Chiltern Firehouse: What’s all the fuss really about?

Chiltern Firehouse: the hotel project on the industry’s lips. From owners to architects, media to interior designers, it seems that the world simply can’t quite get enough of the already somewhat infamous London Hotel.

chilternfrontImage courtesy of Tim Clinch

The question is, what is all the fuss really about? Is it the long line of ever more high profile celebrities gracing it’s hallways of an evening? Is it the apparently delicious and delectable food served in the marvellous restaurant facilities? We think not. For us, the most outstanding thing about this project does not fall into either of the above categories; it is in fact the very building itself.

Before being transformed into the striking structure we see today, the dilapidated old fire station was in serious need of some tlc, after being left derelict since it’s closing a few years earlier. Enter Andre Balazs. Working alongside some of the most respected experts in the industry, Balazs has managed not only to restore this beautiful building, but also transform it into a stunning hotel space. A true phoenix from the flames story… (sorry, we couldn’t help but make at least one fire related pun. We’re done now. Honestly).

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Image courtesy of Tim Clinch

With everybody talking about this outstanding project, we thought it only right to investigate further the restoration of the striking building’s now famous facade, and caught up with project architects Archer Humphryes to find out more…

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David Archer & Julie Humphryes of Archer Humphryes

How did the Chiltern Firehouse project come about?
Our practice has a long term friendship with André Balazs which began in New York whilst working on projects in Manhattan.  By collaborating with the Manhattan Loft Corporation and the Portman Estate, AB Hotels began this project following the decommissioning of the Firehouse in London over 6 years ago.

Can you tell us a little more about the ‘sensitive extension’ of the existing building?
Originally named the Manchester Square Fire Station, the project is a Listed Building and the extension involved a brand new building to sit alongside the existing seamlessly.  Historic details in the existing fire station were also meticulously reinstated to create a holistic approach to the entirety of the project.

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The exisiting Firehouse building, with new extension. Image courtesy of Tim Clinch

The building’s original facade was reinstated, can you tell us about any issues or challenges involved in this?
Matching craftsmanship from today with historic quality was a challenge to the budget and finding specialists to procure the task is always a challenge.  The real expertise is in the patina of the two buildings coming together, so one is not seen as eclipse of the other,  this was the real technical difficulty we explored.

Was it always the plan to reinstate the original features before you took on the project, or was this suggested by you?
In the initial development of the project we studied the original drawings by the architect Robert Pearsalls’ from 1889.  It was part of our approach to recommend introduction of red brick and stone dressings, a free ‘Tudor – Gothic Style’ to mimic and not be subservient to the existing building, as part of the landmark buildings planning approach, which we successfully executed with the consents by achieving a dramatic new footprint allowing the building to function in a new use as a hotel to today’s standards.

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The restaurant interior of the Chiltern Firehouse. Image Courtesy of Tim Clinch

You also worked on another historical restoration with the Great Northern Hotel (GNH), what are the most difficult challenges when working with historical buildings of this type?
GNH was a beautiful project to be commissioned to do and it was exhilarating combining the architecture and the interior.  Within Listed Historic buildings we like to reveal what is magical about the past and insert a new authentic design that provides habitable spaces for today.  Often design conceals a building’s history and reinvents it as a project that is unrecognisable from its past, we see this as a missed opportunity.

David Archer of Archer Humphryes will be joining us at this year’s Sleep Conference.

Register for Sleep 2014 to hear more from him at the show!

Biophilic Design : Natural Inspiration for Hotel Interiors

There is a new design movement on the block. Inspired by the innate relationship between nature and the human psyche, Biophilic design is creeping it’s way into the world of hospitality design with gathering speed.

Our friends at Interface Flooring have provided this handy guest post on the meanings behind this relatively simplistic movement.

Hotel interiors strive to provide an inspiring and rejuvenating space for a wide variety of guests. Designing the perfect space for all types of customers is key to making a positive first impression, as well as ensuring guest’s wellbeing throughout their stay. Many designers are harnessing the powerful influence of nature to provide the inspiration for these spaces.

