The Cambridge hotel, named after a 16th century play, is a new-build establishment for the ancient university city. Janet Harmer checks it out
Tamburlaine, the £50m, 155-bedroom hotel in Cambridge, may be named after a tale by 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe, but it’s located firmly in the present, in the heart of a newly regenerated business district adjacent to the city’s railway station.
The hotel marks the first UK opening for the Dublin-based O’Callaghan Hotels, which bought the land, developed the property over 18 months and now operates the hotel. The company also operates four hotels in the Irish capital as well as two other properties in Gibraltar and Annapolis, Maryland, in the US.
Dublin architects Oppermann Associates designed the building, while the decor was undertaken by Bryan O’Sullivan Studio, based in Shoreditch, London. O’Sullivan had experience of working with renowned restaurant and hotel designers David Collins and Martin Brudnizki before setting up on his own in 2013.
The hotel is receiving a lot of interest from the new corporate businesses that are moving into the area, and it particularly expects to benefit from the arrival of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which will be moving in next door with 3,000 staff within 18 months.
While the Tamburlaine is clearly a contemporary creation, there are references throughout – in terms of colours and design hints – to Persia, where the play by Marlowe was set.
Guests arriving at Tamburlaine are greeted by an entrance space and reception featuring a dramatic double-height lobby, housing two bespoke chandeliers measuring two metres in diameter. The high ceilings have created a gallery-like feel, with two huge contemporary paintings by Daniela Schweinsberg, acquired from Rise Art, among the artwork.
A black steel spiral staircase, linking the space to the first-floor library bar, was an “extremely difficult” installation challenge, involving 55 people over a two-week period.
While the overall feel of the entrance is modern, the dark green painted timber panelling and shelves lined with antique leather-bound books provides a reference to a traditional English interior, and the hexagonal tiles from Solus Ceramics, overlaid with patterned Persian rugs, reflect the Victorian era.
The Garden Room
It is perhaps this room, more than any other, that reflects the location in which the Tamburlaine play is set, with its hints of Middle Eastern imagery. Blá Farry, senior interior architect at Bryan O’Sullivan Studio, says the brief was to create “an oasis for people to come and pass away the hours, drinking tea and pretending they are somewhere else”.
The result is a space that reflects an orangery found in a stately home, with an ornate colonial-style wallpaper from Iksel Decorative Arts depicting the panorama of “an imaginary faraway land, typical of the late Renaissance”.
The space is filled with exotic plants and bespoke, pastel-coloured sofas and chairs designed by Bryan O’Sullivan Studio, and an abundance of cushions featuring various fabrics from Sanderson, Panaz and Robert Allen Design. Attention to detail is important here, with delicate pink and gold-trimmed china from Birmingham-based Heritage Collection used for serving afternoon tea. The room is also popular for pre-dinner cocktails.
Long-term, floor-to-ceiling bifold doors will open onto an outdoor space, which is currently in the process of being landscaped.
Leather banquettes and dark timber screens help create a masculine space in contrast to the feminine, ethereal feel of the adjacent Garden Room. A fluted teak and marble horseshoe-shaped bar takes centre stage in the vast room, which can seat 150 guests on tan leather upholstery. The walls, clad in white-painted fluted timber panelling, provide a contrast to the warmth of the vintage chevron oak-smoked floor from Broadleaf.
Executive chef Alan Dann oversees a brasserie-style menu, which he and his brigade serve from a kitchen that opens out on to the restaurant. Dishes include smoked and cured ham hock, pickled vegetables and confit duck yolk (£7.50); rump of lamb Provençal, confit shoulder and spiced aubergine (£24); and iced lemon meringue parfait, confit fennel and cinnamon beignets (£6.50).
The Steam café
Located at the front of the hotel with direct access on to the street, the Steam café – set to open in the summer – aims to capture the flow of passers-by walking to and from the station with its offer of beverages and healthy dishes. It will open from 6.30am to 9.30pm and seat 20 inside and a further 30 on the patio.
The floor is paved with colourful ceramic tiles, which also clad the service counter, and shelving is filled with brightly packaged products. Together with its pink neon signage, the space is fun and exuberant, with a nod to Italian cafés of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Library bar
Found at the top of the spiral staircase, the Library bar is intended to offer a calm space that contrasts with the buzz of the hotel’s ground floor public rooms. Lined with cherry timber panelling, featuring 50 metres of more of those antique leather-bound books (curated by Ultimate Library), the space is intended to reflect the many great college libraries dotted around Cambridge. Guests can come here to read on the sofas and chairs from Derry’s featuring eye-catching fabrics by Robert Allen.
As is typical of many new-build hotels, the bedrooms lack any redeeming architectural features. However, character has been injected by the dark mahogany stained oak panelling behind the super-kingsize beds from Irish company King Koil, which feature 7cm-deep duck down and feather toppers and Euroquilt super-kingsize duvets.
Extra individual touches are provided by Roberts radios and the White Company bathroom amenities. The walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Oval Room Blue and Dulux’s Soft Maplewood. Alongside the 122 standard fresher rooms, the Tamburlaine offers 31 executive dean rooms and two scholar suites.
Contact and details
27-29 Station Road, Cambridge CB1 2FB
Owner and operator O’Callaghan Hotel Group
Interim general manager Sinead McGleenon
Executive chef Alan Dann
Opened March 2017
Room rate From £200, including breakfast
Business ratio 70% corporate, 30% leisure
Staff 60 (building up to 90)
Main build architects
Bryan O’Sullivan Studio
By UAL on behalf of fit-out contractor S&T (UK)
Wallpaper in Garden Room
Iksel Decorative Arts
By Bryan O’Sullivan Studio and manufactured by Derry’s
Visual Comfort & Co