Ah, the glamour of travel. ‘Priority boarding’ queues, sad sarnies and hand-luggage Nazis – it surely doesn’t come from flying anymore. Fortunately, London’s best design hotels have stepped up to the mark. As we tire of cookie-cutter guest rooms (often pre-fabricated, natch), no self-respecting newcomer to the scene opens without the services of a designer or two to bring some style and individuality to your stay. It’s no longer enough to deploy a Le Corbusier copy or a glass wall or two: for real designer bang, look for innovative new-builds, refurbs of historic buildings, artsy goings-on and digs in private members’ clubs. The shock of the new is (mainly) out; a more subtle interplay with the past is the designer order of the day, with a pleasingly luxe, louche vibe. Let our list of the best design hotels in London help you sort the chic from the sheep.
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The best design hotels in London
How do you turn an outdated brutalist council building unfondly nicknamed ‘The Egg Box’ into an ultra-hip hotel? Book designer Shawn Hausman, who has reimagined the former Camden Town Hall Annexe as a ’70s futurist fever dream (fans of JG Ballard’s ‘High Rise’ will feel right at home here). The ground-floor lounge is a surreal recreation of a public library, packed with pot plants and sofas. Psychedelic opulence gives way to Scandi mid-mod in the bedrooms. And if you don’t like brutalism, book a room with a balcony bathtub from which to admire the Victorian grandeur of George Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
Not that Shoreditch needed any confirmation of its hipness, but that’s what it got in 2013 when the Ace mini-chain decided to bestow on it the first out-of-the-USA exemplar of its Seattle slacker-chic. Hey, guys, weren’t we doing this yonks ago? We forgive you, though: what’s not to like about vintage furniture, cute room radios, a basement club and the world’s coolest climbing wall not actually made of ice? Especially since they use local designers and host some neat free events.
Jeremy King and Chris Corbin have brought the stardust they effortlessly sprinkle on their restaurants (Le Caprice etc) into the hotel trade with the Beaumont. It’s a loving and lavish tribute to Art Deco, all Prohibition chic and Hollywood hush, delightful in its detail and low-key glamour. But wait, what’s this? That tumble of cubes projecting from the frontage rewrites all the rules. It’s an Antony Gormley sculpture, externally a meditation on the artist’s body and internally – a bedroom. Guests inhabit the artwork by climbing nine marble steps from the bathroom and withdrawing into sculpted darkness.
Green Rooms is a winning new social enterprise that supports art and design through such innovative touches as offering visiting creative types a reduction on the already modest room, apartment and dorm rates (and yes, they check!). Furnishings are simple but stylish, with some items by fashion label Folk, and there’s a vibey café/bar plus regular out-there arts events. It’s in a converted Art Deco office building near Wood Green tube for a speedy journey into central London.
Kit Kemp and her Firmdale Hotels group invented urban-country chic, but don’t be deceived: the fact that her style is comfortable doesn’t mean it isn’t also radical. She created Ham Yard from the ground up, and as well as this sumptuous hotel, it contains 13 shops, a bowling alley, a theatre and a garden - with a Tony Cragg sculpture - and a clutch of winched-in oak trees. Indoors, the style treads a capricious line between classic and quirky, rich with Kemp’s ebullient fabrics.
The Town Hall Hotel had design aspirations way before it welcomed its first guests. The original Edwardian building was a showcase of civic pride, and architectural tastemaker Nikolaus Pevsner praised its 1930s extension for its ‘subtle but expensive Deco style’. Today, it’s a visual feast of sweeping corridors and clerkly masculinity enlivened by striking modern touches (not least the in-room goldfish). Rates are less sky high than at its more central competitors, but the east London location is an asset for style seekers, and a hip vibe pervades.