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Biophilic design, which is borne from our instinctive love of and innate connection with the natural world, brings elements of the outside inside to create truly beautiful interiors and inspire the wellbeing of those within them.

The biophilic design movement is gathering pace in a range of architectural applications. Designers are using natural textures, patterns and colour palettes that echo the fluidity and beautiful irregularity of the natural world to explore the positive impact that design inspired by nature can have on the human psyche.

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At Interface we are passionate about biophilic design and have a range of collections inspired by nature, designed to create unique and relaxing hospitality spaces for guests. Featuring textures inspired by natural surfaces, such as tumbled pebbles and freshly cut grass, the contrast enables design flexibility, offering seamless transitions between hard and soft surfaces. This gives designers the freedom to create multi-functional, open plan environments, creating a truly unique interior for staff and guests to enjoy.

Register for Sleep 2014 to see more from Interface at the show

Above & Beyond with Phil Jaffa of Scape Design

With Sleep 2014 edging ever nearer, we continue to take a look at some of the biggest issues, challenges, and opportunities facing the hotel design industry today. This week, we’re shining the spotlight on landscape design, and the increasing importance well-designed outdoor spaces are playing to hotel guests. This year, in a first for Sleep, we will have an entire feature space dedicated to outdoor design. Aptly named Above & Beyond, the feature will draw much needed attention to the often untapped potential of roof spaces and landscapes within hotel design, and will be curated by Scape Design. Phil Jaffa of Scape joins us Between Our Sheets for an insight into the world of landscape design…

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Explain the importance of landscape design within the hotel environment

Discerning guests look for two things when they travel: authenticity and a range of unique, exciting experiences. For this reason, the hospitality industry is moving away from the corporate look and feel, drawing instead upon local inspirations to provide guests with unusual and meaningful environments. The “guest experience” is a critical factor in the success of any hospitality operation – and a well-designed landscape plays an essential role in achieving such memorable results. From a logistical point-of-view, the landscape must be harmoniously integrated with the buildings’ structural facilities, and from an aesthetic perspective, must have a beauty that synergises with the architecture, surrounding environment and local culture.

The coordinated efforts of a hotel’s or resort’s three principal designers – the architect, the landscape architect and the interior designer – enables the creation of seamless spaces that maximise the project’s potential. These three disciplines need to share a vision and be able to “blur the boundaries”: Where does the inside become the outside? How does the restaurant spill onto the terrace? How does the ambient lighting flow from the interiors to the building’s façade and then onto the landscaped space? These are just some of the questions to be tackled. When these core designers work well together, the authenticity of the final design and the strength of the built product will achieve truly memorable experiences for guests to enjoy.

How did you come to design landscapes for hotels and resorts?

I got into the hospitality industry by chance. While working as a landscape architect on urban projects primarily in the UK, my employer was offered an opportunity to design our first international resort and I jumped at the opportunity to be in the project team. As my hunger to be part of that world grew, I noticed that most project consultants that we worked with on hotels, such as architects and interior designers, were specialists within the industry, whereas must landscape architects turned their hand to all sectors. That niche presented an opportunity. Now, 14 years into Scape, we are still the only landscape architectural studio in Europe which specialises in luxury international hospitality. I also noticed that some designers are quite fearful of making the leap into working globally – but I actually find it easier. Being successful on an international scale is all about managing risk and not getting ahead of yourself.

Tell me briefly about three of your key projects at the moment

The newly opened Mandarin Oriental Resort in Bodrum, Turkey, is one of the most luxurious destinations on the continent – and the brand’s first resort in Europe. Much of the outdoor construction has been sunk into the existing olive tree covered hillside, with the hotel at its summit and additional guest facilities dotting the slope towards the coastline and its beautiful beaches. The layout of the landscape design provides guests with a “journey” through a series of outdoor rooms.

We are also currently designing the landscape for a very large urban 900 key business hotel in White City, Azerbaijan – an entirely new city being created on Baku’s historic oil port. The hotel is quite significant as it is one of the first buildings to be constructed within the new masterplanned community. Our concept for the ground-level landscape is multifaceted, as it provides alfresco dining terraces for 3 different restaurant experiences and gardens for guests to relax within, each housing outdoor sculptures that can be viewed from various areas of the site.

