This Mad Men-inspired destination hotel is bringing 1950s glamour back to the former Coventry Telegraph newspaper office and printworks. Katherine Price reports on a stylish yet authentic mid-century makeover.
The Telegraph hotel is looking to bring a touch of glamour to Coventry with its long-awaited opening, just in time for the city to claim its 2021 City of Culture crown.
Squid Inc oversaw the interior design of the property (having previously worked on Hotel Gotham in Manchester, also operated by Bespoke Hotels), transforming the former Coventry Telegraph newspaper office and printworks. "The brief to us was ‘think Mad Men' – that kind of cool, slick, clean architecture and design," recounts Squid Inc designer Oliver Redfern. He explains that it was not just about interpreting 1950s style for a modern audience, but making the building look like it was opening for the first time in 1957.
He says: "There was a real feeling of Coventry as an exciting [post-war] city and this building was part of that development. We wanted to get that excitement back into it, and when you walk in there today, you feel like you are in that period. But it is now a hotel and that was key to us – it had to feel natural, not forced. It had to feel that it was the way it has always been."
Owner-developer Complex Development Projects, overseen by the local Harrabin brothers, wanted to create a four-star destination hotel that would appeal to both business guests during the week and easily transition to the leisure market on weekends, as well as serving the Midlands' burgeoning creative sector. The designer and developer worked closely together – Redfern credits CDP managing director Ian Harrabin for sourcing many of the antiques and says it was like having another designer on board.
"This wasn't just a development project for them, it was a passion," he says. "They really wanted to feel that they were part of it."
"I wanted a hotel that I'd want to stay in," explains Harrabin, who is also chairman of the Historic Coventry Trust. "We desperately needed a decent, top-end hotel in Coventry… I'm so fed up of people asking where I'm from, and when I say Coventry they say, ‘oh, I am sorry'."
The group acquired the property from Trinity Mirror in 2016 and the intention was always to turn it into a hotel. However, Harrabin also wanted to retain the essence of the building – the newspaper office was at the heart of the community and locals would drop in to advertise items for sale or announce the death of a relative, for example, and he wanted it to be recognisable from those days gone by.
Despite having originally been expected to open in September 2020, the launch of the £18m Telegraph hotel has been frustrated repeatedly by lockdowns and tier restrictions. The hotel's Generators rooftop terrace has been able to open, with a full opening of the property scheduled for 17 May, as soon as restrictions on indoor hospitality are lifted.
Reception and bar/lounge
Squid Inc was careful to choose pieces that were period-sensitive, for example materials and objects that would have been used in the 1950s, if not actually made in the period. One such antique is a wall-mounted flock of wooden geese with bronze wings sourced by Harrabin. The designer opted for a luxurious terrazzo floor – a typical 1950s style – and rich walnut wall panelling for the reception.
A sweeping ramp alongside the desk leads to the Editors function suite, which was installed for accessibility purposes but also brings a "real sense of drama", says Redfern.
The reception and bar area, he says, is where they "really went to town". "This is the reception of the hotel and it's got to sing," agrees Harrabin.
What was the newspaper's reception is now the main hotel bar and lounge. Rather than moving the huge reception desk, two passages for guests have been created, meaning the feature could be retained as the bar counter. Between the marble and original wood panelling only a light touch was needed to decorate the already standout space. The back bar uses satin laminate – a new material in the 1950s heavily used by architects at the time.
Forme & Chase restaurant
The Forme & Chase restaurant flows on from the main bar and lounge with a simple palette of walnut and dark green and blue leather. The restaurant is named after typesetting terms – each set of pages imposed for printing on a sheet of paper is called a forme, while the chase was the wooden or iron frame in which the pages would be fixed.
The area makes use of what was previously an outside courtyard space, with some of the brick walls having been reinstalled. A feature dining table is made from a former printing bench, while old aluminium printing plates were copied to create a digitally-printed wallpaper for the ceiling.
It is not immediately apparent that the words on the wallpaper are all back-to-front – just as they would have been when they were run through a printing machine – but Redfern enjoys the subtlety.
Editors function room
In contrast to the rich, luxurious materials used in the reception, restaurant and bar, the Editors function room, accommodating up to 140 guests or 120 with a dancefloor, used to be the ‘back rooms' of the newspaper, where the journalists and printers would work. To reflect this, the walls go from rich walnut to a classic white 15x15 ceramic tile.
"Straightaway we're changing the language," says Redfern. "We wanted to make it clear to the guest that some of this was show business, wowing the customer, but another element was telling the story of what used to happen in the background."
Like the public areas, most bedrooms are wood-panelled in homage to the architecture of the period. Although Redfern said he was initially nervous that it would blow the budget, the Harrabin brothers found a local company, Summers Joinery, to manufacture the panelling at an affordable price point (although Harrabin acknowledges they still overspent the budget "massively" overall).
