The Boundary Hotel opened back in 2008 in Shoreditch and is now a vital part of the life and vibrancy of the area. It all seems so simple now. Plant a boutique hotel cum quality culinary experience smack bang in the cool but slightly rough around the edges Shoreditch and wait for that till to ring. And with the track record of Terence Conran along with partner Vicki and the assured presence and creativity of Peter Prescott this was an obvious recipe for success right?
Well, as is often the case, what seems easy and obvious in hindsight in reality was anything but. The trio took a calculated risk and then worked dammed hard to get everything just right from concept to execution. We spoke to Peter Prescott about how to take an idea, give it life and then bring it into the world for others to enjoy.
When was the concept for the Boundary first hatched and how long did it take to come to fruition?
Our first viewing of the original building was in January 2006 and we eventually opened on New Year’s Eve 2008. From the moment we entered the building Terence and I had a good idea of what could be achieved, but it went through innumerable changes along the way, and it took a few years for our visions to become a reality.
How important was the area to you? Why did you want to create the Boundary in Shoreditch?
We were attracted by the local community, both residential and the people working in the creative industries. The mindset of the people living and working in the area is the same as ours – it has a very independent nature. Back then there were a few interesting retailers and bars / clubs and we saw great potential. It has been pleasing to see the area grow and I am also very proud to see that Redchurch Street was recently voted one of the best retail destinations in London.
What came first the concept or the building?
It was a bit of both at the same time. In fact, we were originally looking for two smaller spaces. One for a very smart French restaurant and one for a café, bakery and shop concept that has subsequently become Albion. When we first saw the building it was clear that we could combine the two – the impressive floor to ceiling height and the great brick alcoves would be ideal for the restaurant and the huge windows and light at the ground floor would be perfect for Albion. Initially, we were only going to take these two floors, but thanks to Terence’s ambition (and financing) it was too difficult to resist the draw of something much bigger.
You created the Boundary in partnership with Terence and Vicki Conran. Do you work with Terence and Vicki on a day to day basis? How does it feel working with such a lifestyle/design legend?
As with any new project or initiative we worked very closely and spoke constantly. Before we opened Boundary we took a couple of trips together, spending a few long weekends at Terence and Vicki’s home in the country. We would spend days on end talking about room layouts, bathroom fittings, restaurant and kitchen design details, menus, table cloths, staff uniforms and the like. It was almost endless. However, it was also a very pleasant experience as both Terence and Vicki are very generous and we often enjoyed delicious meals and fantastic wine while working. I distinctly remember a trip to their beautiful house in Provence – we worked the entire time, but it still felt like a great holiday. Just last week we were in Paris talking about another project.
With the Boundary what was your ambition? What was it that you most wanted to achieve?
Of course, we wanted a commercially viable business, which certainly wasn’t guaranteed in Shoreditch back in 2005. Initially, several of our advisers and friends were very concerned about the location. However, we also wanted to make a statement and it was a great opportunity to convert a rare former light industrial building into something modern and exciting.
Who thought of the name the Boundary and what was the idea behind that name?
After removing a few layers in the basement we found three impressive boundary stones (an image of them now appears on the restaurant menu cover) that marked the point that divided public land and council land. Boundary Street is also the boundary between the two boroughs; Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Terence ultimately decided on the name but it is probably fair to say that it was a relatively easy decision.
Is the audience what you expected or have you been surprised by the people you’ve attracted to the concept?
At the time we were opening there was a bit of a trend for local operators to be snooty about certain groups or dress codes. We’ve always been the arch opposite of this. In fact, I think the sign of a great restaurant is a busy room with cosmopolitan diners. As Boundary has several different and diverse components across the building it is easier to attract a broader range of people. Plus, I’d hope that good food and service without pretension is appealing to everybody.
You have allowed other design groups to have input particularly with the guest rooms? Was that an important part of the ethos behind the Boundary?
While there were different designers and influences, Terence oversaw everything. These were styles and directions that we admired and it was always felt that the contrast would be complementary and appealing. Terence did allow Sir David Tang and I to work together on one of the suites without him getting too involved. I thoroughly enjoyed this element as David insisted that we spent some time together in Hong Kong and Beijing so that I would be able to fully understand his design philosophy.
Do you find some customers only want certain rooms? Or do they want to try the different styles?
Very much so, to both questions. We’ve got a few guests that have tried almost every room and some that insist on their favourites. This does make the whole experience very personal and I think it is a major contributor to our success.
Who came up with the idea of the roof garden and why is it such an intrinsic part of The Boundary?
Terence, Vicki and I have been involved with successful Rooftop restaurants / bars before and have always liked the idea that there is a green oasis where you can enjoy a cold drink above the hustle and bustle below.
Art also features as an important part of the Boundary concept. Why did you feel that Art should take such a role in the whole Boundary concept? And who chose the artworks?
Food and art are natural partners and intrinsically linked. Equally, a great bedroom suite is always much better when the art has been carefully selected and is personal to the space. I was astonished to recently hear an executive from a major hotel group say how their corporate strategy is to have the same art in the bedrooms whether you are in London or New York. Vicki Conran deserves all of the credit for the art. In particular, I think the Chris Levine light sculpture in the bar and the Adam Simpson interiors for the lifts are a constant joy.
The Albion is very relaxed laid back affair whereas the Boundary Restaurant and Rooftop Bar and Grill are much more full-on sensory restaurant experiences.
We want the whole building to be enjoyed by the local community and neighbourhood. Some people might only use one part and others will call in to Albion for a breakfast meeting or a simple supper while also taking a drink on the Rooftop and having a gourmet experience in the restaurant. Surprisingly, a fair few local residents have also stayed in the hotel as part of a special treat, when celebrating a birthday or important occasion.
You have a new head chef, Frederick Forster, who’s in charge of the menus for the Boundary Restaurant and Rooftop Bar and Grill. What do you think Frederick will add to the feel and direction of The Boundary on the food side?
First, Frederick is one of the most talented chefs I have ever worked with. Before Frederick started with us he did a huge amount of homework on the project and we talked endlessly about different ingredients and recipes. One day I brought in about 30 cookery books so that we could discuss various elements and plan the future. However, since Frederick has started with us he has eclipsed and improved everything I had in mind. I certainly feel that Frederick has upped the overall quality of the food and menus while also retaining our quite forthright views. I think this has rubbed off on other elements of the hotel. Frederick’s food is attractive, delicious and I really enjoy the fact that he, like me, abhors overwrought dishes. His food delivers gutsy flavours from brilliantly sourced ingredients while also being sophisticated. I’m a big fan – as you might be able to tell.
Is the Boundary now complete in your mind? Or are there major developments to come?
It will never be complete. We are always adding, changing and creating new things. Whether it is the gradual accretion of new art or books for the bedrooms or new graphics, it should always be evolving. In spring next year we are launching a new restaurant on the rooftop and changing the garden.
For more information go to www.theboundary.co.uk