In addition, Scape has this summer completed a renovation of The Caramel Resort, a boutique upscale property in Crete, which is owned by one of our longstanding clients, Grecotel. Our concept for the landscape has a fresh, contemporary spirit that celebrates outdoor living. Using the local aesthetic of cool white render, a new pool deck balances organic curves with classic, clean-lined proportions to create distinct and social spaces that accommodate daybeds, cabanas, wide, submerged pool ledges for lounging in the water and a spa pool screened with beautiful laser-cut decorative panels.  Our design retained as much existing vegetation as possible, incorporating nearly all the existing trees so that from day one the site created a lush impact for guests.

What do you think makes a successful hotel/resort landscape?

Blurring the boundaries between the outdoors and the inside creates a seamless connection and flow enabling guests to experience the resort as a holistic experience. Some of the techniques for doing this are the orientation of views to frame the most picturesque aspects of the terrain, using a continuous flow of materials from indoors to exterior terraces, and the use outside of plush, residentially styled seating, fabrics, tables and lighting.

The atmosphere needs to engage guests’ curiosity, touching their senses to inspire lingering memories. We provide the framework for this to happen by using landscape features that give them a clear mental map for instinctively navigating a hotel’s or resort’s layout. This ease instils confidence so that intentional “surprises” in the masterplan, for example a secluded courtyard, can intensify the emotions of memory-making discoveries and create powerful images in a guest’s mind.

Of course sustainability is an essential factor when designing a hotel or resort’s landscape. We look for opportunities to ensure a project can be as environmentally responsible as possible. The specification of indigenous plants is often key since the depletion of water resources is one of the world’s biggest problems. Shading and solar consideration is very important, as well as the use of local materials.

Do you think that guests are demanding more of the outside spaces around their hotels? What are the trends?

The push to entice guests to a hotel has become more and more competitive, with each operator looking to offer a greater array of guest experiences. Hence, increasingly, exterior spaces are becoming as high-spec as those indoors. The range on offer can be overwhelming depending on the size of outdoor space available, from city hotel roof top bars and restaurant terraces with spectacular views to resort pool decks and lush gardens, each providing guests with a wealth of outdoor opportunities. It is certainly clear that in the shoulder and warmer months, guests more often than not would prefer to sit outside whilst dinning or drinking and hence operators are now providing a high quality of furnishings, finishes and accessories used outside. And it is clear guests don’t want to stay at a place with spectacular interiors and then be let down by outdoor areas that come across as an afterthought rather than a priority.

What is your vision for Above & Beyond at Sleep this year?

The Above and Beyond installation will offer an opportunity to show how a suitably sized “outdoor” area can be used for an array of entertainment possibilities. By having an area dedicated to landscape design we hope to stimulate debate and inspire more developers and designers to become excited about the issues and opportunities on offer. If we can encourage architects and designers to champion the benefits of collaboration with landscape architects during the early phases of the design process, we can improve the quality of hotels and resorts, by providing exciting outdoor spaces which will become part of the marketing opportunities for each development.

What do developers, operators, building architects, and other members of the project team most need to understand about landscape design?

At the end of the day, a successful landscape design needs to provide a commercially positive facet to the hotel offering. In most cases, by thinking outside of the box, a well-designed outdoor space can provide a genuine revenue generating experience for the operator. In order to best achieve this, the landscape designer should be appointed early in the design process so real outdoor opportunities can be designed into the site planning of the development.   Equally, it’s vital to conserve enough of the project’s budget to the end so that the key outdoor spaces can achieve a mature finished appearance. Of course collaboration is the key to this. Having a productive exchange between a building’s architect and the landscape architect is so valuable – both sides end-up with a more fully integrated design and a better result for the client. This also applies to working with the Interior designer, particularly around F+B offerings where seamless design approaches are vital to the success of the overall aesthetic.

Take a look at the Above & Beyond page for more info…

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