London's first Art'otel turns hotel rules on their head

11 January 2023 by

Under the lofty towers of Battersea Power Station lies a new designer hotel. Meet general manager Jennifer McCabe

Not only does the opening of the Art'otel London Battersea Power Station mark the launch of a new hotel brand for the capital, but its location – at the heart of a new riverside neighbourhood in the city – is iconic. The hotel looks directly onto the cavernous former power station, with its four mighty chimneys. The weighty presence of the industrial titan providing contrast to the brightly coloured, lighthearted aesthetic of the 164-bedroom hotel, had its soft opening on 12 December ahead of its official opening on 21 February.

Jennifer McCabe, general manager of the hotel, said: "It has been a privilege and honour to have this opportunity. Hospitality has been my life for two decades and to be able to open up and run such a gorgeous property as well as be part of something bigger – what Battersea Power Station Development Company [BPSDC] is doing for the area is phenomenal – is more than I could have hoped for."

The development of the hotel is just one element of the sprawling former industrial 42-acre estate that has undergone a total transformation over the past decade. Prior to that, the future of the Grade II*-listed power station at its centre hung in the balance. It originally took 26 years to build – from 1929 to 1955 – complete with its four distinctive chimneys, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. It went on to supply one-fifth of London's electricity until its closure in 1983.

A series of owners and plans, including one for the creation of a theme park, came and went, before it was snapped up in 2012 by a consortium of Malaysian property investment businesses: S P Setia, Sime Darby Property, the Employees' Provident Fund and Permodalan Nasional Berhad. The management of the development has been undertaken by British-based BPSDC.

The Art'otel London Battersea Power Station is one of the key commercial elements of the mixed-used project. By the time it is complete at a cost of £9b, there will be 25,000 people living and working across the estate, a total of 4,329 residential properties and 250 shops, cafés and restaurants. The hotel is located almost within touching distance of the south-west corner of the power station at one end of Electric Boulevard – touted as "a new high street for London" – and takes up a significant proportion of a new undulating building known as Battersea Roof Gardens, designed by Foster + Partners.

London calling

The arrival in London of the Art'otel brand, owned by PPHE Hotel Group, has been a long time coming. Hoxton was originally going to be the location of the first Art'otel in the capital, with an announcement in 2010 that a 343-bedroom hotel was to be developed within a new 27-storey building. However, when PPHE won the bid in 2015 to manage the signature hotel at Battersea Power Station, the location of the city's first Art'otel moved south of the river. The Hoxton property is now set to launch in 2024.

The Art'otel brand, originally conceived by a small group of art collectors and entrepreneurs, was subsequently acquired by PPHE and today comprises five properties – two in Germany (Berlin and Cologne), and one each in Amsterdam, Budapest and London, with a further four in the pipeline, in Hoxton, Pula, Rome and Zagreb. As its name suggests, art is central to the interior design and philosophy of the hotel, with each property having a unique look created by a different signature artist.

The essence of the brand, however, is much more than the partnership with its artist, explains McCabe. "It is a lifestyle brand, with a focus on fun and energy, boldness and creativity. We integrate with the community through a cultural programme that involves working with local artists and bring creativity to life in everything we do. So, the gym, for instance, is not just about a personal trainer, it is also offering nutritional seminars, wellbeing sessions and yoga on the roof. We shall also have an entertainment offering where we will prefer to nurture young talent at the grassroots rather than focus on a headline act."

"We want to set the standards for the future of hospitality, not only making guests feel at home, but opening minds to new experiences by challenging perceptions of what a hotel is and should be," she says. Guests can access a variety of art-focused and cultural activities, including events hosted by a rota of regularly changing artists in residence. Battersea-based artist Minna George is the first person to fulfil this role and will be on site at the hotel until the end of January. In December she welcomed guests and non-residents to a sketch class, inspired by the London skyline at night, held on the 15th floor of the hotel.

Dream design

Leading Spanish artist and designer Jaime Hayon was personally selected by Boris Ivesha, president and chief executive of PPHE, to oversee the interior of the hotel. A bold, flamboyant and playful aesthetic is the key look from the moment guests walk through the front door and are met in the lobby with ‘The Dreamer', an oversized yellow Japanese art-inspired sculpture. Next is a lounge space, where a number of different seating areas feature surreal portraits from Dutch photographer Nienke Klunder, while a deep red display cabinet featuring ceramics designed by Hayon fills one wall. The receptionist desk is like no other, with organic curves aiming to hug the guest.

Hayon has had a hand in every element of the design, from creating the furniture, the lighting and much of the artwork itself, including a series of tapestries displayed around the circular, circus-tent style space of Tozi Grand Café, the all-day dining room on the ground floor. The bedrooms feature spectacle-shaped mirrors over the beds, whimsical prints and seating in deep colours. Curves, a reflection of the art décor style of the power station, are dominant throughout, from the bedroom corridors through to the way the furniture is positioned and the furniture itself. Hayon and his team will regularly visit London to ensure that the hotel is "dressed" as he would like it.

Pride and joy

One area that Hayon has not designed is the Joia bar and restaurant on the 14th and 15th floors respectively. Enjoying spectacular views over the power station and the London skyline, these two spaces, with a sweeping staircase between, have been designed by Russell Sage. The designer is best known for a more traditional look at the likes of the Savoy and Goring hotels in London and further afield at the Fife Arms in the Scottish Highlands, but has instead opted to create a bright, open space where pastel pinks and greens provide a contrast to the primary colours that dominate the rest of the hotel.

