Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer



They say that you can always gauge London’s health by the number of construction cranes punctuating its skyline. If you believe the test, then Britain’s premier city is booming, with new buildings blossoming all across the horizon. London is in the middle of an extraordinary renaissance, one of its periodic upbeat phases, which is cementing its position as one of the world’s great international cities. It is place where everyone wants to be right now, with the city established as the most vibrant focal point in Europe and also drawing in admirers from around the globe.

An influx of visitors and new residents has seen many changes, including the construction boom. House prices have shot up, infrastructure is being upgraded and the retail scene has upped its game. The city is a hub for UK design and architecture, which has now picked up at last after a grueling recession. There is an optimistic spirit abroad and the restaurants and bars are packed.

One of the chief indicators of London’s rude health is the number of new luxury hotels opening their doors. Some of these new generation hotels mark a fresh beginning for trans-Atlantic operators like André Balazs and Mondrian, while Asian luxe operators such as Shangri-La have also established a London presence. At the same time, seasoned British hoteliers and restaurateurs including Kit and Tim Kemp and Corbin & King are certainly not sitting on their laurels and have launched new ventures of their own. It adds up to a new wealth of choice, with these new generation hotels marked out by their design sophistication and sheer originality.


Hoteliers Kit and Tim Kemp are masters in the art of creating welcoming urban retreats. Past successes for their Firmdale group include Haymarket Hotel and the Covent Garden Hotel, as well as the Crosby Street Hotel in New York. Ham Yard is their largest project to date and also one of their most engaging, with a new hotel and a restaurant forming the chief part of the Kemp’s Soho enclave. Their new building, which also includes retail stores and apartments, is arranged around a freshly created public square complete with mature oak trees and a Tony Cragg sculpture.

This vibrant, airy courtyard comes alive in the evening and forms a pivotal open space for the hotel itself, with the restaurant spilling out onto it and many of the bedrooms facing down into it. This is a large hotel, with 91 bedrooms, but never feels overwhelming or corporate. There is a trademark focus on carefully curated and individually designed spaces throughout, which mix Kit Kemp’s own signature fabrics and designs with many bespoke elements and carefully selected artworks, with some stand out pieces among the contemporary collection.

The public areas are welcoming and comfortable, with a choice of more open areas, such as the restaurant and bar, and more intimate corners and break out spaces. Among the quieter retreats dedicated to hotel guests is the library – with a specially curated book collection – and an escapist sitting room. Guests also have the use of a private roof garden, with glimpses of the Soho rooftops, and there’s even a Fifties themed bowling alley below ground, along with a spa and hotel theatre. The restaurant menu is wide and considered, with a particularly fine choice of fish dishes and a some updated Italian classics, such as the roasted porchetta.

The emphasis on playful sophistication and an individual touch continues into the bedrooms, individually designed by Kit Kemp and her design team. My own room was more masculine in character than some and a real favourite, with views down onto the new courtyard square below through the floor to ceiling windows. The colour palette was one of soothing greys and creamy whites, with a striped suiting fabric on many of the walls with the exception of a feature Fornasetti wallpaper. There is always a big emphasis on thoughtful comfort in the Kemps’ hotels and Ham Yard is no exception, with space enough for a sink-in sofa, desk and reading table, while the marble coated bathroom was a delight.

‘Each project is bespoke,’ says Tim Kemp of Firmdale hotels. ‘They are all different and special to themselves.’ With Ham Yard, the look and feel is certainly individual and bespoke from top to bottom while the setting itself is intoxicating, with the seedy side of old Soho in one direction and the buzz of central London and theatreland in the other. It’s a perfect urban escape at the heart of the city.


South Bank and Southwark are rapidly becoming a new focal point for creative London. The American-based Morgans Hotel Group have chosen just the right spot and a great building for the first London hotel since the Sanderson and St Martin’s Lane nearly fifteen years ago, as well as their first Mondrian in Britain. The building in question is Sea Containers right on the edge of the Thames, with views of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the rapidly evolving skyline of the City. 

