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Hotel Cafe Royal

When in London this past summer, I ate at The Café, the tea room designed by British architect David Chipperfield as part of his renovation of the Hotel Cafe Royal. This was one of those happy vacation finds, on our way to the British Museum, as Sean and I were looking for a place to have breakfast. Like a magpie to anything flashy, I spotted this place from down the lane.

As in the new Valentino store in San Francisco, the Hotel Cafe Royal blends David Chipperfield’s unique knowledge of 20th century Italian and Viennese design with a modern sensibility. The Café is impressive in the abundance of gold Italian marble used on the walls, floors and display cases. The architectural strength and purity is counterbalanced by leggy, comfortable furniture and a strong understanding of color. The overall feeling is cosmopolitan and very chic! This is a place to see and be seen. This sophisticated feeling continues throughout the rest of the hotel.

As a designer, I took the opportunity to go wander around the rest of the establishment. The attention to detail is impressive. The original hotel lobby has been transformed into a casual restaurant and meeting area, with the new lobby tucked discretely down a side hallway. What I appreciated the most about this space is how a row of hand-carved marble columns, perhaps 5 feet high and spaced about 8 inches apart, helped to define the space and give the interior a sense of privacy, or perhaps secrecy is a better word.

From the images that I have seen of the hotel rooms, I am impressed by the casual mix of comfort, color and architecture. In the newer rooms, the rusticated walls continue. I like how the leather headboard continues the brick work pattern on the wall in one of the guest suites. I also really appreciate the use of the pastel color scheme, which is subtle but refreshingly new today. In the more traditional rooms, the simplicity and strength of the modern furniture does not distract or clash from the ornate boiseries, mirrors and artwork, making the traditional rooms feel relevant for todays traveler.

I always love to see how designers detail bathrooms. At Hotel Cafe Royal, the public bathrooms off the hotel lobby are decorated in heavily rusticated marble bricks, similar in style to the Medici Palazzo in Florence. This creates a sense of solidity in this small space, transforming a mundane space into an exemplary experience.

Some simple lessons which we can take away from this space include:

  • a subtle mix of pastel colors are refreshing and new. This color palette, when used with restraint, works well in our city homes. Consider adding pillows or artwork to freshen your space. For those on a tight budget, check out CB2, which is embracing this color trend.
  • a minimum use of color does not make for a boring spaces. In fact, selecting a range of colors in the same hue will help to unify the feeling of an open floor plan loft. This same strategy can help to make more traditional spaces seem exciting.
  • rethink the use of traditional rooms. A hotel lobby can now be a intimate cafe, where a the guest check-in can be situated down a smaller hallway. This reflects our desire to gather and mingle, and acknowledges the ease of priority check-in at most hotels. In our city homes, with restricted space, why not transform a larger entry area into a private retreat to read, or turn a large closet into a home office.
  • follow the work of David Chipperfield. There is a lot that he can teach us.

David Bjørngaard, January 2014

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