The Londoner, UK

1st March 2022

Blending an art gallery and a theatre within a luxurious boutique hotel, The Londoner offers guests a relaxing yet mysterious environment to unwind. Inverse Lighting Design sought to use light as a means of complementing and enhancing the decadent interiors of the hotel.

Described as ‘the world’s first super boutique hotel’, The Londoner is nestled in London’s world-famous Leicester Square, offering guests a luxurious stay with a vast array of amenities and experiences, as well as the highest levels of comfort and decadence across its 350 rooms, 35 suits, seven meeting rooms, six bars and restaurants, ballroom and Wellness Retreat.

The hotel is the latest project from the UK’s largest family-owned hotel group, Edwardian Hotels London, and was designed by architect Woods Bagot, interior designers Yabu Pushelberg and lighting designers Inverse Lighting Design to play into the roots of Leicester Square as London’s historic theatre district, with a ‘West Side Story’ narrative underpinning the guest experience.

The hotel is spread across 16 floors, but due to strict planning, restrictions limited any upwards build. This means that eight of the 16 storeys form the capital’s deepest habitable basement – the hotel was even, at one point, the largest excavation project in Europe. The bedrooms and suites remain above street level, while public areas, guest attractions and services are housed in the lower floors, with no natural light – a significant challenge from a lighting design perspective.

Edwardian Group Founder and Chairman Jasminder Singh hoped that The Londoner would be “a centrepiece and anchor of the West End; a celebration of London, its history, aesthetic and people. Stylistically, the public areas have been designed with a minimal and cohesive neutral palette, a modern British sensibility, continuous reminders to theatricality, and a sense of mystery, with nods to British humour, especially in the vast and multifaceted art collection.

“The lighting scheme reflects all of this with hints of theatrical lighting, surprising moments and a focus on the artwork,” said Nicola Agresta, Senior Lighting Designer at Inverse Lighting Design. “This has also been infused into the guest rooms, but in a more subtle way so that they are still spaces for comfort and relaxation.”

The lighting concept is based on the main themes present in Yabu Pushelberg’s interior design: theatre, mystery, and the art collection. One of the best examples of this can be found in the ground floor bar, The Stage, which references a living theatre orchestrated around a box-shaped, veiled piling with mirrored surfaces for added spectacle.

The use of surface and track mounted spotlights and framing projectors reinforces the idea of being ‘under the spotlights’, like on a real stage; the corrugated velvet walls mimic the curtains of London’s West End theatres, and the light strikes them exactly as they would theatre curtains. 

Agresta continued: “The sense of mystery is achieved by balancing focus and accents, playing with reflections and shadows, or creating moments of surprise: on the mezzanine level of The Residence, a floor dedicated exclusively to hotel guests featuring three distinctive spaces to enjoy a drink, relax and engage, the Y Bar wood panelling is neutral by day but in the evening guests are surprised every 60 minutes with vivid, illuminating illusions of artist Andrew Rae’s comic illustrations. The light is focused on the tables, leaving the rest of the bar in darkness, allowing the illuminated walls to become as visible as possible.”

Elsewhere on the mezzanine level, the Drawing Room offers guests a plush, soft environment to relax, characterised by cove and diffuse lighting that is offset with decorative floor and table lamps. Meanwhile the Whisky Room is one of The Londoner’s hidden secrets, featuring just six tables, sumptuous velvet seating and a collection of the world’s finest whiskys. The glass cabinet housing the spirits illuminates each individual bottle and is the main feature of the space, while the rest of the room is kept very dim.

On entering the hotel, visitors are greeted by a large, open space. An unobtrusive reception to the side allows for free passage through to the lounge. Lighting here keeps the atmosphere inviting with soft and integrated fixtures.

Opposite check-in and beyond the lounge is Whitcomb’s, The Londoner’s all-day restaurant. The space transforms throughout the day with two harvest tables changing for breakfast and dinner, each highlighted by the lighting. Illumination for the rest of the space is more general, owing to the flexibility of the tables.

Heading down to the basement levels, the sense of mystery is further highlighted within the Green Room – the hotel’s private club and lounge space. Fixtures hidden behind the mirrored ceiling create accents and shadow that accentuate the soft waves of curved wood panels and rich velvet seating within the space.

On level B2, the ballroom is one of the largest in a hotel in central London. A glowing halo encircles the ceiling, concealed behind a suspended metal mesh curtain – again giving the impression of theatre curtains. The ballroom comprises three layers of lighting: general, from suspended black floodlights; functional, courtesy of remote controlled spotlights; and decorative accents through RGBW glass globes, which interact with the other coloured lights in the space to create different settings.

Completing the basement levels is the Retreat, which houses a pool, treatment centre, gym and juice bar. The pool is beautifully lit from Barrisol panels in the criss-crossed ceiling for a bright yet soft atmosphere. RGBW LED strips create different settings, from warm to dim throughout the day to colourful and playful scenes for special occasions.

