Posted in People on 28 February, 2023

From the heights of The Hoxton Southwark, Jess Miles meets Charlie North, the visionary behind some of Ennismore’s best-loved spaces. He discusses his personal design journey as well as everything AIME Studios—from creating connection between branding and interior design, to pioneering coworking spaces in hotels.

It’s no secret that Ennismore has taken the hospitality industry by storm since its conception in 2011. Seeing the potential in lifestyle hotels early on, Ennismore’s founder and now co-CEO, Sharan Pasricha, set his sights on the original Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch, making the group’s first acquisition just 11 years ago. With a fresh perspective on hospitality, entrepreneurial spirit, and an ethos grounded in authenticity, community, and culture, it’s not hard to see how Ennismore has climbed the hospitality rungs to be included in the Financial Times’ Future 100—the UK’s fastest-growing businesses that are shaping the future of their sector. Now a formidable collective of 14 brands representing 103 operating hotels with a further 144 in the pipeline and over 190 restaurants and nightlife destinations, the proposition somehow remains the same—innovative and stylish solutions for the hospitality sector through considered design and branding.

These may well be all the things you already know about Ennismore, and love about their properties. What is perhaps a mystery, is the face behind the award-winning interiors to come out of the portfolio. Enter, Charlie North, Vice President of Interior Design of Ennismore’s AIME Studios. Previously known as Ennismore Design Studio, the newly independently branded in-house creative studio is a 30-strong team of interior and graphic designers forging globally renowned hotel brands and spaces including Gleneagles, The Hoxton, SO/, TRIBE, and hotel-based coworking concept, Working From_. With Charlie at the helm of the interiors aspect from early on—when Ennismore consisted of just The Hoxton brand, and Gleneagles was on the horizon—he has many industry-acclaimed projects under his belt. Not stopping there, Charlie has won several reputable awards, including Hospitality Design’s “Wave of the Future” in 2019, and was a nominee for both Hotel Design’s Interior Designer of the Year and The Brit List 2022.

TRIBE hotel Canary Wharf

But how does one get to be in Charlie North’s shoes? Curious to know how it all began, I ask him to take me back to the start. “Well as a kid, I was just always obsessed with design and anything creative. I used to redecorate and reorganise my bedroom all the time—when I was just 10 years old. And then at school, I studied product design because they didn’t have interiors as a formal subject back then. My final product was a 1:12 scale model of this restaurant concept. I completely flunked that because of course, the idea of product design was looking at actual products, in mass production. But at least I still got a nice interior design scheme out of it.”

Upon reflection, he muses on how his parents influenced him. “My family weren’t the wildly artistic type, but creative more so through precise, structured design and processes.” Clarifying, he continues,My mum was a landscape designer. I was always watching her do these big drawings on sheets and sketching things out—the technical elements of it always inspired me. On the other hand, my dad was in human resources. So from that perspective, there was always an element of knowing that whatever I did, I wanted to be a manager—it felt natural to me. And I think I took in different aspects of their careers to make something different for myself.”

When discussing his journey to Ennismore, he modestly implies that many of his career moves have been serendipitous. Though, a quick glance at his CV will tell you otherwise—with both David Collins Studio and Martin Brudnizki Design Studio listed among his early employers. “I got really lucky,” he tells me. “When looking for my placement during my third year of university, I was looking for London-based design firms to work at and my mum bought me a book for Christmas of London-based restaurant designers. I remember it so vividly; I’ve still got the book. I wrote to a bunch of them but there was one, David Collins Studio—and I knew nothing about David at the time really, apart from that he did some really fancy restaurants—and I needed something London-based to apply to. Shortly after, the Commercial Director at the time, who’s now the CEO, Iain Watson, just phoned me up. They hadn’t really taken on an intern before—this was nearly 20 years ago—but we scheduled a phone interview. After the call he said, ‘come to London, meet us and we’ll see what we can do’ and it just worked out. After that, they sponsored me for my final year of university, which was very kind—David personally sponsored me through it. And then once I’d graduated, I was taken on full time.”

Master bedroom at Gleneagles Townhouse

Whilst serendipity may have gotten him into the room, it was surely an undeniable aptitude for design that kept leading names supporting his work. Continuing the story in the same grounded demeanour he says, “a few years later and after a bit of time out, I managed to get a job at Martin Brudnizki Design Studio. Again, I didn’t really know much about Martin at that point, and I didn’t know he had a background working for David Collins either. I knew that he was doing good things and was very successful, as it was at the beginning of the recession—back in the early 2000s—when everything was a bit difficult. He seemed to be the only design company taking people on—he was busy! I was with him for about five years. I learned a lot and had an amazing time working for him.”

