Nick Hartwright, Green Rooms - Classic Versus Current
In 2016 the hospitality businesses making headlines aren't lavish hip hotels in city centres, but distinctive concepts often in unusual places. Is the era of the trendy, metropolitan design hotel over? And what can the wider hotel industry do in anticipation of this new landscape?
Nick Hartwright, of the acclaimed new Green Rooms hotel in outer London, discusses his own distinct concept and explains how the hotel industry as a whole should evolve alongside guests' changing needs.
Cool is dead, according to leading voices in the media. Some publications have even pinpointed the exact moment of its demise. Esquire cites aloof rocker Ryan Adams covering pre-teen icon Taylor Swift's entire 1989 album. The Guardian points to the rise of unconventional comediennes turned leading ladies, like Amy Schumer and Rebel Wilson. ‘The Death of Cool' is even the title of Vice magazine founder Gavin Innes' memoirs.
Adbusters, the advertising industry's answer to satirical magazine Private Eye, has run a feature on ‘Post Cool'. ‘Cool now lacks conviction and energy,' it reads, ‘Above all, its economic force is diminishing. And this, more than anything, will accelerate its decline. One busy cash register is worth more than a thousand pundits.' Cool was once ‘flexible and sometimes flippant', the feature says, but has now become ‘slick, packaged and phoney.' What consumers want now, the Adbusters piece continues, is ‘natural and authentic.'
In a business sense, ‘cool' has come to mean being up with the trends – especially with regards to music, fashion, the arts and culture. It's about being current – ‘with it' to use a suitable phrase from the decade cool was born, the 1960s.
Examples of cool in the hotel industry are easy to find. Perhaps the most glaring are the design hotels of the late 1990s, such as the W Group, or those masterminded by former New York nightclub impresario Ian Schraeger, like London's Sanderson and St Martin's Lane. The Mondrian at Sea Containers House, and Schrager's own Edition, would be London's foremost cool hotels here in 2016.
But we're now seeing the first examples of ‘post cool' hotels thriving. Robin Hutson's The Pig group – unreconstructed rural farmhouses that are pointedly unpackaged – is the clued-up guest's hotel of choice. Indeed, Hutson's previous venture, the Hotel du Vin chain, was arguably the first major British ‘post-cool' hotel – and its arch-rival Malmaison is a perfect example of mass-marketed ‘cool' itself. Malmaison's metropolitan minimalism, its monochrome photos of New York and emphasis on indulgence, now seems ever more dated. Whereas, poetically, Hotel du Vin has become finer with age.
Others in the cool corner may refute that their slick schtick is tired. Having recently purchased a round of drinks in Schrager's Edition, this writer can personally testify that its cash register is far from empty. So why do some contemporary and cool hotels endure, while others become naff? And why are hotels like The Pig different to any other run-down rural rooming house – how can they be so traditional, yet so compelling?
Serial entrepreneur Nick Hartwright is part owner of Green Rooms, a new, achingly post-cool, hotel in London's latest regeneration hotspot, Wood Green. The chariman of Green Rooms is hotel kingpin Kurt Bredenbeck, last seen at The Hoxton, a cool hotel if there ever was one.
Based in a wonderful art deco building once used by The North Metropolitan Power and Electricity Company, Green Rooms has teamed up with several London arts bodies to provide medium-length stays for actors, musicians and artists visiting London for performances. Stays start at only £18.
Like The Pig, Green Rooms ploughs its own furrow when it comes to design. “It's a really lovely building,” says Nick, “so we made the interior more about restoring the original features, and fixtures inspired by that, rather than dressing it too much. Luxury for me is about feeling comfortable somewhere. Budgetary constraints mean we focus on the important aspects, too – we have simple rooms, but fantastic beds.”
Design, Nick believes, should reflect a hotel's personality, be welcoming, and win guests over with its own brand of charisma – “it's ultimately about authenticity,” he says, echoing Adbusters.
Food and beverage, though, is harder to make ‘timeless' – the public has got rather used to exciting new restaurant concepts opening at a dazzling rate.
“Our solution to that is to have a revolving door policy in the restaurant, where we give the space to a nearby entrepreneur every six months,” says Nick, “we choose people who've been doing street food or pop-ups, but can't fund their own premises. So we provide an ‘incubator' space for new restaurants. It helps them find finance, and possibly a new site. Right now we have Colombian food from Esteban, who lives round the corner – and his food's amazing. He's going to have a brilliant six months and hopefully open a place in Wood Green with finance and support. Hotels should support other businesses and the community. They're an amazing driver of regeneration.”
Nick says that it isn't necessarily trends in design, or dining, that are driving the ‘post cool' trend, but a shift in the mindset of owners and guests.
“People want to be part of something – and I don't mean exclusivity, I mean a group, a purpose, a sense,” says Nick. “And in business, people are wanting to do things in a slightly different way where it's not all about making money, it's about genuinely wanting good things to happen and using an enterprise platform to deliver that.”
Recruiting staff from the local community is important for both authenticity and a warm welcome, says Nick.
“Guests want to be somewhere they're meeting people, having experiences and finding out what's going on in the area. That's why Airbnb is such a success, because you feel like you're really living in the city that you're visiting. Most of our staff are from the borough. We also make sure that the staff really know what's going on; so they can have those one-on-one conversations and make recommendations. Hotels with a great bartender or concierge are very memorable, people want to feel looked after.”
Promoting through the arts and theatre worlds means that although Green Rooms offers some very affordable rooms, there's always a colourful crowd in the lobby. “We had all the guys from the Lift theatre festival staying – actors, writers, producers from all around the world,” says Nick, “My favourite were a group called Miss Revolutionary Idol Beserker, a 35 strong group who do a performance about Japanese pop culture.”
The debate of classic vs current, or post cool versus cool, seems to be a misnomer. A hotel can be either classic or current, or even both simultaneously, as long as it has a clear identity of its own and, ideally, a purpose – a place where the business fits into the scheme of things, and answers a commercial or social need.