Joia, set to open on 21 February, will feature the cuisine of chef Henrique Sá Pessoa from Portugal, who gained two Michelin stars at his flagship restaurant Alma. It is not the first time that Sá Pessoa has worked with the Art'otel brand: he also oversees Arca at the Amsterdam hotel.

"The Portuguese food scene has been increasing and we were keen for Henrique to come to London," says McCabe. "He has been a delight to work with.

"There is a connection with the Amsterdam restaurant – Arca means jewel in Portuguese and Joia means treasure, but the food and interiors are different. Arca features Portuguese food with an Asian twist, while Battersea will offer the full Iberian experience. Head chef Jose Jara is Spanish and works closely with Henrique on writing menus featuring dishes which very much reflect Henrique's concept."

While Joia restaurant and bar can each seat 86, McCabe believes the hotel will be able to accommodate up to 350 people for an event located across both spaces and the rooftop, which features a pool looking directly onto the four chimneys of the power station. The hotel's first event for GQ magazine for 120 guests in December was deemed a great success.

With food and beverage playing a pivotal role within the Art'otel concept, McCabe says the dual offer of Tozi Grand Café and Joia offers a great choice for guests. Tozi is a popular tried and tested concept, having been operational at Park Plaza Victoria for nearly 10 years. Specialising in Italian sharing plates, it will provide a more casual offer to the refined and contemporary take on Portuguese food that will be served in destination restaurant Joia.

Down to a fine art

To ensure that art is at the forefront of a hotel stay, staff training has been very much focused on teaching the appropriate way to engage and interact with guests. "The team will help bring the art to life as much as possible," says McCabe. "We have held art seminars, art tours and provided a lot of written material for staff."

There are currently 113 staff at the hotel, a figure which will climb to 220 once Joia and the roof space open next month. While recruiting chefs and housekeepers is an ongoing challenge for all hotels, McCabe says that the Art'otel has had few problems across these departments due to the presence of a chef known for running a two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the helm and the fact that PPHE bucked the trend of outsourcing housekeeping by taking it in-house in 2018 and so providing security for the team. Finding front of house staff, however, has been more problematic.

When it comes to talking about the typical guest who will be staying at the hotel, McCabe says it can be "anyone who is curious about art and young at heart", rather than pinpointing a specific demographic. While the leisure guest is likely to account for a larger proportion of business, there will be a certain level of corporate bookings stemming from the plethora of companies moving into the development, not least with the move of Apple's UK head office to Battersea Power Station, where around 1,400 staff will be accommodated. The hotel will also benefit from the location of the American Embassy just down the road and a strong domestic market eager to explore a new riverside destination.

Marketing activity is widespread, from the input of the PPHE and Radisson databases, to the in-house approach headed by Stephen Howard as the hotel's PR and marketing manager, and the work being undertaken by three different PR agencies, each with a separate focus on one of the two restaurants or the hotel itself.

McCabe's previous extensive hotel experience will help play a key role in driving business to the property. After opening Le Monde hotel in Edinburgh as general manager, she went on to spend nine years with Firmdale Hotels in various managerial roles, including latterly as general manager of Charlotte Street hotel. McCabe joined PPHE Hotel Group in 2019 to oversee the launch of Holmes Hotel, with a view to moving on to open the Art'otel London Battersea Power Station.

The years she spent working in some of the UK's most renowned boutique hotel properties will be invaluable in establishing what is a uniquely niche hotel brand.

Working partners

Until the launch of the Art'otel brand in London, PPHE Hotel Group was best known in the UK for its management of 10 hotels under the Park Plaza brand which it has operated under a master franchise licence since 2002 from the Radisson Hotel Group. The agreement covers Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

In addition to the Park Plaza hotels it manages in the UK, PPHE also operates the brand in 14 hotels in Europe (four in Croatia, five in the Netherlands and five in Germany). The company also owns and operates, under a Croatian subsidiary, properties under the Arena Hotels & Apartments and Arena campsites brands.

Park Plaza operates one standalone boutique hotel in London – the 118-bedroom Holmes Hotel – which it transformed in 2019 from what was previously the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes London.

In May 2022 PPHE announced that the 20-year partnership with Radisson had been extended, a move that with see both companies expand their portfolios worldwide. The new agreement will provide PPHE will access to the full range of Radisson brands, including Radisson Collection, Radisson Blu and Radisson Red. In return, Radisson will be able to operate the Art'otel and Park Plaza brands in certain regions outside of PPHE's primary markets for a fee-based income.

The Art'otel brand remains fully owned by PPHE.

Art'otel at a glance

Art'otel London Battersea Power Station

Electric Boulevard, London SW11 8BJ

0333 400 6152

Owner S P Setia, Sime Darby Property, the Employees' Provident Fund and Permodalan Nasional Berhad

General manager Jennifer McCabe

Bedrooms 164

Food and beverage Tozi Grand Café (all-day dining with a focus on Italian sharing plates) and Joia (Portuguese destination restaurant headed by chef Henrique Sá Pessoa)

Events Joia restaurant, bar and rooftop space can accommodate up to 350 guests for an event, plus six flexible meeting rooms can host a maximum of 250 guests

Leisure Roof-top pool, spa with two treatment rooms, gym

Room rates From £400

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