London is undoubtedly an enigmatic city. Everywhere you look you’ll see centuries of history slotting in amongst modern glass and metal structures. The many incarnations of this city are visible everywhere and architects try their best to make the old shine out from the new. This is definitely the case for the gorgeous St Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster. What’s been executed here is very clever: While everything about this Grade II listed building retains its unmistakable Victorian atmosphere – you almost expect women in bodiced tea gowns to come floating down the corridors – the hotel has an even more ancient history. It is built upon the foundations of a 15th century chapel, dedicated to St Ermin, from where the hotel got its name.
In medieval times, Westminster was a city in itself, separate from London and rich with the trading of wool merchants. Some say that an ancient monastery lay on this ground even before the 1400s – perhaps even as far back as the 10th century. It was only in 1889 that the rapid expansion of Westminster meant the site was developed into fashionable red brick, serviced apartments known as St Ermin’s Mansions. St Ermin’s first became a hotel ten years later and famous theatre designer J.P. Briggs was tasked with creating a splendid interior. Many of the amazing features guests see today – the elaborate rococo ceilings, glittering chandeliers, Art Nouveau plasterwork and breathtaking, double height ballroom – were his work.
Just a few years ago, the hotel was fully restored and redeveloped in a £30 million project to modernise the facilities and to enhance the architectural splendour of the rooms. The work brought St Ermin’s up to a four star deluxe standard and resulted in the hotel the New London Architecture award in the Conservation and Retrofit category in 2012. The modern new look was executed by Los Angeles-based designer Dayna Lee. She is said to have taken inspiration for the reinvigoration of the hotel from visionary 19th century botanist and designer Christopher Dresser, who was very popular when the hotel was first built. And as a result, an array of plant, flower and leaf designs and motifs are visible throughout the building.
Meeting the theatrical original features in perfect harmony, the new furnishings and décor now help to create an even more luxurious and comfortable environment. The combination of the old and new works so well because the base features of its classic architecture, Art Nouveau styling and rococo plasterwork remains unchanged, despite the technological upgrades and changes to the soft furnishings, antiques and collectables sit beside them.
The entrance and lobby remains largely as it would have done in the Victorian era. The original courtyard garden has been reconstructed and lushly replanted and the lobby is complete with J. P. Briggs’ original sweeping staircases, theatrical balconies and large, open fireplaces.
The Caxton Bar and Grill is more overtly modern in feel, with the aim of the redevelopment being to make these areas more casual and comfortable. Vivienne Westwood wallpaper, multiple fabrics, terracotta leather wall sections, reclaimed wooden floors, and Oriental-inspired prints set off the old Victorian fireplace perfectly.