We had no brief when we started this project,” says interiors guru Tara Bernerd, showing me around the former grandiose Hotel Russell on Russell Square. It re-opened on Monday but rechristened as the Principal London.
Built in 1898 by the English fin-de-siecle architect Charles Fitzroy Doll, its magnificent Renaissance-revival terracotta exterior is Grade II-Listed, along with interior features (Doll copied the dining room for the RMS Titanic).
The Russell Group of universities took its name from the Hotel Russell where they met in 1994, and, of course, Bloomsbury is synonymous with the influential group of early 20th-century writers, artists and thinkers, including Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes and EM Forster. “We wanted to embrace this history, to bring this beautiful lady back to life,” Bernerd says.
Infused with mature garden squares, with the University of London and the British Museum at its heart Bloomsbury, is having a moment. Bernerd points out that although the old Bloomsbury set still fascinate us, there’s a new Bloomsbury set emerging, with artists, designers and creatives continually turning out of our great institutions – Central Saint Martins, the Slade, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Faber Academy, Rada. Heatherwick Studio’s Google campus to the north could well bring the “bright young things” of today back to the cultural riches of Bloomsbury.
Bernerd is a whirl of energy, grounded and glamorous with a glint in her eye. She shows me what will be “an oasis” – the revamped Palm Court lounge re-opening in June – bustling with chatter over coffees and afternoon tea before the lights are dimmed for evening cocktails.
In the great hall, the listed marble interior and pearlescent mosaic floor are the backdrop to her rich velvet upholstery and bespoke oversized ceiling lightshades. The comings and goings of a new London society will play out in the oasis, and in the hotel’s café, bar and Neptune restaurant, designed by Russell Sage Studio.
While the Principal’s opening is long-awaited, the Doyle Collection has already refreshed its Bloomsbury Hotel by remodelling the reception hall into a day-to-night venue called The Coral Room, by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio. Cocooned in the vibrant reddish-orange of a scallop coral (a colour, I’m told, legendary architect Sir Edwin Lutyens was fond of), diners nestle in scallop-backed chairs under cascades of Murano glass chandeliers, while cocktails are served at the glamorous central bar.
Diners nestle in scallop-backed chairs under cascades of Murano glass chandeliers
Set within the masterfully restrained Sir Edwin Lutyens 1928 Neo-Georgian building, the hotel also celebrates its unique place within the story of Bloomsbury. It was opened as The YWCA’s Central Club to provide “a wide range of recreational and educational facilities for professional businesswomen”. It was a favourite project of the then Queen, who, in 1939, took her two little princesses incognito to the club’s self-service cafeteria for tea served in thick mugs.
Next up, on the Bloomsbury/Holborn border, is L’oscar boutique hotel by architect and designer Jacques Garcia, of Hotel Costes fame. Due in May, it also promises plush velvets, along with silks and damasks, in its contemporary twist on turn-of-the-century styling.
And all this on the doorstep of the Elizabeth Line that will start running trains at Tottenham Court Road from December. This could be the beginning of a new era in the cultural heart of the West End.
For more information, visit phcompany.com, doylecollection.com and l’oscar.com