The Hoxton, Brussels, Belgium

Posted in Projects on 23 July, 2023

Brutalism meets botany at the latest Hox, which is only a couple of hours from London by rail. Karen Bamford had a ticket to ride.

The Hoxton’s introduction of The Good Rate, which rewards guests who travel more sustainably between Hox hotels, is a scheme with which I was happy to get on board. It also presented the ideal opportunity to hop on the Eurostar at London’s St Pancras International and head to The Hoxton, Brussels, which had opened just two days earlier on 22 May.

The European rail industry has undergone a resurgence in recent years, supported by a growing awareness of the environmental impact of the carbon-heavy travel industry and the rising trend of slow travel. The railway renaissance is likely to be boosted by geopolitical developments, such as the EU’s plans to double high-speed rail traffic by 2030 and France’s recent ban on some short-haul domestic flight routes.

No doubt The Good Rate will strike a chord with travellers wishing to reduce their carbon footprint while benefiting from the deal, which sees The Hoxton take £20/$20/€20 off the stay at each location booked as part of a multi-Hox trip navigated by rail.

My journey was quick (a little less than two hours), convenient and oh-so comfortable in Eurostar Business Premier class that it was easy to count the advantages over flying. From Brussels Midi, a 10-minute tram ride followed by a five-minute walk through a cobbled area of the city’s botanical gardens took me to the door of The Hoxton’s newest hotel.

The Hoxton, Brussels, Belgium. Above: Room style: Biggy. Top: Lobby detail

Located in the iconic brutalist-style Victoria Tower and bordering the botanical gardens, the hotel brings something entirely new to the capital’s hospitality landscape, with its fluid, open-door hospitality, unique dining concepts and striking 1970s brutalism-meets-botany aesthetic.

It was this aesthetic that I was keen to experience. Sure, the 22-storey building that was previously the European headquarters of IBM has, in parts, been stripped back to its skeletal materials. And yes, the sustainability minded Hox brand makes an ideal (flower)-bed fellow for the gardens next door. But to what extent had the design team allowed brutalism and botany to collide? I was about to find out.

Designed by AIME Studios, the hotel’s interiors reimagine classic 1970s design, underpinned by brutalist silhouettes and motifs. Polished plaster walls and bold geometric forms offer a striking backdrop to an eclectic collection of vintage furniture sourced predominantly from Belgian flea markets and antique stores. Pops of saturated green, midnight blue and yellow, and bespoke murals commissioned from Brussels-based artists Madeleine Schilling and Claire de Quenetain add vibrancy to the layered design narrative.

An abundance of houseplants – mostly larger species such as monstera and palms but also cacti, aloe and asparagus ferns – give a sense that the botanical gardens have naturalised inside. They soften hard lines and hedge around clusters of seating, adding to a sense of privacy. Trailing foliage, presumably faux, cascades overhead, creating a forest-like effect in the double-height lobby.

Upper Lobby (left) and Lower Lobby (right)

Stepping into the lobby, it’s immediately clear that the IBM office days are long gone. We are in funk central. The atmosphere is so relaxed, I almost want to collapse with relief onto one of the many comfy sofas. Sitting politely upright while avoiding the condescension of a concierge is definitely not the vibe here. The mismatched yet sumptuous décor declares this is the place to be seen, to be yourself, to hang out with friends.

There’s a retro-inspired coffee bar that transforms into a cocktail spot by night and on the third day of opening, Brussels’ newest communal living room is already buzzing with hipsters, working or chatting in cosy groupings on vintage-style armchairs and sofas. Pendant lamps in the form of huge halos appear to float above clusters of seating. Their textured tubular structure references industrial substructures but their paper-thin construction lightens the mood.

The Hox Gallery, a staple of the brand that acts as a platform for local artists and creatives, is to one side of the lounge where I found Brussels-based visual artist Bieke Buckinx sitting with friends. Known for her colour-popping figurative style, underlined by a touch of playfulness and humour that seeks to find beauty in the banality of everyday objects and themes, Bieke is the first artist to be showcased at the gallery.

Her three-piece artwork, ‘Great We’ll Take Everything, Thanks’, was inspired by the hotel’s relaxed Peruvian-styled restaurant.

“It’s about when we eat with friends and share food and say, ‘we’ll take everything’. My goal is to make something positive,” she told me.