Charlie later went on to become Design Director at Alexander Waterworth Interiors, but it all changed when he met Sharan Pasricha. Recounting his choice to join Ennismore, he says “It just sounded like an amazing opportunity to be part of a much bigger picture—overseeing design across different brands, to oversee external design firms. Suddenly, I was a client of David Collins, and it was just this bizarre turn of events. And then gradually, I built the design studio from there. We had the three of us at the beginning, and now with AIME Studios, it’s since grown to around 30.” Wondering if the move provided Charlie with the space to come into his own, I ask about how joining Ennismore was different. “When you’re working for someone like David Collins, or Martin Brudnizki, whilst you learn a lot, you are working in somebody else’s style and they both have quite distinct approaches to design,” he says. “I think the difference now is that with exposure to 14 different brands within Ennismore, you put your own opinions, to a certain extent, to the side. I’m lucky that The Hoxton and Gleneagles both fall quite naturally into my preferred style. But as we start to work on other brands, they’re all very different. So, you can’t love everything in the same way, you have to really focus on what the brand is, making sure that the design decisions you make work for that concept.”

Clockwise from top left: Rondo La Cave restaurant at The Hoxton Holborn, guestroom at The Hoxton Rome and the lobby at The Hoxton Poblenou

Looking in from the outside, Ennismore has always seemed to master the art of creating a seamless connection between branding, graphic, and interior design, no matter the project. Perhaps the fact that AIME Studios is just one of Ennismore’s four specialised in-house studios obsessing over every guest touch point, has something to do with it. Along with AIME Studios, there’s Carte Blanched—a fully integrated food and beverage concept studio, Staymore—a Digital Product & Tech Innovation lab, and Partnership Studio—which build global brand and activation partnerships.

Recalling the design process for The Hoxton Poblenou—which recently won the Dezeen Awards public vote for Hotel and Short-Stay Interior of the Year—Charlie tells me that when they’re starting any project, they’ll spend a lot of time just absorbing the location first. “There will be a couple of people from each team, and we do a deep dive research into everything about the area. Visually we’ll end up with about four or five pages of just photos from the city or from that specific region. So in Barcelona, Poblenou is a historical fashion and textile district, quite industrial. We collected everything from the typology, graphics, colours, architecture, and signage to restaurants and their menus. From there, we’ve got the brand concept pillars that we’ll use to build those identities together.” In summary, he continues, “and when you do that research process upfront, and together, that’s got to be the trick to getting it right.”

Considering the lobby of the original Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch was the unofficial workspace of choice for many a freelancer and small business owner prior to the coworking boom, Working From_ seemed like a natural addition to the Ennismore portfolio. As we sit and chat in the Working From_ atop The Hoxton Southwark, the buzzy atmosphere of the hotel and chic design certainly extends across, but with all the functional needs of a workspace. Caught just before the remote working phenomena we live in today post-pandemic, Working From_ could be considered a pioneer of the coworking concept within hotels. “The hotel component is what’s unique because there’s no other co-working brand, where you can work late and then get a cheap night in the hotel because you just don’t want to travel,” Charlie agrees. With three more spaces under construction, clearly, it’s been a success. On the expansion, Charlie shares that they’re now designing Working From_ concepts for other Ennismore brands, not just the Hoxton. “The name was really fortuitous; in that, it’s allowed us to sort of plug anything onto the end of it. And that wasn’t deliberate, but it now makes perfect sense. So currently, AIME Studios is designing the first Working From_ 25hours in Dubai and building on the existing narrative of the hotel from there.”

Working From_ cafe in Chicago

It’s evident that Ennismore is hooked on innovating the way we inhabit the hotel space and leading at the front of the curve. But what could possibly be next? I put the question back to Charlie but ask about what his personal ambitions would be. “To design something that’s very different from the day-to-day of city hotels,” he begins. Discussing luxury travel experiences in remote locations, he continues, “something experiential that’s just this incredible, almost temporary experience, tailored around knowledge and education, that would leave no trace, and be completely self-sufficient—I think that would be something really interesting.” Thinking about the bigger picture, I wonder if this is something on the drawing board for AIME Studios. Jovially, he responds, “who knows! But nothing ever surprises me with Ennismore anymore. Sharan is so ambitious, he’s got so many ideas, and he never shies away from a challenge.”

Recent projects
Gleneagles Townhouse
The Hoxton Shepherds Bush
The Hoxton Williamsburg (refresh)
The Hoxton Downtown LA (refresh)

In the pipeline
The Hoxton and Working From_ Brussels
The Hoxton Berlin
The Hoxton Vienna
The Hoxton Edinburgh


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