Quick Q&A: Conrad Smith, ReardonSmith Architects

BHN editor George Sell talks to Conrad Smith about working on The Beaumont in London, the first hotel by restaurateurs Corbin + King.

• Jeremy King obviously had a very clear idea of the look and feel he wanted for the Beaumont, right down to the invention of the Jimmy Beaumont character. What were the pros and cons of working with such a well defined vision? Did it give you less or more freedom to express your ideas?

“Jeremy’s vision for the hotel was key in giving The Beaumont its ‘magic’. He was hands-on throughout the entire design and building process, from the time we were approached by Grosvenor to consider converting the building into a hotel to the day the hotel opened. The fact that he had such a strong narrative which grew as the project progressed and went on answering questions as they arose (if in doubt about a design decision, Jeremy would ask – What would Jimmy do?) engendered a seamless design approach.”

• I was impressed by how a brand new hotel gave a convincing impression of having been trading since the 1920s. How difficult was it for you to source and specify materials which fitted in with the art deco look?

“A particular challenge for us were the windows in the existing building. The building was listed and naturally English Heritage and City of Westminster Planning required us to replace the original windows with windows that looked similar to the originals. Since the metal sections originally used are no longer manufactured, we had to source a suitable alternative which would also provide the thermal, acoustic and security performance expected in a modern hotel. We were also responsible for sourcing the exterior lamps and the canopy to the front façade as well as interior materials such as the marble and timbers. As hotel architects, however, we’re familiar with the requirement to recreate traditional design styles and are therefore used to working with the suppliers of the highest quality materials as well as with craftspeople and manufacturers of custom-designed furniture and fittings.”

• What were the challenges involved in integrating 21st century technology and guest amenities in to a 1920s look?

“Every aspect of the project benefitted from the foresight of our client, Grosvenor, in employing the entire team from the start. The result was a well-planned, integrated process. The AV and IT specialists were on board from an early stage so there were no significant issues.”

• Are there any aspects of the building which proved particularly tricky – things that perhaps the layman wouldn’t notice but which you are proud of?

“Creating the basements before Crossrail tunnelling would have put a stop to our work! We needed to excavate two new basement levels to make space for a spa, function room and back-of-house areas. Nothing unusual in that but then we learnt that Crossrail would be tunnelling very close to the hotel and would be able to stop our work for months if we overlapped. I think the aspect of which I am most proud is that apart from the façade, everything is new, yet the interiors seem as if they might have been there since the 1920s. The Beaumont felt established from the day it opened its doors and while guests know in their heads that it is new, their experience in their hearts is that they are in Jimmy Beaumont’s very comfortable hotel. Their reaction is not ‘Wow!’ but ‘Ahhh’, which is exactly what we all wanted to achieve.”

• Did you have any issues with the planners over the Gormley exterior? It seems to be something of a ‘Marmite’ feature and I can imagine that it raised a few eyebrows during the planning process.

“Actually City of Westminster Planning was very excited to have the Gormley sculpture. Public art was a stipulation from the beginning and the fact that we were proposing to make the sculpture such an integrated part of the hotel was very well received.”

Conrad Smith is managing director of ReardonSmith Architects. He will be speaking at the Boutique & Lifestyle Hotel Summit in London, 20 – 21 May 2015, London.

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