four contradictory concepts under one roof might seem like a recipe for confusion and compromise. Certainly, the design is not as bold as the business plan, or as Beecham’s original aspirations. The entrepreneur had originally commissioned Branson Coates, the practice led by RCA design professor Nigel Coates, to design the hotel and interiors. But in early 2005, after Branson Coates had produced a full concept design and constructed a sample room, Beecham ended the collaboration on the grounds that their “respective visions didn’t match”.

Beecham’s vision, according to Bell and Kilby, was first of all for a very inclusive hotel where no one would feel alienated by the design. Second, he wanted the hotel to look and feel as if it had always been a part of Hoxton. The hotel is in fact a new build, but the use of reclaimed brick walls, industrial wooden parquet flooring and exposed metal structures could mislead one into thinking that it is a converted warehouse. “The building has to have a long-term credibility and authority to it. Hoxton is a very fickle place,” says Kilby. “We wanted to create something that was fundamental to the area.”

Murray adds that the hotel should be seen as an “illustration of what people believe what Hoxton is all about”. He points out a reproduction Louis XIV-style chair and a Matthew Hilton “Buffalo” armchair, deliberately juxtaposing two iconic pieces of furniture. While is one associated with the area’s immigrant French community in the 17th and 18th centuries, the other is part of the contemporary design movement championed by the SCP store up the road.

The entrance lobby, designed around the “urban lodge” theme, features brown leather sofas and stately, oversized fireplaces. Above each fireplace is a wooden shield, out of the centre of which a branch projects into the space. From each branch an illuminated bird of prey lamp — sourced by Beecham in South Africa — takes off or lands. Other coats of arms, in baby blue and pink, feature barcode designs — subverting the leitmotifs of the huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ set.

The ground-floor restaurant is set behind the reception area, and wraps around the central courtyard that allows light into the bedroom floors above. The space is fitted out in leather banquettes with a zinc and leather bar but, perhaps intentionally, has little to differentiate it from many other eateries in the area.

Brown leather — used as a reference to the area’s association with the tannery trade — has also been specified for the reception desk, where guests can buy food and drink items at high-street prices, a far cry from the mini-bar rip-offs of traditional hotels. A glass partition between the reception and restaurant is decorated with a stencilled image of a City of London landscape by Brighton-based artist Katty McMurray.

The initial, Branson Coates-era design for the Hoxton Hotel was to have six colour-coded floors: from the corridor to the bathroom tiles, one colour would reign. However, Bell decided to dilute the colour coding. The colours — blue, lilac, orange, yellow, red and green — are present as stripes picked out against the grey i-Floor carpet used in the corridors, and in the softly lit light bars outside each room. The use of light and colour is for arty Hoxton, while industrial Hoxton is present in the exposed metal ceilings and services and galvanised metal door frames — “very much Prèt a Manger”, Kilby remarks.

On each of the six corridors, McMurray was commissioned to draw an iconic building such as the Gherkin and the Tower of London, then repeat the design in the bedrooms. (Beecham was evidently adamant he didn’t want yet another Monet reprint in his hotel). The drawings were stencilled into a double plaster finish by contractor Armourcoat. First, a rough plaster coat was applied, a plastic stencil laid on top, then a smooth coat added and the stencil removed — to leave it looking as if the design has been carved into the plaster. However, Bell says that the cost was equivalent to the original wallpaper finish.

The 205 bedrooms, seven of which are fully wheelchair-accessible, are identical. Their angled shape is a remnant of the Branson Coates design. Into a space of less than 20sq m, the rooms fit a dark wooden headboard unit, desk and wardrobe, all from Castlebrook Furniture & Design. “These elements have been treated as more than bits of furniture. They have become an integral part of the design,” says Bell.

Space might be limited, but comfort isn’t. There’s a stylish chaise longue from Hitch Mylius in one corner of the room, and a spacious bathroom from pod manufacturer EJ Badekabiner. Another item from the original scheme is the grey bathroom wall tiling from Ceramica Bardelli, set off by Bell’s subsequent decision to add a single band in the floor’s signature colour. The bathroom fittings were supplied by the British China Trading Company.

Back on the ground floor, Beecham wanted to include five meeting and dining rooms that could be hired for the day. With brick walls, fireplaces, tables and chairs from Bylaw complemented by French side tables sourced in an antique shop, the rooms are functional with a touch of elegance. Again, they are all booked.

Kilby says that the Hoxton Hotel’s brand is built on budget-stretching details and products — specification choices that mean it is possible to give guests a four-star experience at an accessible price. Beecham now plans to expand the brand to other locations, but adapt each hotel to its location. “If the Hoxton Hotel were in Cardiff it would be an illustration of the elements of the area,” says Kilby. Judging by the Shoreditch Hoxton, there is a clear, workable and popular brand concept to build on. Prèt a dormir could soon be the new Malmaison moins chère.

Hio in Hoxton was originally published in BD Magazine (September 2006).

[Photo credit: The Hoxton]