London has a treasure trove of clever hotel conversions, many of which are somewhat hidden from view. Here is a little tour of some of my favourites.
St Ermin’s Hotel (pictured above) was originally a Grade II listed late Victorian building constructed as a mansion block. It is thought to have been the venue of covert meetings between spies during World War 2 and has played up this rather exciting heritage as we’ve previously blogged. The most recent refurbishment completed in April 2011 has helped it to soar into the top 30 London hotels on TripAdvisor – it’s certainly tastefully done.
When I visited the Milestone Hotel in Kensington, I was intrigued to find out it had once been an ‘academy for young gentlemen’. It was only in 1999 that the Red Carnation Hotel Collection took on the fine red brick building to make it into the luxury London hotel it is today – with a rich and colourful past. You can see an image of the original historic building on the Milestone Hotel Facebook page which shows a black and white picture from English Heritage and then compare it to the modern building shown below.
Book direct with the Milestone Hotel at the best guaranteed rate
Since hotels have a very specific set of requirements and quite well-defined ways of using the space, it’s easiest to start off with a purpose-built construction as previously blogged. Converting an existing property can be difficult; rooms may not be the right size, so partitions have to be shifted, there may not be enough plumbing for the bathrooms you need to install, and it can be tricky to see how to get lift shafts into older buildings.
But that hasn’t stopped hoteliers adapting some buildings from very different purposes. For instance, Tune Kings Cross (one of the newest budget Kings Cross hotels in an area undergoing a massive regeneration drive) was once a 1920s warehouse; and its sibling, Tune Liverpool Street was originally a 1970s office building.
Tune uses modular construction techniques to cut down on the cost of conversion; bathrooms are built as ‘pods’ and only the plumbing installation work has to be done in site. Tune Kings Cross even displays the building’s original floor plans (pic below) which show spacious storage rooms throughout the hotel. A 1970s office building like Tune Liverpool Street, with its regularly spaced windows and fairly large open spaces, must also be one of the easier types of buildings to convert. This type of conversion has also been used by fast-expanding budget chain Travelodge.
Book direct with Tune Hotels at the best guaranteed rate
Premier Inn is obviously impressed by the economics of this style of conversion; it will be converting office space at St Mary at Hill into a 184 room hotel, introducing another good value hotel to the city.
Old town halls also make good conversion prospects with their mix of smaller room office space and impressive public spaces almost tailor-made for conversion. The Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green is the best known example, and pretty radical – creating very contemporary spaces with glass-partitioned, open bathrooms and bed platforms within the ornate Edwardian shell. It also has some of the best London hotel art on display.
Check the best rate for the Town Hall Hotel from 30+ hotel booking sites
But there’s a possibility Wembley may see a similar conversion, as Brent Town Hall is put up for sale – a 1930s Modernist design in restrained brick. We’ll have to see what happens; the planning brief also says it could become a shopping centre, though surely London has enough of those?
At the budget end of the market, the Clink 261 hostel is set in a converted courthouse near King’s Cross. It has a little punk history associated with it – this was the court where members of The Clash were put on trial for shooting pigeons with an airgun. Topper Headon and Paul Simonon were fined £30 each. One of the advantages of taking over this kind of building is its high architectural profile – though you’re staying in a hostel, the huge front door and steps leading to it make you feel you’re somewhere special.
Radisson Blu Edwardian has taken on a more challenging job with the conversion of the Odeon West End in Leicester Square, which it has acquired from Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency. The project includes a 2-screen cinema, as well as a 245 room hotel and 5 restaurants. Cinema buildings are quite specific in function and design, with large and very tall spaces; though that does of course give you a very extensive shell within which you can build pretty much whatever you want.
Check best rate for Radisson Blu Edwardian Leicester Square from 30+ booking sites
Talking of innovative conversions, I’d love to see more Malmaison hotels in London. The London Mal (Charterhouse Square) is in a Victorian apartment block, but Malmaison has done more exciting conversions elsewhere – a converted church in Glasgow and the former prison in Oxford. I hope the hospitality, and particularly the food is better than standard prison issue!
Maybe someone should suggest that Malmaison take over Battersea Power Station (the most mistreated building in London)?
Get the best-value London hotel deal from 30+ booking sites in 1 click
Photo credits: St Ermins Hotel, Milestone Hotel, London Hotels Insight blogger Timea, Town Hall Hotel, Radisson Blu Edwardian Leicester Square.