Budget boutique

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A couple of years ago, an architect friend of mine applied to be on the Apprentice UK. He got down to the last 20 shortlisted before being sent home at the final hurdle  – his “business plan”.  When he outlined this plan to me, I was surprised at Lord Sugar’s short-sightedness:  For my friend had come up with something which I felt sure to be a winning proposal – boutique hotels on a budget.

With hindsight, I realise that this idea had already been conceived. Within months of our conversation, “affordable hotels for the design-conscious” were popping up in every major city.  As a member of the Ikea Generation, I don’t suppose I should be surprised that this gap in the market existed. As teenagers we watched on as Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen Changed Rooms on the cheap. While, at university, we were as far away from The Young Ones generation who preceded us as possible, making trips to Ikea at the beginning of every term to stock up on Scandinavian student style. Now, on the cusp of our 30s (or just over it!), backpacking just won’t do, but seven-star luxury is still a little out-of-reach. Budget Boutique is, therefore, the only solution.

 208 Sussex Gardens falls firmly into the boutique on a budget category but, as a series of 63 serviced apartments, offers a different experience to an ordinary hotel. Housed in a Grade II Listed, stucco-fronted Victorian building, these apartments offer the style and convenience of a design-hotel but allow guests to be self-sufficient: equipped with kitchens, washing machines and living rooms.

With interiors by award-winning design practice March & White, the owners of 208 Sussex Gardens certainly had ambitions on creating a slick contemporary look. Their brief to Senior Designer on the project, Erik Munro, was to create a different theme on each floor of their property – a series of three beautiful Victorian grand terraced houses, a stone’s throw away from Paddington and Lancaster Gate tube stations. Erik came up with a theme to suit every potential guest – Theatrical Hues, Glitz & Glamour, Ebony & Ivory, Soothing Neutrals, Elegance & Warmth and Artistic Playfulness.

 Each floor in the building has around 10 apartments, ranging from studios to two-bedrooms. The floors are differentiated, firstly, by the colour of the doors which line their corridors. As a series of buildings which have been knocked together, 208 Sussex Gardens is a warren of corridors – so this colour-coding acts as a useful orientation tool, as well as an introduction to each theme. Artistic Playfulness, for example, incorporates bright grass green doors, preparing guests for the splashes of neon and the joyful palette of primary colours behind them; while the doors to the Glitz and Glam apartments are a sophisticated matt black, reflecting their ‘bling’ interior.

While I’m not generally a fan of themed interiors, they are always fun – particularly when, like me, you get to see how each theme is played out on every floor. Some themes here are more successful than others.  The ‘Glitz & Glam’ apartments, for example, are textural and luxurious. In the bathrooms (the room by which I judge any good hotel), antique-gold art-deco-esque taps, Xenon by Samuel Heath, grace the bathroom sinks which, coupled with a black granite vanity tops and textured gold tiles by Strata, make for a look which is simultaneously lavish and minimalist.

The Artistic Playfulness floor has a completely different look and feel.  While equally glossy, this floor is characterised by quirky one-offs, comic touches and primary colours.  Stepping into it from the lift, one is greeted by a wall covered with a supersized image of a cowboy – a V&A pattern blown up to comic proportions, giving the hallway the feeling of a Roy Lichtenstein print.  Sat next to this, a chair is adorned with a bright green cushion by Ting UK, fashioned from seatbelt straps. In the apartments, a Pumpkin Chair by Ligne Roset and Eames Eiffel chairs continue the contemporary glamour.

March & White have made their meagre budget work very hard in this property. They have made the most of even the smallest spaces, making a feature, for example, of each of the lift lobbies. In the apartments they have carefully coupled iconic design pieces with more run-of-the-mill furnishings. Ikea fruit bowls sit under Lee Broom lamps, while B&B Italia beds are accentuated by fun penguin cushions from New York producers Area Aware. Since each and every room in this historic property is a completely different shape, size, and even ceiling height, the designers have also had to factor bespoke joinery into the budget for each and every apartment. The results are very impressive.

Where Sussex Gardens falls down a little, however, is in its architectural treatment. Having been turned into bedsits in the 1980s, the Grade II Listed houses had fallen into a state of disrepair until their recent renovation.  The new architecture feels clumsy – as though these beautiful historic buildings have been forced to bend to their new purpose, rather than a purpose found which would allow them to breathe: Windows are sliced in two by floors and holes cut through walls, creating awkward and inefficient floor plans.

And the themes, while a great way to appeal to a broad range of visitors – and beautifully articulated by March and White, sometimes feel like wallpaper over the Sistine’s ceiling.  This is, of course, the commercial reality of boutique on a budget and, whilst the developers have in some ways saved this old building from its bedsit demise, one can’t help but feel that they could have created an Aparthotel in any old building and left this one to someone with the budget to do it justice.

For most travellers, however, this is by the by and the central location, fun stylish finish and affordable prices more than make up for the odd awkward corner. One hopes that as the general public become more demanding in terms of good design, thoughtful and beautiful interiors and architecture will become the norm, rendering the ‘designer’ term obsolete. In the meantime, come and enjoy this little taste of luxury for less.

by Emilie Lemons

208 Sussex Gardens can be booked online here or you can walk in directly to make a reservation:

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Glass Online architecture and design writer

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