As one of the top tourist destinations in the world, London ranks high on the wish list for many a hotel operator or developer; a presence here is the holy grail, and over the years there’s been no shortage of new openings to fill these pages. There are few hotels however that have had a real impact on the market; in which the teams behind them have not only the capital and know-how to bring a vision to life, but the knack of being in the right place at the right time, the gumption to deviate from the norm, and the ability to create a buzz that continues long after launch.
And every once in a while, something special comes along. In 2018 it was Kimpton Fitzroy; in 2017 it was The Ned; and before that, the likes of CitizenM, The Hoxton and Ace Hotel made waves for breaking boundaries and bringing something new to the city. So when we heard whispers that one of the USA’s best-loved brands was planning its London debut, we had a sneaking suspicion that 2019 would be the year of The Standard.
Six years in the making, the London outpost builds on the success of The Standard hotels in LA, New York and Miami, bringing its distinctive culture and irreverent style to a new audience. Founded in 1999 by André Balazs, the brand was an instant hit amongst a young, hip generation of travellers seeking more than just a place to sleep. With five properties to its name, growth has -until now – been measured, Balazs having favoured organic expansion over the numbers game. But in 2013, the hotelier stepped down from the day-to-day running of the business, selling an 80% stake to the newly formed Standard International, and subsequently paving the future development.
So just how long has The Standard hankered for a presence in the UK capital? “For at least a decade,” says CEO Amar Lalvani, who joined the company in 2011 and has since been at the forefront of expanding the brand internationally. “In fact, on my first day working for The Standard, I got on a flight to London to scope a property, before even going to the office. That’s how important it has been for us.” Having looked at a dozen sites over the years, “the one” came in 2013, when a call from Crosstree Real Estate Partners alerted them to a former council building out to tender. At the time, the newly formed investment business – founded by former Starwood Capital and Blackstone Group executives Sean Arnold and Nick Lyle – was focused solely on the London market, and having known both Balazs and Lalvani through mutual contacts, were on the lookout for potential locations. “We felt that London was ready for The Standard, and we knew The Standard was interested in London,” recalls Arnold, adding that the two companies had previously explored a site in Shoreditch, but its conversion to hoteluse was deemed unviable. “We got to know the team well during that process, and then in the middle of 2013, Camden Council put the property in King’s Cross on the market and we started looking into it,” he continues. “We hired Orms to study the building for every application – office, residential and hotel – and became convinced of its feasibility as a hotel. So we phoned André and asked if he wanted to take a look; he came and absolutely loved it.”
And so the seeds of The Standard London were sown. However it took another 12 months for the acquisition to complete, and months more for planning consent. “Given that the building was being sold by Camden Council, it was lengthy and complicated public procurement process in which we had to submit detailed information on what we planned do with the site,” notes Arnold. “We were the only ones that actually wanted to keep the existing building; other bids were looking to tear it down as it was considered a negative contributor to the local built environment.”
Sitting directly opposite the Grade I-listed St. Pancras International railway station, the squat, concrete edifice that previously housed Camden Council offices is a stark contrast to George Gilbert Scott’s Gothic Revival masterpiece. But Crosstree persevered, enlisting experts to set out the architectural merits of the building, using the report as part of their submission. “At first, there was almost an insistence from the planners that we tear down the building,” Arnold continues. “We felt that that would be a shame, and quite liked the seventies Brutalist architecture.”
Thankfully Crosstree got their way, and the characteristic façade – known locally as the egg-box – has since become a star, signalling the revival of a style that just a decade ago was widely considered ugly and oppressive.
Picking up the story, Lalvani adds: “As soon as we saw it, we said ‘this is the one!’ The unexpected (but now seemingly obvious) location and the aesthetics have The Standard written all over them. My sense is that our unique approach to preserving the building, intelligent space planning, optimism about where the neighbourhood was heading and confidence that The Standard could create something totally different in the market allowed us to win the day.”
