MELIÁ WHITE HOUSE, LONDON, ENGLAND
A star-shaped hotel is sparkling again after a major refurbishment. Karen Bamford visits this art deco landmark.
It’s easy to go with the flow at London’s Melia White House where a £40 million refurbishment has created multi-purpose spaces that lead naturally from one to another without doors or barriers. The effect is relaxed, light and carefree, as I discovered during a two-night stay in March.
The Grade II-listed art deco building’s curiously star-shaped footprint lends itself perfectly to the new design concept. Each of the six wings point away from the centre of the nine-storey hotel and is lined by row upon row of metal-framed art deco windows. By keeping the layout as open as possible, the design team have ensured daylight floods the interior as the sun moves across the multi-faceted building.
Not known for my sense of direction, I ran the risk of being bamboozled by this hotel, with every wing at an unconventional angle. However, the flowing layout, clear sight lines and relatively short points of the star kept things simple, with each destination in easy reach of the bank of lifts. As a lone traveller, who has previously had an unfortunate experience in a hotel corridor, I felt safer here than I’ve done in probably any other hotel, especially those with long gloomy stretches of guestrooms disappearing around corners.
The building survived World War II unscathed thanks to its unique shape. During the Blitz, the Luftwaffe used it as a landmark by which to navigate while on bombing missions and Meliá White House is now one of the few London hotels that preserves its architectural value as a prime example of late 1930s architecture.
The White House first opened in 1936 as an apartment building of 758 luxury homes. An imposing entrance hall opened to a lounge, which led to a restaurant, swimming pool and squash courts. The building also included a bar, shops and a roof garden. With these facilities and a position at the head of Great Portland Street and on the edge of Regent’s Park, the White House was one of the most exclusive addresses in London. Membership of the White House Club meant that non-residents could also access the facilities.
From 1959, new owners started its conversion to a hotel and by 1970 the transformation was mostly complete but with one wing retained for permanent residents. From 1972 to 1999 it was owned by the Rank Organisation. In 1999 it was bought by the current owner, Spanish hotel group Meliá Hotels Internationals, and renamed Meliá White House.
The recent refurbishment was conceived by ASAH (Alvaro Sans Hotel Architecture), which was tasked with transforming the 4-star hotel (there’s no longer a pool) into a property that matches 21st century trends and standards. All the spaces are multi-functional and there are no areas for a specific use.
“The challenge was important since we had to redistribute the entire hotel, changing all its previous uses. New reception location, new lobby bar in the former administration area, extension of the restaurant unifying the two existing kitchens and integrating one of them into the restaurant, and seven new meeting rooms,” said Alvaro Sans, ASAH.
“Each space is designed to be part of the adjoining space and part of the entire main floor. There are no doors, there are no barriers, the client flows and feels comfortable in any space, where at any given moment anything can happen.”
On my arrival at Meliá White House, I ‘flowed’ across the white Macael marble floor of the lobby and ‘trickled’ down a few steps towards the row of reception consoles. Named after the town of Macael in Almería, Spain, this marble is also known as white gold and perhaps that’s why its pure white glow complements the gold detailing of the reception area so perfectly. It also contrasts dramatically with the strips of semi-dark walnut wood that run vertically across the consoles.
A ‘meander’ to one side and back up a step or two lead me to ’35 Bar & Lounge where the 1930s vibe is most pronounced. Bar stools in wine-red velvet reflect London’s relationship to theatre and musicals. More of the city’s favoured walnut wood darkens the area and the bar narrowly escapes the feel of a gentlemen-only club. Instead, the space is refreshed by the abundant use of a wide variety of houseplants, all living healthily, many trailing and genuinely doing their own thing rather than being manicured to unrealistic perfection, or worse still, plastic.
