A sensitive restoration of the Grade II-listed building has created an elegant space that the owners hope will reignite the hotel’s long-standing reputation for ‘naughtiness’. Rosalind Mullen checks in
All eyes were on Kettner’s in January when Soho House & Co relaunched London’s famous restaurant and Champagne bar as Kettner’s Townhouse, a 33-bedroom boutique hotel.
This Grade II-listed venue has been a landmark in Soho since 1867, when chef August Kettner became one of the first London restaurateurs to serve French food. Remaining open through both world wars, Kettner’s has hosted the likes of Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde and Margaret Thatcher. It is also believed to have been the rendezvous where the future King Edward VII courted his mistress, actress Lillie Langtry.
Soho House, a private members’ club, restaurant and hotel operator, began talks to take over the lease of the hotel, along with a block of Georgian townhouses, from Gondola Holdings in 2012. Refurbishment started in 2016.
So far the interior has been favourably received by design critics, with Wallpaper* magazine commenting: “Kettner’s Townhouse is the latest salvo by the Soho House group, its crack in-house design team orchestrating a charming sweep of spaces that incorporate many original Grade II-listed details…”
Head chef Jackson Berg and general manager Conor Sheehan were school friends in Liverpool. “It’s great to be working on this together,” says Sheehan. “There’s so much history at Kettner’s and there are high expectations from the people who have loved it in all its different forms over the years. We want to bring back the Kettner’s that people know and love, and hopefully it will continue to be a place that encourages a bit of naughtiness. We’ve just given it a new lease of life.”
The redevelopment of Kettner’s took place alongside a wider refurbishment of other nearby Soho House properties, including Soho House Greek Street, Cafe Boheme and Soho Kitchen & Bar. The site is made up of 15 former townhouses, of which 11 are listed and two are classed as buildings of merit.
The in-house design team set out to incorporate the trademarks of a Soho House property, offering a comfortable home-from-home feel while echoing the site’s historic origins.
Design director of the group Linda Boronkay says: “The brief was ‘accessible glamour’: bringing Kettner’s back to its former glory and opening it up for everyone. In the restaurant we were [trying] to create an Anglo-French feel. We looked at the history of the building – Kettner’s was thought to be one of the first French restaurants in London – and tried to tie it in to its Soho roots.
“Downstairs, we wanted to create three distinct areas – the dining room, Piano Bar and the Champagne Bar, which all feel different from each other. Upstairs, the bedrooms are inspired by French boudoirs, referencing Kettner’s reputation for naughtiness.”
Most of the ground floor is listed, as well as the Jacobean suite on the first floor and the main staircase, so the team faced challenges in upgrading the layout and ensuring the spaces were functional for both guests and staff. In addition, the junctions between the adjoining Georgian townhouses needed to be clear to keep the character of each building, and as every bedroom is a different size, each one had to be individually designed.
“The façade is listed, so we couldn’t – and wouldn’t want to – change the windows, meaning we had to come up with a solution to manage noise, as we are right in the centre of Soho. We installed interior secondary glazing, so the bedrooms are quiet,” says Boronkay. “English Heritage took regular trips during the build to make sure the design was in keeping with the era of the building and they were happy with everything we’ve done.”
The art collection
Inspiration has come from the building’s previous reputation for being the home of illicit affairs and liaisons – hence the collection of lingerie installations by Zoë Buckman, a multidisciplinary artist. Other works are by Danny Augustine, Sara J Beazley, France-Lise McGurn and Seb Patane.
Reached by the original 18th-century spiral staircase, the 33 bedrooms on the upper floors are individually designed to channel the luxurious French boudoir style of the 1920s. Ranging in size from Tiny to Large, they have original Georgian timber floorboards and fireplaces with heritage windows and vintage pieces, including 1920s chandeliers, antique sinks and vanities.
Bespoke furniture includes green velvet scalloped headboards and deep-button armchairs. The wallpapers are Georgian-inspired, with the hand-painted designs incorporating prints by William Morris.
The bathrooms are a bit more 21st century, with rainforest showers and freestanding copper bathtubs in some bedrooms. Toiletries are unsurprisingly a generous range of the group’s Cowshed products.
The Jacobean suite
This Grade II-listed room retains its original Edwardian wood panelling and ceiling detail. The furniture is covered in botanical print fabrics, and there are tapestry curtains over the original windows. The 80sq m suite has room for an emperor bed as well as a living and dining area; it even has its own entrance in Greek Street.
The bathroom pod has a freestanding copper bath and separate rainforest shower.
The Champagne Bar
The design team kept the original 1920s mosaic-tiled flooring and early-deco design. However, a new fluted burr walnut bar with a marble top, hand-printed art deco curtains, ruched suede wallpaper and bespoke woven black and white fabric on the sofas create a luxurious space. The Beazley works on the walls are inspired by a series of ‘lost murals’ uncovered during renovation. The murals were preserved before being covered up again behind the walls.
Here there’s the feel of an old French bistro, with use of rosewood and mahogany furniture, and toning colours. The Grade II-listed ceiling, walls and floor, including the floral plasterwork and mirrors lining the walls, have been preserved, and fabrics with botanical prints are inspired by the Victorian era, when a restaurant first opened on the site. There is also floral-inspired lighting, pink marble details and a hammered copper bar-front.
Sheehan says: “The experience in the restaurant will be a little more formal than perhaps some of our other places – the dining room is listed and it feels quite glamorous. You can also eat in the Piano Bar, which has more relaxed seating and a live pianist, while the Champagne Bar will serve Champagne breakfasts, tea and caviar – Champagne all day, basically.”
The traditional French menu in the restaurant sources British ingredients (think bouillabaisse of Cornish seafood and rouille, priced at £23), but is inspired by menus dating back to the 1900s.
“We wanted to create something that’s modern but that references Kettner’s over the years. It’s a bit lighter than the original menus, though, which were quite creamy and fatty,” adds Sheehan.
The hotel has been open only since 10 January, but unlike many Soho House properties it is fully open to the public. “We want it to be for everyone in Soho, to drop in for a drink or bite to eat before the theatre, on dates, for dinner, for Champagne,” says Berg. “We’ve tried to make it accessible for everyone. Soho loves Kettner’s and we want that to continue.”
Contact and details
29 Romilly Street, London W1
Design Linda Boronkay, design director, Soho House Design
General manager Conor Sheehan
Head chef Jackson Berg
Number of bedrooms 33
Seats in restaaurants and bars 60 covers in the restaurant, 40 in the Piano Bar, and 40 in the Champagne Bar
Number of staff More than 100 Starting room rate £225
Videos from The Caterer archives