Crosstree then went about assembling a professional team of architects, designers and consultants, with Orms taking the lead on the exterior architecture and shell. The façade’s precast concrete panels were extensively cleaned, the original tinted windows in their distinct frames replaced with clear glass, and on the building’s corners, rounded panes with highgrade acoustic specifications were inserted, creating a feature for the guestrooms within.
Structural modifications included the removal of a stair core between the building and adjacent Camden Town Hall, opening up the views to St. Pancras, while the relocation of the plant enclosure on the upper floors made way for a rooftop extension. Here, PVDcoated stainless steel cladding was angled to form a sculpted element, catching the light throughout the day and creating a constantly changing display. On the 8th floor, Orms opted for timber and glass to foster a connection between the suite’s interiors and private terraces, and up above, the 10th-floor restaurant and bar features double-height glazing to maximise views of St. Pancras to the north and the city to the south.
But perhaps the most eye-catching addition is the exterior shuttle lift, which glides up the side of the building taking guests directly to the rooftop. Its rounded form and pillarbox red glow based on the iconic London bus creates a striking feature, and also serves to provide additional lift capacity at busy times. At ground level, redesigned entry points and a reinstated public garden connect the hotel to the streetscape, while the main entrance is notable for its large-scale revolving door and upside-down signage – a symbol of The Standard’s playful, often unconventional approach.
For the interiors, Crosstree turned to Shawn Hausman, a long-time collaborator of The Standard and responsible in part for establishing the DNA of the brand. As well as being The Standard’s first venture outside the USA, the project also marked Hausman’s first in London, so there was a shared objective to make an impact. With vibrant colourways, bold use of pattern and a distinct retro vibe, Hausman has succeeded in bringing an entirely new aesthetic to the city. While there’s no mistaking the hotel belongs to The Standard family, it’s unashamedly London, or more specifically, Camden. Hausman looked to the history of the area – from the punk bands that played here in the 1960s to the dark underbelly of King’s Cross – as well as its recent transformation, resulting in a hotel that has real character. The free-spirited ambiance can be felt from the off, with the front-of-house team forgoing the usual formalities to provide a homely welcome – perhaps a sign of the brand’s Californian roots showing through. Even their attire, designed bespoke by The Uniform Studio, deviates from the norm, with some wearing boiler suits – currently making a comeback from their seventies heyday – and others dressed in Harrington-style jackets in a nod to Steve McQueen.
Responsible for injecting a flavour of California cool to Camden is Chief Design Officer Verena Haller, who joined Standard International in 2018 and has since worked closely with Hausman and interior architects Archer Humphreys to execute the vision. “My role is to bring design, operations and brand together to create one cohesive experience,” she explains, noting that the result is a reflection of both the US-based brand and the London market. “It’s fresh and unexpected,” she continues. “This project represents relentless attention to detail and soul, and over time, guests will begin to notice the finer details and material choices that celebrate a connection to the locale.”
Fostering that local connection is key to all of The Standard’s projects, and so the group brought in man-on-the-ground Bruce Robertson as Managing Director, having overseen a number of the city’s top openings over the years. “We aim to bring London to the hotel rather than the other way around,” he notes, a view shared by Lalvani. “Each Standard is heavily influenced by the collaborators we work with locally,” he adds. “They help us evolve the existing Standard DNA into something unique to the location; this hotel is unmistakable in that regard.”
The robes in the guestrooms are designed by Central Saint Martins graduate Craig Green, for example. The Sounds Studio – a recording booth and performance pod at the heart of the public spaces – champions upcoming and established talent from across London. And the striking ceramic installation in the lobby is the work of Lubna Chowdhary, who completed a residency at Camden Arts Centre back in 1994, when she was first starting out. There’s also a strong local connection in the Library Lounge. “The Library is something that guests have really taken to,” says Lalvani. “When we discovered the property, this space was a public library, so we reinvented it with Carrie Maclennan, our very own librarian.”