Sea Containers was actually designed as a hotel back in the 1970s by Mid-Century American master Warren Platner. The oil crisis got in the way and the building was devoted to offices instead – until now. Morgans made another astute decision in commissioning Tom Dixon and his Design Research Studio to design the interiors of the new hotel. Dixon represents the best in dynamic contemporary British design and the Mondrian does not disappoint.

‘Our proposal was really about trying to find the best of America and the best of Britain and applying them in one space,’ says Dixon. ‘The more we developed that story, that narrative, the more fun we had.’ There is a playfulness throughout, but this is also a grown up space full of ideas and design innovation. Dixon makes the most of the proximity to the Thames and plays on the maritime history of the building, with elements like the swooping copper-clad reception desk resembling a ship’s hull and encased model ships – many of them salvaged from the old offices – that populate the public areas.

The ‘Sea Containers’ restaurant, headed by New York chef Seamus Mullen, is a stand out space with its dramatic centre piece bar topped by a yellow submarine and glimpses of the open kitchen to one side and the river to the other. There’s also a rooftop bar plus a sumptuous spa and chill-out spaces at lower ground, along with a full scale cinema, all given the Dixon touch.

The favourite space for me was my own suite, overlooking the river, with a double balcony to make the most of the river views, which gives you a fresh and engaging perspective on London itself. The rooms have the feel of a luxurious, crafted ship’s cabin but in contemporary style, with bespoke Dixon designs mixing with Mid-Century classics by Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia within a soothing soft, grey palette with stand out accents of eye catching colour, such as the vibrant pinks used for the interiors of wardrobes and the mini-bar.  This was a space I really didn’t want to leave, even if the hotel is within walking distance of some of Tate Modern and right at the heart of the most vibrant quarters of the capital.


The Beaumont feels as though it must have been a feature of London life for a century, yet the hotel is actually a brand new arrival. This is an extraordinary reinvention of a 1926 building that used to serve as a car park for Selfridges shoppers and, more recently, a curious outlet for a well known car rental company. Retaining only the Art Deco façade, restaurateurs Jeremy King and Chris Corbin have created a highly sophisticated trans-Atlantic hotel in the Deco style, with such an accomplished level of detailing and finish that The Beaumont has the feel of an original Twenties gem, updated with modern flourishes, luxurious touches and 21st century services.

The 73 room hotel sits on a tranquil corner of Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair. It is little more than a stone’s throw from Selfridges and Oxford Street, yet somehow feels a world apart, with its quiet gentility and a calm, ordered atmosphere. From the reception lobby to the Colony Grill Room, the impression is one of elegant masculinity, as one might expect from the creators of The Wolseley, one of London’s favourite restaurants and a feature of London’s Piccadilly. Deco style murals grace the Colony Grill Room and a lovingly assembled collection of Twenties paintings populate the public areas, lending a real sense of character and individuality; guests are also provided with a dedicated, private ‘Cub Room’ on the ground floor while there is a spa and gym on the floor below.

My own room, looking down on Brown Hart Gardens, was also rich in craftsmanship and attention to detail, as well as an escapist level of comfort. Mirror glass and polished lacquered woodwork are offset by the softer textures of Twenties inspired carpets and furnishings within this accomplished hymn to the best of the Deco period. The spacious bathroom was sumptuous and sparking, with chrome, corduroy glass and mosaic tiles.

There is one big surprise at The Beaumont in the form of a special room designed by sculptor Antony Gormley. From the outside this looks like an abstract, cubist figure, perched to one side of the building. Within, Gormley’s composition is like a timber-lined cave with a soaring ceiling and a monastic, other-wordly sense of peace and repose.

Gormley’s ‘inhabitable sculpture’ is the one step away from a refined and inviting trans-Atlantic, pre-war inspired narrative that feels like stepping back in time. For Corbin & King this is an accomplished first hotel, marking a significant shift in scale and ambition for two of London’s most respected and experienced restaurateurs.


‘The reason that this building will be loved – and I am ready to bet that it will be loved – is because it will be accessible, because it is transparent, visible and understandable,’ says architect Renzo Piano. ‘It is a public building.’ The Shard is certainly public, in that it can be seen from all over London; this is the tallest building in Europe after all. But when Piano says it’s public, he’s also referring to his idea of a ‘vertical city’ – a skyscraper that contains all kinds of different elements, including offices, restaurants, a five star hotel and a viewing platform at the top, from which the panorama is truly spectacular.