"It would have been very easy for a project of this nature to say, ‘we looked, it didn't work in terms of cost profile', but they made it work. It's also wonderful that we used a local company," says Redfern.
"It's not just about budget – they're trying to create a look and finish and leave a legacy in Coventry. Being part of that was fantastic."
It's not just about budget – they're trying to create a look and finish and leave a legacy in Coventry
Three of the hotel's bedrooms have no windows, which Squid Inc playfully designed in the style of photography darkrooms. Each room has an illuminated ‘darkroom' sign above the door and a red light inside to recreate the feel of the old film developing labs.
"Instead of a guest thinking ‘oh, I've got a room without a window', it's ‘I've got a bit of a novelty'. It feels very sophisticated," says Redfern.
Many rooms have feature walls – the darkrooms, for example, are decorated with blown-up photos from the newspaper along with a plaque explaining the story behind them. One of which, for instance, is a photo of Donald Campbell, who broke eight absolute world speed records on water and land in the 1950s and 1960 in a car, Bluebird, which was part-manufactured in the town.
The mezzanine suites also have feature walls using old newspaper adverts, including an old Jaguar advert – no accident, considering the proximity of the Coventry Transport Museum and Jaguar Land Rover's principal assembly plant in Solihull.
The 11 Winter Garden bedrooms, meanwhile, overlook a private, glazed indoor terrace only accessible from these rooms, designed for block bookings.
Bathrooms are restrained with either an eau de nil or pale pink colour palette, in some contrasted with graphic Sputnik-style floor tiles. "I was really keen that we kept it quite pared back with some dramatic statements," says Redfern.
Lord Iliffe suite
The former owner of the Coventry Evening Telegraph, Lord Iliffe, had an apartment in the building which, in tribute, has been transformed into the Lord Iliffe Suite. Rather than split the 72 sq m apartment into two rooms, Redfern explored period architectural techniques and came up with a wooden slatted room divide. While retaining a sense of space, it also serves as a stylish way of mounting the television and displaying period artefacts and books.
The room has its own terrace and hot tub and Big Sur Block wallpaper by Tektura brings in a bold, graphic element to the design. "I thought the wallpaperer had a slightly period look to it but, more importantly, it almost looked like the ink on a roller had gone wrong and created these abstract patterns," explains Redfern – another subtle nod to the building's history.
Generators rooftop bar
For now, the Generators rooftop bar, serving Mediterranean tapas, drinks and cocktails, is the first area of the hotel that has been able to open due to coronavirus restrictions, making use of the space where the generators for the old print hall were located. One of the engine blocks was sprayed bright blue and repurposed by Star Metalwork into a bespoke meet and greet station. Metal and concrete are used much more heavily than elsewhere in the property to continue the industrial printworks theme and allow the view across Belgrade Square and the rest of the city to speak for itself.
Despite the frustrations, Harrabin is confident that 2021 is still going to be Coventry's year, that the staycation boom will be a positive for the city and that the hotel wil attract both a discerning business clientele and leisure guests looking for a fun, cool place to go at the weekend.
"The place is looking fantastic. People keep remarking about the attention to detail," he says. "It's just bringing some glamour to a place that has not had too much glamour in the past. We wanted to give people somewhere they could go to have a laugh and dress up. Coventry is a changed city."
"All the hotels are just cutting their rates like crazy to get people to book in, particularly in city centres, and we're really not in that game," explains Complex Development Projects' managing director Ian Harrabin. "At the moment I think we're saying that rooms are starting from £65, but I think they're going to be £80 up to £180, so still not bad. The room rates in Coventry vary greatly in a normal market, with the midweek incredibly busy when you can be paying well over £100-120 a night. But then at the weekends they'll be £50."
Contact and details
157 Corporation Street, Coventry CV1 1GU
02475 262885 www.telegraph-hotel.com
Owner Complex Development Projects
Operator Bespoke Hotels
Design Squid Inc
General manager Amy Windsor
Opened Outdoors 14 April; opening indoors from 17 May
Antiques (eg, lamps, vases, mirrors) Auntie Olives Attic www.auntieolivesattic.com
Beds and mattresses Silent Night Group www.silentnightgroup.co.uk
Big Sur Block wallpaper Tektura www.tektura.com
Curtains and cushions Contessa Curtains www.contessacurtains.co.uk
Lamps R&S Robertson www.rs-robertson.co.uk
Tables and chairs (public areas and bedrooms) Inside Out www.insideoutcontracts.com
Burgess Furniture www.burgessfurniture.com
Bourne Furniture www.bournefurniture.com
Repurposed generators meet and greet station Star Metalwork www.starmetalwork.co.uk
Wall panels, headboards, desks and bedside tables Summers Joinery www.summersjoinery.co.uk
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