Archer Humphryes has redesigned the world’s first purpose built railway terminus hotel - the Great Northern at King’s Cross, London.
The practice has created a 91-bedroom boutique hotel at the Grade II listed building, which was originally designed by Lewis Cubitt in 1854. The new hotel evokes the style and glamour of the first railway age, emphasising the historic character of the building while at the same time providing an elegant, contemporary design.
The bedrooms have been designed in three categories using high quality, traditional materials. A typical Cubitt bedroom enjoys unusual ceiling heights, spacious dimensions and the historic detail of the building. Smaller Couchette rooms are inspired by railway sleeping cars, while the Wainscot attic rooms are lined in European walnut panelling with a deep plum palette. The hotel also contains the reception, GNH bar, Plumb + Spilt Milk restaurant and a small retail area in addition to the bedrooms.
According to myth, the Romans fought the Briton queen Boudicca on the site of King’s Cross where the Great Northern Hotel is situated. Urban folklore even pinpoints her grave to beneath platforms nine & ten, right next to the hotel.
Nearly two thousand years later, a rather different skirmish took place as part of the epic battle to regenerate the area – the five-year struggle to rescue the ailing terminus hotel and return it to its former status as a luxury destination.
Client Jeremy Robson gave Archer Humphryes the titanic task of recovering and rebuilding the 1854 hotel, which had once been the epitome of railway-era glamour but had suffered from years of neglect by the time the architects were brought in. Archer Humphryes’ heroine for the project was the glamorous Lady Violet, a famous resident from its glory days who lends her name to the hotel bar’s signature cocktail.
The practice’s priority was that the hotel interior should be a sanctuary from the surrounding vibrancy of the biggest transport interchange in Europe. One of the challenges was to balance this protection with a degree of openness through the design, which locates both a comforting reception and the vibrant GNH bar on the ground floor.
In GNH, the black of the Italian marble bar counter follows the curvaceous crescent form of the building. This is combined with a chequered marble floor, red velvet and black leather upholstery, and walnut xx as a reference to the original teak passenger locomotives. A mirrored ceiling emphasises crystal chandeliers reminiscent of Belle Époque interiors. Furniture was designed by the architects to provide a mixture of comfort and drama.
Hotel patrons have described it as an evocation of other classic station bars, such as the Oyster Bar at New York’s Grand Central Station and Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon, Paris.
On the first floor is the Plum & Spilt Milk restaurant, named after the distinctive dining livery of the Flying Scotsman. This theatrical space, lit by 150 hand-blown transparent glass lanterns, gives breathtaking views of George Gilbert Scott’s iconic clock tower at St Pancras and the new piazza. Curved leather banquettes are combined with black tables of cracked lava from Mount Etna, with a Hague Blue backdrop selected to match historic enamelled railway signage.
Ninety-one hotel rooms are accommodated on the upper storeys, divided into three different room types. Throughout, all the furniture and furnishings were either chosen or designed by the architects - from the travel embroidery case on each bedside table to the timeless bathrooms decorated with herringbone slate and porcelain tiles. The revived hotel now stands at the gateway to the new King’s Cross quarter, brought back to life through the combination of imaginative architecture and the client’s determination to create a place of both beatitude and élan vital in the city.