The Caterer
Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

Hotel design: University Arms, Cambridge

17 August 2018 by

One of the oldest hotels in Cambridge has been given an £80m makeover to bring it into 2018. Katherine Price reads up on its history and takes a look at its modern transformation

Need to know

The historic University Arms in Cambridge has reopened after a two-year, £80m refurbishment, with a new look reflecting the city's literary and academic spirit and harmonising with its architectural heritage.

The property was originally built in 1834 as a 15-bedroom coaching inn overlooking Parker's Piece green. University Arms was still an operating hotel when real estate investor Melford Capital Partners acquired it from the De Vere Group in 2012 and it has now been relaunched with the addition of 73 bedrooms, its 1960s extension replaced with neo-classical architecture and the marketing reach of Marriott International's Autograph Collection behind it.

Classical architect John Simpson and the renowned Martin Brudnizki, whose previous projects include Holborn Dining Room and Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London and Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, were brought in to oversee the hotel's refurbishment.

The library
The library

The brief

"We were very conscious of this history and knew we had to incorporate it into the design of the interiors in order to create a hotel that felt as though it had always belonged to the city," says Brudnizki.

"When we first took on the project in 2013, we were tasked with repositioning the hotel as a high-end option for Cambridge. For a city with such prominence and celebrity, it was curious that there weren't really any stand-out hotels on offer. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to fill a gap in the market."

Some of the building's original features, such as the fireplaces, were still intact and have been restored, but the main issue was the concrete extension. "It was quite a unanimous decision that the 1960s block needed to go," says Brudnizki.

Simpson, whose earlier work includes the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace and the entrance loggia and interiors at Kensington Palace, was commissioned to create a new classical frontage and a sensitive extension that "honoured the architectural] traditions" of the city, as he describes it.


Entrance, reception and public areas

The entrance to University Arms is now a grand porte-cochère designed by Simpson, based on the colonnade at the front of the Ritz in London, with separate entrances for the Parker's Tavern restaurant and the hotel.

The classical design continues inside, with marble-patterned floors, a corniced ceiling and an impressive partition separating the hotel and restaurant entrances.

"The lobby and reception area is very grand and offers a bit of a 'wow' factor," says Brudnizki. "We decided to introduce three huge, bespoke pendant lights which fill the space with a warm glow, adding a contemporary edge in contrast to the classical architrave and urns. Through implementing double-height ceilings and classical architectural detailing, you instantly feel as though you are standing in a Cambridge building. You're suddenly a part of the city's bones."

The separation allows the hotel to feel private and exclusive, yet also makes Parker's Tavern (consisting of the bar, restaurant and library) more accessible - "more of a destination rather than just a hotel restaurant," as Brudnizki puts it.


There are four types of room: cosy, classic, superior and suites. "Every room had a unique shape," explains Brudnizki, "We used this to our advantage and designed rooms that felt cosy and comfortable with a quirky edge."

All feature pops of colour, such as red Chelsom chandeliers, orange table lamps or patterned scatter cushions from Soane Britain, against a soft colour palette. Penguin clothbound editions of classic novels are placed for guests to dip into and Cambridge-appropriate artworks adorn the walls.

A superior room
A superior room

dnizki worked with art curator Adam Ellis. "He has a brilliant way of anchoring the project with its location through a clever use of artwork that is centric to the city, people of Cambridge and the local landscape," he says.

Throughout the whole property Ellis has incorporated vintage map prints, pictures of Cambridge landmarks and portraits of famous academics. The result is a space that has a strong narrative linking the interior design with the wider vicinity.

Similarly, the 12 suites (named after famous university alumni such as Alfred Tennyson, AA Milne and Rosalind Franklin) each have their own private libraries curated by bookshop Heywood Hill and feature portraits of, books by or some reference to, their namesake. Several on the top floor have access to private balconies overlooking Parker's Piece.

A suite
A suite


All bathrooms feature bespoke DR Harris toiletries, underfloor heating and marble detailing. Two of the 12 suites have bathrooms in the building's original turrets, with freestanding, claw-footed baths overlooking the green.

A turret bathroom
A turret bathroom

Parker's Tavern

The owners wanted Parker's Tavern, overseen by head chef Tristan Welch, to have its own identity separate from the hotel and to be an accessible dining space. The 110-cover 'English tavern' serves locally sourced, 
seasonal British classics, including a daily changing pie special (£15), roast suckling pig with braised fennel (£16) and chalk stream trout with smoked butter (£15).

"It was important for us to work in collaboration with Tristan as he would be the one using the restaurant and bar area," says Brudnizki. "It needed to be a beautiful and relaxing space yet still remain workable.

Parker's Tavern bar
Parker's Tavern bar
"With this in mind we consulted with him over the design and position of the bar and waiter stations as these would form key points for restaurant staff once open. Tristan also directed us on window dressing as he was keen to ensure the view of Parker's Piece was optimised while including the bright, original stained-glass windows." Steel-framed circular chandeliers from Chelsom and gold banker's desk lamps provide additional light, and the Cambridge blue walls are full of paintings, sketches and posters. Parker's Tavern is also home to a 61-cover bar, decorated with wallpaper meant to look like paper marbling, a handicraft that was popularised in Europe in the 19th century and was used on the inside covers of books. The bar leads into the hotel's library which serves a 'historical Cambridge afternoon tea' and features antiques from Norfolk Decorative Antiques and furniture from 1st Dibs.
Parker's Tavern
Parker's Tavern
Future plans Following a soft launch the restaurant and bar are already popular with locals. The hotel will undergo a phased opening during the quiet months ahead of the students' return to the city and a fully booked September. "It's exciting to think how much new history could be witnessed at University Arms," says Brudnizki.
Contact and details University Arms, Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AD01223 606066 []( Opened 1 August Owner Melford Capital Partners Bedrooms 192 General manager Ian James Design Martin Brudnizki Design Studio Starting room rate £205
SuppliersArt consultant Adam Ellis []( Upholstery Fox Linton Fabrics [ ]( Pierre Frey [ ]( Soane Britain []( Antique furniture in library 1st Dibs []( Lampshades in library and Parker's Tavern A Shade Above []( Antiques in library and bar Norfolk Decorative Antiques 
[]( Lighting Chelsom [ ]( Lassco Brunswick House []( Bespoke amenities DR Harris []( [Get The Caterer every week on your smartphone, tablet, or even in good old-fashioned hard copy (or all three!).

Continue reading

You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.

Already subscribed?

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking