THE ALAN, MANCHESTER, ENGLAND
Tapping into its industrial heritage, The Alan delivers hipster vibes from its Grade II listed home. In search of some northern hospitality, SPACE pays the hotel a visit.
When the check-in desk at a hotel’s reception turns into DJ decks once the clock turns 7pm on a Saturday night you might think you’re in a nightclub in East London, Berlin or Barcelona. Wrong. You’re just in The Alan, the design-led and creatively charged hotel that opened its doors to experience-hungry travellers last May.
Brought to life by London and Barcelona-based interior design agency Red Deer, established by Lionel Real de Azúa, Ciarán O’Brien and Lucas Che Tizard (all architects and designers, but foremost friends), there is a distinct influence from both of those cities, yet the hotel feels entirely Mancunian.
Housed in a Grade II-listed restored six-storey building on Princess Street, which also has homed hotels in short stints previously, the space came with heaps of potential for creating something exciting to add to the city’s hotel scene.
Red Deer took the challenge by the horns (no pun intended) and applied their creative ethos of being driven by purpose rather than style with vigour to the project. “In the early sessions we set out our aspirations for the project to be something experimental, fresh, and agreed that our appetite for trying new things was high,” says Ciarán O’Brien, lead designer on the project. “We were interested in finding value where it was lost, being playful with form and providing an offering that was unexpected and new in the Manchester scene.”
By exposing the building’s modest beginnings – the historic brickwork, the stonework and the honest marks of craftmanship – they have been able to pay homage to the building’s rich heritage and bring the interiors back to life.
The aim of the project was to counteract the wastefulness of the construction industry, by creating intriguing touchpoints that celebrate the inherent value found in old materials that may be classed by some as ‘defective’ or ‘broken’. When viewed individually, these materials seem to be useless, but make sense in the space when they flow together as one. This theme subtly refers to how as people we are made up of a collage of personal stories – some good and some bad, but all playing a part in who we are.
The journey starts by entering the huge, upper-ground floor reception space that houses the bar, restaurant and lobby in one. The three seamlessly blend and are married by a dusky and minty colour palette, exposed features from the building’s industrial history (think brick, air vents and steel burners), and an absolutely striking floor made from a collage of fragmented and discarded marble pieces.
“I had always been acutely aware of how wasteful the construction industry is,” says O’Brien about the floor. “ and I decided to celebrate the inherent value still found in these marble pieces, despite typically being considered as offcuts or ‘defective’.”
Let’s start in the restaurant, which received rave reviews by The Observer’s Jay Rayner and is headed up by head chef Iain Thomas (formerly at the Edinburgh Castle in Ancoats). It is a lovely intimate space yet teeming with buzz. There’s an open kitchen to see the chefs in action from tall bar seats; giant windows bathing the space in natural light; a handful of crescent booths with low-hanging pendant lights providing atmospheric lighting when darkness falls; and there’s a tremendous, fringed chandelier in a deep olive-green hovering over a large communal dining table.
Opposite, you can find the bar, which carries similar seating and design, but features a terrazzo bar front made by artist Robin Grasby. Inspired by the M62 motorway that orbits Manchester, it is made from reclaimed and recycled marble and has cigarette butts, weeds, and flowers all set in a resin to reflect what can be found on the side of the road.
Heading towards the lift, the modest check-in desk sits between the bar and the restaurant. Here, guests are encouraged to sit down on the chaise, look up, and take in the view through the six-storey original atrium. Painted in a pale pink, the effect is fabulous – dusky and bright during the day and sensually lit by the lighting from each floor at night. It’s clear that there’s been an intentional effort to reuse and upcycle as much of the materials as possible, and to repair and refresh existing parts of the building.
Above follows five floors housing the 137 guest rooms, divided into six categories: The Original; The Original Double; The Standard; The Midi; The Master; and The Alan Suites (corner-suites with floor-to-ceiling views of the city). Each cohesively designed, and strikingly stylish, it is mainly the size, view and amenities that set them apart.
The rooms have a distinctly residential feel. Think soft shaggy rugs resting on wooden flooring and modern lounge furniture to collapse into after a long journey. Amenities include giant opaque teacups for making a much-needed hot drink and a seriously comfortable bed which is as wide as it is long (they are Emperor sized after all), clad in Egyptian cotton. It’s giving comfort, it’s giving homely, it’s giving indulgence. Functional and uncomplicated, it’s everything you need and want from a hotel room.
The style is a mix of mid-century modern and Scandi minimalist. Discussing the guestroom designs, Red Deer commented “We opened them up to expose their original heritage features such as historic brickwork, pitted stonework, and the true tall proportions of the room.”
Colours seen in the public spaces are revisited in the rooms. Dusky pinks, ice cream mint greens, and charcoal greys are visible on walls, bed sheets and furniture, creating a cohesive design story. Meanwhile, nods to the building’s industrial heritage are most noticeable in the room’s details: the exposed wiring, pipes and vents in the ceiling; the concrete effect on the walls; and (our favourite), the light switch styled in the shape of a gas-pipe switch. According to Red Deer, the living functions of the rooms were accentuated by creating a long terrazzo shelf (the same creation as the bar front downstairs by Robin Grasby), hyper domestic lounge furniture and light fittings crafted around waste materials with a kinetic playfulness.
Speaking of the lighting, these were custom-made by artist Mika Kaski, who works with marble and combines them with wood, stone, ceramics and metal to design shapes and lighting which integrates with the environment. In addition to creating the kinetic light fittings in the ground floor public areas, she was responsible for putting together the swivel lights for the in-room desk space and the alabaster bedside lights. Mika’s lights really help transform the energy of the room, depending on how you are feeling.
As for the bathrooms, the design story continues with industrial, modern and residential accents. We’re talking marble flooring, glazed 60’s-styled tiles in a quiet beige (it really shouldn’t work, but it totally does), black bathroom fittings and circular anti-steam mirrors. Channelling the open and informal style of artist warehouses, Red Deer have created a vanity unit that performed as partition, storage unit and sink area, which is an interesting sculptural object in itself.
The Alan’s name might give average Joe associations, but we can assure you that the interior design and overall feel of this lovely hotel are anything but. The way the dreamy colour choices, the soft furnishing, and the curved shapes apparent in everything from furniture to art, contrast the harsher industrial backdrop is genius and well worth a visit to experience.
Owner: Amardeep Chima/Aspen Hotels
Archetecture/Interior Design: Red Deer
Rooms: 137 Keys