An exclusive new boutique hotel that popped up on the London radar this summer has got everyone talking – and for good reason, too. Sophie Harper took a trip to Holborn to find out more about the revitalised church building.
Take a walk along Southampton Row in one of the city’s coolest boroughs, and you’ll undoubtedly stumble across Holborn’s latest star attraction, L’oscar, which has earned a place on a number of London’s best hotels lists (in the likes of Vogue, Conde Nast Traveller, and Forbes to name a few). The hotel has a nameless façade but gives itself away with chicly-dressed doormen stood between two large windows that give passers-by a little taste, a soupçon if you like, of the lavishness that lies beyond.
Named with one of London’s favourite playwrights in mind, the boutique hotel was originally built between 1901 and 1903, in a style coined ‘Edwardian Free Baroque’, and for around60 years was the London headquarters of the Baptist Church. Architect Arthur Keen instructed some of the best artists and craftsmen of the time to bring his design to life, which included the oak panelling, carved fireplaces, and ornately plastered ceilings that have been painstakingly restored in the building’s recent renovation.
The building suffered bomb damage in World War II and, after dwindling numbers in the congregation,closed its doors as a place of worship in 1961. The building was bought and used by London Transport until 2012, when plans were put in place for the building’s extraordinary transformation. With the vision ofL’oscar’s creator and CEO, Duncan Shakeshaft, coupled with the flair and prowess of renowned French designer Jacques Garcia, work began on the Grade II listed building with the assistance of English Heritage,Camden Council, and a team of master craftsmen from around the world.
Explaining his vision for L’oscar, Duncan Shakeshaft says: “I wanted to create something different.Inspired by the history of the Bloomsbury Set, the arts and crafts design of the building and theatrical traditions of the area, I then brought in Jacques Garcia, Parisian décorateur, to create a seductive interior in a typically non-English style.” Which is exactly what’s been achieved at the 39-guest room luxury hotel.In fact, there’s nothing typical about the hotel at all.
From its glossy lobby with polished tiled floor, dark panelled walls and warm lighting leading you to the hotel’s reception and living room area on the right, the feel of indulgence and decadence is consuming, but not overbearing. The walls are bedecked with unique artwork and tall,handcrafted units that house an impressive collection of leatherbound books and intriguing ornaments. The furniture is a mixture of dark wood tables and plush velvet seating, and wherever you look there seems to be a hint of birdlife or inviting texture.
To the left of the lobby is the hotel’s breakfast café, although the word café in its usual sense doesn’t do this area justice. Through a large doorway and stepping onto pleasingly rich mahogany flooring, this room is again filled with texture and dark features, but is quite different to the reception area opposite. A lit amber bar area is one of the first things that catches your eye, but it’s the reflective surfaces (of which there are many) that catch the light from the huge windows and dainty decorative Lalique birds that keep your head turning. Mirrored ceiling tiles and shiny wall panels help to project light from one surface to the next and the mixture does a rather good job of making this space feel a lot larger than it is.
Heading back into the lobby and towards the back of the building,semi-naked statue pieces beckon you up marbeline stairs to the hotel’s crowning glory – the Baptist Bar and, upstairs, the Baptist Grill, which can be viewed from the lower floor simply by tilting your head skywards through the huge octagonal mezzanine framed by original oak panelling. The view of the restaurant from this angle is not so much about being able to see the floorplan but rather the impressive domed ceiling that looms in biblical fashion with decorative plaster detailing and arched window recesses sat below it. The bar area itself is another show of exuberance and style with deep plum button-backed velvet seating with stud and fringed detailing and golden peacock feather cushions placed around more dark wood tables with a wide bar area fronted with cracked mirrored glass. It’s a delicious space to wind down from a busy day in the city with a cocktail or two…
Speaking of which, a short climb to the first floor from the bar area leads you to the hotel’s restaurant and pièce de résistance, the Baptist Grill.Everything at L’oscar points to the theatrical, a great show of charming eccentricity, but none more so than this particular space; from that incredible domed ceiling and view of the bar below to the crystal glassware,bespoke cutlery and hand-painted china your food is served on. Even the food itself is a spectacle to behold. L’oscar’s Executive Chef Tony Fleming(who worked for Marco Pierre White prior to becoming head chef at SirTerrance Conran’s Great Eastern Hotel and earning a Michelin Star as the opening chef of the Angler restaurant) has devised a menu of delectable dishes to wow the tastebuds, adding to the whole L’oscar experience which,if you haven’t gathered by now, is fabulous… with a capital ‘F’.
A walk along the corridor from the Baptist Grill takes you to two beautiful function rooms – the Library and the Committee Room. Both contain original oak panelled shelving and wall panels and carry deep turquoise colours throughout as a basis for peacock-themed wall and furniture decoration with light-reflecting gold detailing. Both rooms have large, ornate fireplaces as focal points with an original terracotta carving of a scene from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Committee Room. Huge central carpet pieces in golden mustard hues with blue accents are like elaborate art pieces in themselves, while embroidery-backed and velvet chairs offer up a warm invitation to come in and take a seat. The warm tones of soft lighting in both rooms adds to the cosiness of what are otherwise very large areas. Take time to look a little closer and you might even spot the odd hummingbird or swallow with the perfect bird’s-eye-view of each room’s comings and goings.
Access to guest rooms can be sought from one of the hotel’s lifts, but for those who enjoy a more scenic amble to their destination, a casual walk beside the seven-storey chandelier hung in the stairwell is a nice way to admire your surroundings. Each guest room, from the standard queen rooms to the exquisite L’oscar Suite, is individual in shape and décor, designed specifically this way by Jacques Garcia who famously created the heady, red velvet tones of Hôtel Costes in Paris, the low vintage rugs and dark panelling of the NoMad in New York, and the Imperial Morocco revamp in Marrakech.
Standard, superior, and deluxe rooms are all generous in size and comfort,but the suites, well, they’re in a whole different league – larger than mostLondon apartments even – and that’s no exaggeration! Deep reds, mustard yellows, and sage greens are the colours setting the mood in guest rooms,with more of the hotel’s signature Lalique birds to be found perching atop lamps, and velvet covered chairs and chaise lounges dotted enticingly throughout. Artwork and fireplaces give the rooms a distinct feel of homeliness (even if said home is more on the stately side). Again, texture plays an important role here and aside from the velvet furniture and thick-piled carpet you’ll have come to expect, there are a multitude of different fabrics and surfaces to appeal to your fifth sense. Studded leather-clad desks, side tables, and sideboards, cushioned upholstered wardrobe panels, enormous button-puckered embroidered headboards, and heavenly, plump bedding filled with handpicked down feathers fromIceland… it’s a wonder L’oscar’s guests ever muster the energy to leave their rooms!
Every care has been taken over the smallest of details at this remarkable hotel, from simple controls that allow guests to pump their favourite music into their sizeable en-suites (complete with wet room and steamer no less),to the delightfully light floral-scented guest toiletries created especially for L’oscar by Roja. The rooms are decadent but purposeful, with thoughtful little touches to make guests feel at home. There are even cheeky little treats that carry the hotel’s saint and sinner ethos to be found in each room’s minibar.
L’oscar oozes sensuality and ambience, offering guests an escape from the ordinary and every day. It is elegant while at the same time flamboyant,and despite its grandeur in some respects, it is also a space full of light-heartedness and charm that immediately puts one at ease. The development of the brand Internationally is inevitable and an exciting prospect for those in the know but for now L’oscar, on Southampton Row inLondon’s cool and quirky Holborn, is one-of-a-kind… in every sense.