However, in true Standard style, it’s not as expected. Rather than the go-to coffee-table tomes found in other hotels, Maclennan has curated a collection from the books that previously lined these shelves. Some date back to the seventies and eighties and show signs of being well-read, others are newer and reference the area’s rich history or vibrant culture. All are labelled according to the Dewey Decimal System, just like in a public library, only here, the numeric order is intentionally random. The subject categories also speak of a hotel that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Order is paired with Chaos, Romance alongside Technology. And it’s no coincidence that Politics and Tragedy share a shelf.
For its F&B programme, the hotel has enlisted the talents of English chefs Peter Sanchez-Iglesias and Adam Rawson. “We have been conscious from the outset that you can’t turn up in London, one of the greatest cities on earth, and tell the locals what they want,” notes Robertson. “It has always struck me that The Standard’s restaurants and bars enjoyed enduring appeal, as they are uniquely pitched to their local communities; they became civic assets rather than canteens to the bedrooms. We hope to continue that in London, which is why we have assembled a team of local talent.”
Michelin-starred chef Sanchez-Iglesias heads up Decimo, the 10th-floor restaurant and bar due to open in October, while Rawson oversees the ground-floor spaces. Isla’s seasonal menu features British produce from sea, soil and land, and is served in a dining room rich in colour and texture, with soft leather upholstery supplied by Tiger. Next door, Double Standard, is positioned somewhere between a British pub and a New York dive bar, where hearty fare, craft beers and classic cocktails are already a hit with the after-work crowd. Textured glass, Transport for London-inspired upholstery and retro furniture characterise the space, but it’s the pastel tiles that line the floor and bar front that really steal the show. Designed by Hausman and created by fit-out specialist McCue Crafted Fit, the bar itself is said to be the second longest in the UK and is a real work of art.
The guestrooms are equally striking, with polished mahogany casegoods and retro-futuristic cabinets housing all manner of amenities. Vintage light fittings, both here and throughout the public spaces, include space-age pendants and bold table lamps, all rewired and restored by Dernier & Hamlyn. Even the lighting control is on-brand, with Jung’s switches and sockets supplied in Le Corbusier colourways.
In all, there are 266 guestrooms configured in a variety of styles; some boast views across to St.Pancras, while suites on the upper floors feature bathtubs on the outdoor terrace. The Cosy Core rooms however are worth a special mention. To some, the windowless rooms provide refuge after catching the red-eye; to others, they’re party spaces, where losing track of time is part of the appeal. For Crosstree, they’re a particularly proud moment. “Trying to solve what to do with the the deep floorplate was one of the key challenges,” explains Arnold. “Usually, windowless rooms are uninviting, but Shawn really pushed the boundary and created some of the coolest rooms in the hotel. We’ve taken a negative and turned it into an interesting product.”
It’s a move that has been praised by the operations team too, and opened up the property to a diverse mix of guests. “The repetitive façade hides 42 architecturally different room types across three design philosophies and numerous colourways,” notes Robertson. “Every corner of the floorplate has been exploited and celebrated rather than made uniform. This has resulted in a property that is not only interesting, but through the vertical spread of room types can fit many different budgets.”
It’s clear that The Standard has something for everyone, but it’s often difficult to pinpoint what it is that makes a hotel special. Is it the facilities and services on offer? A cohesive design concept? A certain feeling you get from spending time in the spaces? Of course it’s a combination of the three, but having spoken to those at the forefront of bringing The Standard to life, there’s genuine respect for the input of each and every collaborator, and a passion that’s palpable as you walk through the door. “The levels of design enthusiasm encouraged by a developer with a shared vision has resulted in something quite special,” says Robertson, while Haller notes: “It has been built with so much patience and care, which is not something you find any more.”
For Lalvani however, it’s all about teamwork. “The hotel is filled with fantastic moments, but my favourite part is the team,” he concludes. “The diversity, the pride, the spirit and the positive energy is absolutely infectious and guests feel it from the moment they arrive. It’s the team that creates the magic and I couldn’t be more proud.”
23 September 2019 | Catherine Martin | Sleeper