Part hotel, part gallery, part artist’s studio, the new Bankside hotel in London aims to fulfil a creative brief of being a welcoming space for anyone inspired by art and design. Katherine Price checks in
With neighbours including the Tate Modern, the British Film Institute, the Southbank Centre, the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe, it makes sense that London’s new Bankside hotel takes its design inspiration from its surroundings. However, as one of the many glass and steel structures in the area, it’s the 161-bedroom hotel’s mid-century design-inspired interior that makes it feel more like an art school than a hotel.
London’s South Bank has seen a plethora of hotel openings since the launch of the Shangri-La at the Shard in 2014, including the Hilton Bankside in 2015 and the Park Plaza Waterloo in 2017. Bankside itself is part of the new One Blackfriars development, owned by Canadian property investment company Realstar and US-based Amerimar Enterprises, which also operates the hotel.
Bankside, which launched in October 2018, is a member of Marriott International’s soft Autograph collection. The aim was to establish the hotel as the go-to for creative types, with its arty interiors and connection with the community through a cultural events programme.
Former film set director Dayna Lee was brought in to oversee the interiors – Lee now designs hotel interiors from her base in Los Angeles. Her company, Powerstrip Studio, won International Hotel & Property award for best design in a European hotel with under 200 rooms for its refurbishment of Hotel Zoo in Berlin, Germany.
Lee was inspired by the area’s concentration of creative hubs and mid-century Brutalist buildings, and decided to create a space with the atmosphere of an art school, where guests are surrounded by art at all levels of progress, rather than a gallery full of finished works. As a result, the artworks throughout the hotel are from a mixture of new and emerging artists, established names and community projects, as well as the hotel’s artist-in-residence (currently painter Victoria Heald).
“It felt really right to ‘join’ the neighbourhood,” says Lee. “We didn’t want it to feel like a museum because we already have fabulous museums in London.”
She designed the property with the potential guests in mind – those coming to London to support the creative endeavours going on in the immediate area, such as artists, writers or designers. Her vision was for a space of “unfinished creativity”, where guests feel comfortable enough to embark on or continue with their own artistic endeavours, but also inspired by what is around them. For example, most of the walls are plain white.
“We wanted our walls white so our guests can think, but we also wanted them to have a texture, so that it would feel like large expanses of gesso, as if the walls were primed for a painter,” she says. “As designers we can wander into a really beautiful place, but if it’s not aimed towards a relaxed, creative business, I might not feel as relaxed as well, and that hinders creative thinking.”
To make the hotel feel like a ‘work in progress’ Bankside’s interiors feature a lot of black lines, which Lee says was inspired by that first ‘pen and ink’ sketch in the initial stages of creating an artwork.
“We express a black line throughout our design in very delicate ways. It’s in the form of not just our artworks, but in the railings, in our light fixtures and in the details,” she says.
Inspiration also came from the area’s Brutalist, mid-century buildings, created during a period where concrete was a decorative as well as a construction material.
“I feel mid-century was really right for us,” says Lee, “when we mix that in it gives the place a little bit of weight.”
Entrance, mezzanine and public areas
To give the hotel a more residential feel (“so that when people are coming in from out of town, they feel like they have their own little pied-à-terre in London”), Lee attempted to establish a living room-like feel to the lobby. The check-in desk is designed to look like a dining table, with Fleetwood chairs for guests.
The sofas are handmade in the north of England by George Smith – “you can feel the difference in quality when you sit down,” says Lee. “When people come in they feel a ‘solid-ness’ about the space and the greatest compliment is when somebody says, ‘oh my gosh, I feel like I’m checking into a house’.”
The mezzanine level, a working space, extends onto an outdoor deck where cocktails are served. It takes its inspiration from lounges and libraries rather than communal working spaces. A sparkling and still water tap is installed in the corridors on each floor, and vending machines sell everything from adaptors and sunglasses to engagement rings – as well as sparkly rhinestone pants, inspired by a piece of art on display in the lobby.
Bedrooms are simple and uncluttered, with Fleetwood furniture and pictures of the Golden Lane Estate in the City of London, designed in the 1950s by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, hanging above the Ben Whistler beds.
“We custom-designed all of our furnishings so that it felt like a collection a person would have made on their own,” says Lee. “We really didn’t want it to have the feel of an ‘efficient hotel’… usually hotel beds are on a block, so that it’s more convenient for housekeepers, but we chose a beautiful, leggy bed.”
The rooms also feature antique-style armoires that purposefully don’t match the rest of the furniture in order to create a collection of pieces that look as if it has been curated over time.
Bathrooms feature fittings from luxury British specialist CP Hart and toiletries by east London social enterprise the Soap Co, a non-profit organisation that provides training and work opportunities for disadvantaged people.
Bankside is home to the 78-cover ArtYard restaurant, overseen by head chef Lee Streeton, who has designed a British/European menu using British produce to create dishes such as chargrilled cuttlefish with black rice and chorizo, and cataplana of monkfish, shellfish, saffron and potato. Like the hotel, the restaurant is also purposefully informal and accessible.
“It’s not pretentious food – it’s definitely elevated and it’s really carefully prepared – but it has this feeling of being really casual so you feel comfortable,” says Lee. “I can just see people at ArtYard sitting down and sketching on napkins and in notebooks and on our menu while they’re waiting for their cocktail or food, and just finding a place to hide.”
Tiles designed by London-based ceramicist Laura Carlin line the restaurant, depicting elements of the South Bank, including Louise Bourgeois-style spiders (sculptor Bourgeois has regularly exhibited at the Tate nearby, and one of her nine-metre-tall spider sculptures was installed on the South Bank in 2007) and the kind of ships that would have once sailed the Thames. Many of the tiles are monochrome and have a ‘just-sketched’ look, one example of the black lines Lee sought to reference throughout the property to create that ‘work in progress’ feel.
Another example are the black lamps by Flos, hanging haphazardly from railings, “just like studio lamps in a painter’s or photographer’s studio, tossed up there because they need to work fast,” says Lee. “It creates an energy and a relaxed atmosphere. And that’s the thing: hazard is OK – that’s what happens in a creative working environment… It’s very different from when you go into a fully polished place where the first thing you feel is that you’re not well dressed enough to be there.”
Lee wanted this accessibility to extend to guests who may not be artists in their daily life, but who want to stay in a design-forward hotel in a creative neighbourhood in order to visit the theatres and galleries. “The hotel’s not just for painters, it’s for writers, musicians… Every single person is creative, even if they haven’t pursued it yet,” she says – although that doesn’t mean it hasn’t attracted creative professionals through its doors.
“I think that it’s working,” says Lee, “I found out recently that the director for photography for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York checked in. He found it, and he was here to set up an exhibition in London. It was like, build it and they will come.”
Contact and details
Bankside hotel, 2 Blackfriars Road, Upper Ground, London SE1 9JU
020 3319 5988
Opened October 2018
Owner Amerimar Enterprises and Realstar
Design Powerstrip Studio
Starting room rate £260
Management Amerimar Enterprises
General manager Douglas McHugh
Head chef Lee Streeton
Furniture and fabrics/soft furnishings
Fleetwood Fine Furniture
Jesmonite side tables
Restaurant tile murals