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Boundary Shoreditch review by Chris Zacharia
Walking through Hackney, you can’t help but ask yourself – why is east London dominated by industrial buildings, whereas west London is spacious, green and residential? Turns out there’s a simple answer.
Noticing that the smoke which billowed from newly-built factories tended to blow eastward, the Victorians decided to establish industry in the east of the city.
That way, the rich could enjoy the clean air of west London, leaving the poor had to breath in the poisonous smog. And, comparing stately Richmond to rough-around-the-edges Barking, it’s clear that the divide between the working class East End and the leafy West is still sharp.
This old-fashioned distinction between east and west London has made the rise of Shoreditch as a centre of creativity and capital even more surprising. With its maze of red-brick warehouses and former factories, Shoreditch has pioneered urban redevelopment since the 1990s. Its industrial heritage has been retained, forming the physical framework which a new wave of businesses can occupy and rejuvenate. Art galleries inhabit depots. Restaurants spring up in disused railway stations. Raves start in old warehouses. The character of the city’s architecture survives.
The Boundary Shoreditch, across the street from Shoreditch High St station, demonstrates how this kind of regeneration can succeed. As you approach from the main road, the site’s robust red-brick facade reminds you of a lost Victorian London. Formerly a print workshop, the building is bracketed by rows of arched sash windows. It’s the sort of place which you’d regret seeing in disrepair. Two additional floors and a rooftop, set in a contemporary fusion of glass, steel and copper on the summit, bring you back into the present. But at the street-level, the building’s original aesthetic is maintained. And in a city increasingly pressed for space, ingenious elevations like this are to be welcomed.
Yet this aesthetic quality goes far beyond the exterior. The Boundary Shoreditch is a design hotel, a group handpicked for excellence in innovation, daring and quality. Led by Sir Terence Conran, The Boundary is an exemplar of British design. Launched in 2008, each of the hotel’s twelve bedrooms is inspired by a particular designer or movement. There’s a Bauhaus room, a Charles Eames room and an Andrée Putman room. From the entrance through to the basement, there’s an attention to detail which rewards curiosity. Nothing has been left to chance.
The result is a hotel which feels unusually evolved, particularly meticulous. Guided by a sense of the straightforward, there’s an unfussy simplicity which contributes to the sense of calm. The Benchmark suite, the latest addition to The Boundary Shoreditch, embodies these values perfectly. Benchmark – a furniture company founded by Conran – provide the furnishings as well as the name of the suite. A high ceiling and plentiful natural light are accentuated by sparseness. Necessity and beauty meet in the middle. Look: an oval slab of polished marble acts as a table atop a circular weave mat. A pleasingly symmetrical and restrained tripod lamp stands beside a yawning felt snuggle armchair. Cartoonesque collages of the female form punctuate the walls.
This sense of refinement is tempered by the reliance on wood, an intelligent decision which ensures the suite feels light and warm. Upstairs, on the mezzanine, a bench of yellow leather brings bravado and colour, while the charming checkerboard tiles of the spacious bathroom form the perfect backdrop to the Victorian-style standalone bathtub. Contemporary touches of luxury are well-disguised yet welcome, from the built-in speakers to the splash-catching drain space around the tub. Both television screens are ‘Smart’, too.
Although it is foremost a design hotel, the food has not been neglected. Dine on The Rooftop, and you’ll find a cosy inside space with great views of the city, and beautiful outside garden complete with sofas, heaters and two ancient olive trees. With or without the sun, this is an impressive setting for dinner. Officially a bar and grill, the Rooftop offers an informal and relaxed setting for dinner.
This winter, a focus on Alpine food has upped the chalet vibe, including a full raclette experience. Compelling charcuterie, new potatoes and foccacia provide the basis for the rich, melted pools of raclette pouring onto our plates from the heat of the grill. Scoop up a matt of saucisson, a few chunks of potato and run them through the golden pool of raclette: every mouthful is succulent and warming. A year-round orangery, with citrus trees snaking in tessellated patterns above our heads, completes the continental theme.
A sense of place comes through just as strongly at the Albion, the ground-floor level breakfast bar and diner. But whereas the Rooftop provides an outlet for escape, where exoticism is offered in place of the familiar, Albion is rooted in a sense of home. As the name suggests, British food takes centre stage. A full english breakfast arrives with homemade bubble and squeak, coarsely-ground black pudding and freshly baked bread.
The feeling of old-fashioned revival, from kippers to Oxford Sauce, continues throughout in a welcome homage to the British breakfast of old. A clean, sharp yet warm style heightens the feeling of freshness and rejuvenation, aided by the enormous windows allowing floods of light to illuminate the room. An open-plan kitchen and on-site bakery prove Albion’s dedication to craft; a neighbouring shop allows customers to purchase their favourites to take home. It is, frankly, a lovely space in which to welcome a new day.
Given Conran’s background as a highly successful restaurateur, the excellence of the food on offer here almost comes as no surprise. Yet it’s the little touches in design and decoration which truly set The Boundary apart. Hotels usually end up feeling cold and impersonal, the opposite of ‘home’. Often this is because of how the space has been organised: rows of identical rooms, stocked with identical, mass-made furniture, all arranged alike. The result is a lack of humanity, a feeling that real life is elsewhere. By designing each room individually, and populating them with bespoke furniture, The Boundary avoids this sense of rootlessness. It would be a shame, after all, if such an expressive building were to be killed from within by soulless design.
Ultimately, all ex-industrial communities have to face the same question: what should we do about the factories and warehouses now that heavy industry has gone? After the shortsightedness of the post-war years, where historic buildings were torn down heedlessly, city planners are rightly wary about losing characterful buildings. One of the joys of a city like London is being able to witness its history as you walk around; lose the ‘unnecessary’ buildings, and part of the past is lost forever.
With projects like The Boundary, these structures can find a new purpose while retaining their original character, in a collision of styles and eras producing something entirely new. There’s an essential discrepancy between the building’s exterior and interior, just as there is a contrast between its past and present. If cities are to continue to prosper, they must find better ways of using the structures inherited from a past that already seems alien. The Boundary Shoreditch shows how it can be done, blending the grandeur of the past with the comfort and playfulness of the present – and, not least, the unique character of London’s east end has been celebrated.