Above ground, The Londoner is capped off by its rooftop izakaya lounge. Upon arrival here, thick, dark wood slats stand floor-to-ceiling, revealing glimpses of the dining space. Spanning the ceiling and partitioning the dining space is a network of intricate ropes, reminiscent of the ancient Japanese art of shibari. To create a soft dining atmosphere and highlight the shibari ropes, surface-mounted spotlights graze the wood ceiling surface to diffuse the light and highlight the ropes by contrast.

Among the various bars and restaurants, the hotel also hosts a large art collection, which the lighting design team studied in great detail. From flexible spotlight solutions to dedicated picture lights in both the public spaces and guest rooms, lighting focuses on the artwork to create highlights. One of the key areas that shows this is The Gallery on level B3, where artworks rotate and alternate with empty frames: plug in spotlights have been used here to give maximum flexibility while still reducing the number of fixtures needed, accenting the artwork and playing with shadows from the empty frames to connect with the hotel’s overriding sense of mystery.

Agresta explained how throughout the project, Inverse worked closely with Yabu Pushelberg to create a lighting scheme that would enhance and complement the interior design. “We’ve always worked very closely with Yabu Pushelberg in our projects. They have a great sense of how they want the spaces to look, but they also always left us enough freedom to design our own scheme and create different moods, as long as it was coherent with the overall concept.”

With a brief that desired the contrasting feelings of theatricality and mystery with a balance of drama and functionality, Agresta highlighted some of the main challenges that the lighting design team faced in bringing the concept to life: “As the two main themes of the interior design were the connection to the West End and the sense of mystery, the main challenge in turning the brief into a reality has been trying to balance these two almost opposite directions.

“With the theatre theme, we had to show the luminaires, the spotlights and the projectors to have a direct, visual reminder. For the sense of mystery, we had to conceal the lighting fixtures, create interesting and magical moments. And obviously all of this had to fit into the guest experience of a luxurious hotel.”

With half of the hotel being situated underground, Agresta added that the lack of natural light in the front of house areas was another cause for concern. “It was a real challenge from the very beginning,” he said.

“We had to make sure that these spaces would have looked bright enough during the day to avoid a contrast too big when entering or exiting the hotel, while still looking interesting and sexy. We achieved this by creating accents, washing the corrugated velvet walls to mimic the curtains of London’s West End theatres, in connection with the theme.

“Uniform peripheral lighting on walls usually creates subjective impressions of relaxation – we used a combination of both to highlight interior design features, make the rooms feel bigger, and play with day and night scene settings.”

Control also played an integral role in achieving the required ambience throughout the hotel. As such, Inverse sought to implement a lighting control system that enabled automatic adjustments throughout the day to set the right mood for guests, but also provided the necessary reporting to ensure that any faults were reported promptly to minimise disruption to guests and operations. 

As such, the use of DALI-controlled luminaires in combination with Lutron’s lighting control system allowed the lighting designers to meet the challenging requirements of the project. The attention to detail in specifying a fully-controllable scheme led to Inverse winning the Hospitality category at the 2021 DALI Awards.

Agresta said: “The Londoner is a showcase for what the use of the latest technologies can achieve to deliver unforgettable experiences. DALI enabled us to meet the customer’s expectations, and to be able to improve on them in the future without having to change the infrastructure.”

Throughout the hotel, Inverse opted primarily for fixtures from Lucent and TM Lighting, while products from LEDFlex, iGuzzini, LightGraphix, Targetti, RCL, Cooledge and Applelec also helped achieve the required ambience of the space. Lucent in particular worked closely with Inverse to provide architectural lighting for all rooms and penthouses, including downlights, LED strips and profiles, and low level wall lights. The corridors are also lit with Lucent LED strips and downlights, with the manufacturer specifically designing a Line 1 Cell unit for this project. The façade and public areas, which rely on the mixture of dramatic and intimate light, are also lit with Lucent’s downlights.

Speaking of the specification process, Agresta added: “The lighting plays a double role in enhancing the luxurious feel of the hotel – it highlights the interior design features and the art collection, and helps to create a great atmosphere.

“All products have been specified knowing that they would ensure a great result, being good quality products. Specifically for the exposed spotlights and all the picture lights, the main reasons these have been specified were the great light quality and glare control – absolutely necessary for the guest experience – and the beautiful finishes the light fixtures can be made of, to match the rich materials specified by the interior designer.”

Looking back on the project following its completion, Agresta is satisfied that the lighting design meets the brief and the intention of the interior design, adding to the luxurious feel of the space.

He concluded: “There’s an incredible mix of feelings when you walk through the hotel: a visible connection between the exposed light fixtures, the theatrical theme and the art collection; a sense of mystery and discovery that creates interest, and an overall sense of comfort and relaxation. All of this couldn’t be possible without a methodical study of the space, and a meticulous control of the light scene settings.”

Image: Henry Bourne