It is always a joy when an elegant historic building gets new life breathed into it, and the ambitious and extensive refurbishment of the former Grosvenor Kensington in one of London’s most fashionable enclaves is the perfect reconstruction. When the idea for a beautiful boutique hotel first formed in the owner’s mind, he approached design and architecture firm Dexter Moren Associates.
A lead designer on the project told us that ignoring the heritage of the building was never an option. “When we first walked through the space, we instinctively knew that we had to bring back the Victorian glamour, so our proposal addressed two aspects – firstly, the practical ‘how does this hotel work?’ and, secondly, the aesthetic ‘how does it look?’”
The first step in transforming the impressive 5,665-square-foot building was to modernise every area, starting with the bare bones of the structure. “The fabric of the building has been our biggest challenge; dating from 1888 it has had a rather unloved existence over recent years so lots of work and effort went into repairing this before we could even begin to reinstate the design elements. As these elements are hidden behind walls and finishes, visitors would not acknowledge them, but it has been a large part of the project.”
The design concept takes inspiration from the nearby cultural district including the V&A, The Royal Albert Hall, The Natural History Museum and The Science Museum. The themes of botany, ornithology, astronomy, geometry and music are intricately incorporated into the bespoke guest rooms and public areas, which are offset with contemporary furnishings and themed artwork. The designers worked closely with Artefact Hotel Art Consultants to source British artwork and photography that embodies the hotel’s design and locale and portrays an exciting melange of artists.
A sculptural piece in the pre-function area has been made out of salvaged architectural details collected from the site to tell the story of the hotel’s evolution. In the lobby, a bright acrylic-on-canvas painting by Frank Gonzales was commissioned to sit behind the reception desk and artworks by Georgia Fiennes embellish the drawing room.
A variety of high-end brands was used throughout, including fabric and wallpaper from Harlequin, Fabric Flare, Romo, Dedar and Osborne & Little. Stunning surface designs from Fameed Khalique and textiles from P/Kaufmann are all indictors of the level of luxury injected into this design. There are also several unique details – an 18-metre goose-feather chandelier and a cabinet of curiosities are just a couple of examples.
The aim was to create a design that had a strong sense of its sought-after location in upmarket Kensington, but also, to a degree, to defy the stereotype of the area being exclusive and elite, which is achieved through the fun and quirky design details. The Ampersand name and symbol does this too – suggesting that the hotel is so much more than its privileged location would suggest. It manages to achieve a combination of being design-led and luxurious, but approachable and inviting at the same time; a rare blend indeed.