When One Aldwych opened in Covent Garden 21 years ago, it broke the mould in contemporary hotel keeping and set a new standard for modern luxury. Inside, the inspiring pared-back elegance boldly shunned the dripping deluxe of the 80s and embraced the subtler stealth wealth style of the early 21st century.
The specially curated art collection – a giant sculpture of the head of the god Dionysus here, an 18th century over-sized Japanese rice bowl there – perfectly complemented the thoughtful service style. The team, in snappy modern Savile Row suites, were chosen as much for their emotional intelligence as for their professional skills.
In the guest-rooms, the understated vibe continued – and there were fresh flowers in all the rooms – not just for VIPs in suites. The pioneering spirit was everywhere: sustainability was the order of the day, with an active Green Team, paraben-free bathroom amenities and a chlorine-free swimming pool.
And downstairs, almost overnight, the Lobby Bar became the place to see and be seen. 2 The result was a modern oasis, privately-owned, standing proud within the distinctive triangular building, former home of the great Morning Post newspaper, at the point where the City meets the West End.
A stand-alone, beautiful building – a landmark that had been given a new lease of life. Now, two decades later, this spirit of independence – and the habit of doing things a little differently – is alive and well at One Aldwych. The benchmark has been re-set, the designers have worked their magic and the refurbishment will be fully complete by June 2019.
Simon Hirst, who originally oversaw the opening of One Aldwych as General Manager and is now Managing Director, says: “One Aldwych has always been a destination in its own right, a place to see. The building stands as an island, three-sided, a little unusual, not joined to any other buildings, a true independent landmark in London. Not only is the building dynamic, but so is Covent Garden, our home, it’s changing all the time – and One Aldwych needs to reflect that: this is a natural evolution.
This latest work builds on other developments, including the recent launch of Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar and the full gym renewal.”
THE LOBBY BAR AND INDIGO
The Lobby Bar is the heart of One Aldwych and its transformation has been put into the very experienced hands of Tom Strother and Steven Saunders of Fabled Studio. Specialising in hospitality design, Fabled studio has an impressive roster of bars and restaurants in its portfolio of recent London projects, including Dinner by Heston Blumenthal; St Leonard’s, Shoreditch; Margot, Covent Garden and Ceviche, Old Street, to name a few.
The brief was to give the Lobby Bar a new resonance, still part of the Lobby but clearly delineated, with its own space. The lobby, with Indigo restaurant on the mezzanine overlooking it, is set in a dramatic doubleheight space, with arched windows and original paneling.
Now, anyone arriving at the hotel will still be able to see the Bar, but it now looks and feels like a destination bar, separate to the coming and goings of the rest of the lobby and the arrivals. This has been skillfully achieved by Fabled Studio in a number of ways. Firstly, Tom and Steven wanted to take One Aldwych into the future and celebrate the history of the building, designed in 1907 by the Anglo-French partnership Mewès & Davies the architects who were also responsible for the Ritz hotels in Paris and London.
Throughout, the building’s very distinctive Art Nouveau and Parisien touches have been the inspiration for Fabled Studio’s designs. The Art Nouveau flourish of the fanlight over the entrance was the touchpoint for the new and strikingly beautiful black and white marble inlay floor that deftly embodies the essence of the original design. The fanlight’s design has also been carried into the new wrought ironwork screens that help to partially screen off the Lobby Bar.
The original timber paneling has been recreated and extended along the back of the lobby and up into Indigo, bringing a new warmth to both. The copper and verdigris cupola cladding inspired the new colour palette in the Lobby – echoed in the eglomisé mirrors and the cushion covers. 3 And archive shots of the Morning Post’s print room informed the specially-made newsprint block-embossed tabletops, in the paper’s own typeface.
Regulars will be glad to know that the Lobby Bar’s iconic Boatman with Oars sculpture by André Wallace has a new home on top of the bar itself, which has been extended with an island. The Boatman is now in the perfect vantage point to keep an eye on the new cocktail menu, “Spirit of Adventure” – which circumnavigates the globe through a series of fabulous cocktails specially created by The Lobby Bar’s award-winning Pedro Paulo, to celebrate the new, elegantly inspiring Lobby Bar. Overlooking the lobby, Indigo restaurant is now a chic space with a new colour scheme that pays homage to its name.
Sumptuous new banquettes are graced by beautiful woven indigo fabric, with luxurious leather upholstery in tones of indigo. The new timber paneling is offset with copper eglomisé mirrors and specially designed plaster and bronze lamps. The popular gluten and dairy free items on the menu will remain, amongst new dishes. Fabled Studio has also transformed the public spaces. Working with the original architects, Jestico + Whiles, the hotel’s entrance has been reconfigured, to give a much more smooth and striking sense of arrival, with stylish bronze greeter desks and a new reception.
GUESTROOMS AND SUITES
The sublime new guestrooms and suites are the work of Robert Angell (The Connaught, The Berkeley, London; Lime Wood Hotel, Hampshire; and Wild Ink, Hudson Yards; Hutong, The Bloomberg Building, both NYC). Robert has also taken inspiration from the building and its exquisite proportion and detail. As he says, an inspiring building needs inspiring interiors – so Robert worked with the architecture – the different shaped rooms, the original Mansard roof on the top floor – to create a set of new guestrooms and suites that are, as he says, “upscale, sophisticated and designed to wear in, stand the test of time – and be timeless.” The overall look is pared back, subtle, not overly designed, simple and elegant, with a modern English take. The suites have been designed as jewel-like apartments, filled with natural daylight through large windows with glorious London views.
The famous Dome Suite under the building’s cupola has been reimagined, with amazing vistas over Waterloo Bridge, the Southbank and the City. The rooms are beautifully appointed and thoughtfully configured with easy-to-use, guest-friendly technology. Detail is key – even the light sockets are stylishly finished in brushed champagne brass. “I wanted a residential vibe and to have something inspirational in every room – art, books, handmade pieces. I am very proud to be part of this project, in one of the most iconic buildings in London – I feel great about doing it,” says Robert.
Part of the brief was ‘Britishness’ – which is manifest in subtle touches throughout. Robert loves working with makers and craftspeople, and the new guest-rooms feature superb oak parquet floors, fashioned for 4 the hotel in the UK and all the furniture is British made and designed. Each room has a luxurious throw made by Skye Weavers, a small weaving company on the Isle of Skye, that uses only Scottish and Kentish woollen yarns to create a variety of products on their bicycle pedal-powered loom.
The One Aldwych throws have been designed to complement Robert Angell’s signature colour schemes – coral, celadon green, soft blue and lavender. In the bathrooms, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are ‘English Leaf’ by Mitchell & Peach, the fifth generation floricultural estate in Kent that produces fine fragrances and body products. The unisex fragrance is a bright green floral, with basil, coriander, mint and tomato leaf, redolent of a freshly mown meadow.
A pleasing twist is that the grandfather of the present owner of Mitchell & Peach set up his fruit and vegetable stall around the corner in Covent Garden in 1922 and remained there until the market closed 50 years later. Taking inspiration from the Parisian-style ironwork and the warm timber paneling, the new harmonious design has used an army of modern craftsmen – furniture makers, metal crafters, lighting manufacturers, glass artists and specialist finishers – to a create not only the new spaces, but also a backdrop for One Aldwych’s impressive contemporary art collection.
The original pieces – some 400 of them – have been rehung throughout the hotel. Simon Hirst concludes: “When we reopen, people will find the hotel with its original soul intact – but it will be more polished, more detailed – and very elegant. All the key members of staff who were here before, will be returning. We are incredibly inspired by the changes and we can’t wait to open our doors and welcome everyone back.”
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