The bar has five columns, creating semi-intimate niches but never dominating the sight line. Some elevations are mirrored, others have open shelves or closed shelving displaying an interesting array of vases and vessels in different colours and textures. For me, the setting was less old school and more retro 1970s. While the drinks were elegantly served (I had a non-alcoholic gin cocktail followed by Champagne), the food was a modern British-Spanish blend (Padron peppers followed by fish and chips with a side of chilli-spiked tenderstem broccoli).
All the lighting is indirect, with every single lamp signed by a well-known designer. The bar and lounge are bathed in gold, giving the sensation of candlelight. Much of the furniture was designed by ASAH.
The hotel’s 581 guestrooms and suites have also been redesigned. I stayed in The Level Junior Suite – The Level being Melia White House’s highly personalised service with access to private hotel spaces such as The Level Lounge. This includes a discreet private entrance to the hotel, but from the ’35 Bar & Lounge I ‘flowed’ behind the reception consoles to a grand lobby with lifts.
A sea change is immediately felt in The Level areas where the new design places velvet sofas in soft grey with wood painted in aquamarine. ASAH was seeking to create a chic London atmosphere with the addition of the little seen but much yearned for blue of the Mediterranean that was described by travellers such as Lord Byron.
The effect is light and breezy, with touches of humour in artwork featuring portraits of serious faced people in historic dress blowing gum. Giraffes and other wild animals are painted wearing Elizabethan ruffs and puffed sleeves – a nod to London Zoo in neighbouring Regent’s Park and referencing London’s royal heritage.
The philosophy of flowing, open space was evident in my suite too. On entering there were a table and chairs, coffee machine, fridge and clothes storage area (with open hanging space) to my left, and an extra-long sofa with a cosy throw blanket, extravagantly large marble-topped coffee table and TV to my right. Beyond these was a wide opening leading to the simple sleeping area and high window. This could be separated from the living space by pulling across a pale grey velvet curtain. Initially I’d thought I’d pull the curtain when I went to bed to make it cosier, but I didn’t feel the need, or wish to tangle with fabric in the dark.
My only niggle was that on my first night I couldn’t find a panel to adjust the room’s temperature, which was far too hot. I’d expected it to be by the door and having got into bed on the side furthest from the window, I’d not noticed it on the other side.
Back in the living area, a second curtain was pulled open to reveal the bathroom. White marble floor tiles, white wall tiles, a free-standing tub and vast mirrors all added to the brightness of the space, while black metal vanity legs, tap, marble shelf and tumblers, gave it a contemporary edge. They also tied in nicely with the black metal frames around the obscured glass shower and toilet cubicle doors, which linked the concept back to the 1930s and the hotel’s art deco windows.
In the morning I took the lift back to the grand lobby and flowed towards The Level’s exclusive reception area, desks with iMacs that are available for guests to use, and lounge where breakfast is served.
The Level Lounge is bright, refreshing and calm, in soft aqua with pops of tangerine. Was it genius or good luck how the tangerine-coloured chairs below the windowsill picked up the flame leaves of Red Robin shrubs growing directly outside and the terracotta brickwork of a building opposite? Even more houseplants were thriving in The Level Lounge, no doubt loving the natural light that filled the room.
An abundance of delicious breakfast fare was beautifully arranged on counters and islands, with plenty of space for guests to move between them. In the early evening it is replaced with complimentary tapas and an astonishing selection of drinks for The Level guests to help themselves to. Probably my favourite area of the hotel, the lounge was an uplifting place to read, nibble and generally ready yourself for the day.
The Melia White House hotel is ideally placed to access London’s business districts and local attractions. I walked the tiny distance to Regent’s Park, a must for anyone and especially if, like me you happen coincidentally to be reading a book set entirely in and around the park during your stay (The Keys to the Square by Ruth Rendell).
The hotel is served by three underground stations. I arrived at Warren Street and intended to leave by Great Portland Street (opposite the hotel) but there’d been an incident, and so I walked the very short distance to Regent’s Park station.
For a well-connected, comfortable stay, with neo art deco touches, Melia White House gets a gold star-shaped sticker from me!