For Shangri-La, who operate the hotel at The Shard from floors 34 through to 52, the views are a huge blessing but also something of a distraction from the quality of their offer. From the moment you take the lift upwards from their dedicated lobby on the ground floor and step out onto the polished marble floors of the hotel proper, you are inevitably drawn to the view. The vista becomes a constantly mesmerising presence, whether at the dinner table in the hotel’s Ting restaurant or taking a bath.

It’s only when you begin to acclimatise and truly look around you that a sense of appreciation really develops for the interiors. As you might expect of the Hong Kong-based Shrangri-La group, there is a strong Asian Pacific influence resulting in a refined East-West fusion. A sense of calm serenity pervades throughout, helped by that sense of truly floating above the world below you. The design ethos accepts that guests will be looking outwards more than imwards, with the space around the edges of the building maximised throughout and service spaces arranged around the internal core. Stand out spaces include the Gong sky lounge up on floor 52, designed by Andre Fu of AFSO, with an infinity pool on the same level.

The 202 rooms and suite are categorised according to the views as well as size and scale, with the finer spaces oriented towards the epic vista. The colour palette is soft and soothing, with elegant organic materials like crafted timber and polished stone, as well as fabric coated walls to help soften the angular quality of the architecture and the floor to ceiling glass.  Binoculars are thoughtfully provided in each room, along with a copy of James Hilton’s Lost Horizons, from which Shangri-La takes its name.

Taking a bath – or four – with such an extraordinary view of London is an unforgettable experience in itself. The London Eye becomes a children’s toy, far below you, and trains become play things trundling away in the distance. Shangri-La at The Shard is not just a hotel but a unique experience all in itself. By Asian standards, the sheer scale of the architecture may not seem so remarkable, but for London – and Europe – it is still a source of endless fascination.


There has been a constant and enduring buzz around the Chiltern Firehouse ever since it first opened its doors back in February [2014]. The society pages here have been filled with images of a long procession of ‘A’ listers making their way to and from the discreet doors of the Firehouse. Step away from the hype and you find that this is a beautifully designed hotel, full of individuality, personality and charm.

This is, of course, the first London outpost for the talented American hotelier André Balazs, well known for The Mercer and Standard in New York, as well as Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. The building is undoubtedly a great find:
a former fire station and station house in Victorian gothic style dating back to 1889. It sits on a relatively quiet and largely residential street - with nothing in the way of hotel signage - nor far from Marylebone High Street.

Balazs collaborated on the sign with a triptych of designers and architects. There’s the London-based architects Archer Humphryes, French design studio Studio KO, and also – posthumously – the 19th century architect, Robert Pearsall. The character of the building has been respected throughout and many original elements reinstated and enhanced, including the stunning gothic arches of the fire station doors. An expertly conceived new link has been designed to tie the two different sections of the building together and the station forecourt transformed into a fresh air eatery. The lounge is reminiscent of a hip take on an Edwardian conservatory, complete with potted plants.

The interiors carry many echoes of the Edwardian era seen through a contemporary filter, with an emphasis on warmth, comfort and the creation of tempting, intimate spaces as well as more social zones. The Firehouse is layered with bespoke furniture and stand-out lighting, lending a real depth to the interiors throughout. Original elements within include the tiled floors in the restaurant and even a fireman’s pole in one corner, yet the fire station references are discreet and subtle. The menu and wine list, like the interiors, have a trans-Atlantic quality.

There is crafted, organic flavour that continues into the bedrooms. The attic bedroom on the fourth floor – number 41 – is a particular favourite. There is a Mary Poppins quality to the view of the rooftops and a focus on comfort as well as style, within a space that has touches of a gentleman’s club complete with a welcoming fireplace.

There is originality and a welcoming, informal atmosphere throughout that comes of the intimate scale of this 26 bedroomed hotel. Balazs is rumoured to be working on plans for another hotel in North London. It will be fascinating to see what he does next.