Her upbeat attitude is reflected by the fact that the artwork, with its title running across the bottom of the three pieces, is priced as three separate paintings – a fact she hadn’t considered until I pointed it out. She shrugged. The work must be affordable to younger buyers and she’s happy for them to go individually, breaking up the text, or as a whole. After a previous exhibition, she cut a vast painting into pieces that were more home-sized and wallet friendly.

She chose another painting for The Hox, titled ‘That’s Life’, depicting an animated man with a beer glass, because it reflects the atmosphere of the hotel.

Other artworks around the building were curated in collaboration with NATIONA(A)L, a non-profit association that provides visibility and support to local artists and cultural initiatives.

Cantina Valentina showcases Peru’s deep-rooted wealth and flamboyant style

Beyond the lounge and bar is Cantina Valentina, which evokes a typical Peruvian village restaurant, with mixed tableware, heirlooms and family photos on the wall. It also showcases Peru’s deep-rooted wealth and flamboyant style, with artisan glassware, lavish fabrics and eccentric vases with colourful bouquets. For me, the highlights were a gently jungle-themed mural, vast rattan lamps with flat petals that skimmed the ceiling, plus the quinoa breakfast pancakes with berries.

I also enjoyed a unique cocktail of tequila, mezcal, hibiscus and a special ingredient from local supplier, Rish Kombucha, which has brewed an exclusive Hox blend, Tiger Tears, based on the distinctive flavours of the Peruvian classic tiger’s milk.

Guests travel to other areas of the hotel via smart lifts that require them to first select the floor they want. Then they are directed to the elevator that will take them to their destination with the fewest number of stops. There are 198 bedrooms, which are divided into three categories, Cosy, Roomy and Biggy. I stayed on the 20th floor in a Roomy Corner, with floor-to-ceiling, full width windows providing sensational views of the botanical gardens and cityscape in two directions.

The designers opted for retro tones and raw materials, with high lacquered finishes, velvet upholstery, pink marble accents, walnut cabinetry and graphic rugs, and the windows are framed by the original concrete window architraves. A colour palette of pinks, blues and ochre aim to create a dark, moody vibe. For my taste, the 1970s inspiration took us a tad too far towards old school B&B when it could have been more fun and funky. That said, there were little surprises to raise a smile in the shape of an adorable vintage telephone and an at-first-glance charmless upholstered cream chair that swivelled to reveal its wild side – a tiger print panel on the back.

Room style Roomy

If the views provided the wow factor, the bathroom unleashed a cheery whoop, with a bang-on-trend pink suite. The pedestal washbasin was the subject of nostalgic chatter among guests, although I’d secretly hoped others would reveal theirs were coloured avocado or brown, just for laughs. However, the pink contrasted boldly with deep blue metro tiles and oversized terrazzo flooring. A retro ribbed glass panel in the bathroom door chimed nicely with the room’s tumblers.

I appreciated the simple-switch, non-blinding lighting when I needed the bathroom in the night. But the price to pay for this was inadequate illumination by which to apply makeup. With no vanity unit in the bedroom, I had to haul an occasional table and stool in front of a mirror in the bedroom, and a colleague whose room lacked these furnishing simply sat on her bed with a hand mirror.

All was forgiven, however, because the most crucial element – a superbly comfortable bed with fine linen – together with effective blackout curtains ensured a great night’s sleep. What a shame then to wake up and lose some of that sense of luxury by gazing up at the exposed concrete above the windows. I admire the sustainability ethos of leaving the architraves naked, and in other areas of the hotel the texture of exposed concrete adds brutalist-style interest, but the sheer heft of these left me thinking about bombed-out buildings. Still, it’s an easy matter to draw back the curtains and drink in more of that fabulous view.

Tope, the hotel’s rooftop Mexican-style restaurant and terrace

There’s even more of the skyline to enjoy at Tope, the hotel’s rooftop Mexican-style restaurant and terrace. The outside space is protected from the elements by high transparent barriers and has a mix of seating arrangements including cosy booths with upholstered benches.

My group dined privately at The Apartment, The Hoxton’s signature events and meeting concept, on the ground floor. Set around a central pantry, the flexible space comprises a dining room, living room and playroom, which can be hired individually for intimate dinners, workshops and meetings, or taken as a whole for parties that spill out onto the private terrace. This homely space is light years away from traditional MICE rooms, with its warm colours, SMEG fridge and plants, and feels like a place where creativity could thrive.

Whether for work or play, travelling by rail to The Hoxton proves that sometimes life is about the journey AND the destination. |

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