A Victorian railway hotel has been transformed by the interiors and hospitality design practice into a sumptuous and elegant true destination.
Words by Emily Martin
Images by Gareth Gardner & Principal
Bar and restaurant design: Michaelis Boyd Associates
Architect: 3D Reid
Interior design: Goddard Littlefair
Size: 2,836 sq m
Duration: Two years
Goddard Littlefair has redesigned the interiors of a former railway hotel, as originally created by architect William Peachey in 1878, in the historic city of York. The Principal York, as it is now called, is a magnificent Grade II-listed hotel, complete with beautiful gardens and views over York Minster. Goddard Littlefair was charged with delivering a fitting design scheme for its public spaces, including the lobby, reception, Garden Room, entrances and corridor spaces, as well as its 159 guest rooms and suites.
‘Our overall ambition was to breathe life back into every artery of the hotel’s interior,’ Goddard Littlefair director and co-founder Jo Littlefair says, ‘giving a nod to tradition and heritage, but also creating a tremendously warm, light and welcoming contemporary environment for guests. We were briefed to reinstate the hotel’s essential character and to pay respect to its original architecture, while at the same time ensuring a feeling of comfort and restfulness, so that The Principal York was once again a true destination hotel.’
The Garden Room is long, light and elegant with Chesterfields, wing chairs and marble-top tables
The full design team on the project also included Michaelis Boyd Associates, which redesigned the hotel’s bar and restaurant, while architecture practice 3D Reid oversaw the project’s structural work. Goddard Littlefair’s central design concept was to create a softer interpretation of a country house, featuring over-scaled furniture such as large wing chairs, to ensure an instant feeling of welcome, combined with a light and soothing colour palette. Similarly, the furniture is in colours such as tan, buff and charcoal, with small amounts of texture and pattern for added interest.
View from the hotel’s Promenade, looking at seating in the new reception area
The whole scheme features a series of antique items, including old trunks. The furniture throughout is bespoke to ensure a unique environment, which is part of the Goddard Littlefair design approach: designing with location, function and end-user in mind, while embodying a location-specific exclusivity.
The hotel’s reception is now in its own side room
The hotel originally had two entrances, with the first on the garden side of the hotel for guests arriving by coach or car and a rather secondary entrance on the other side for guests arriving by rail, with the station platforms being just metres away. One of the first key elements of Goddard Littlefair’s new plan was to ensure both entrances were of equal importance so that all guests had a real sense of arrival, with both routes quickly joining one of two main public space circulation areas: the Promenade or the Colonnade.
Seating in the Lobby Lounge, which features the building’s original columns with ornate capitals
The Colonnade space now gives a previously lacking real sense of arrival for guests arriving from the railway station. Ten custom-made, antique-effect mirrors line the space, while glass and brass pendant lanterns add more light and warmth.
The Colonnade, through which guests enter from the nearby railway station, is lined with tall mirrors
Littlefair says: ‘We provided a striking and dramatic entrance corridor to the Colonnade from the railway-side entrance. This is lined with 4.5m-high mirrors and was a major feat of engineering to create and make stable.’
Sumptuous bespoke high-backed wing chairs, in mink-brown leather, feature along with tables and lamps. Cushions in green silk velvet with an oyster silk band, echoing the band on the curtains. The carpet is a bespoke design for the project, by Goddard Littlefair in conjunction with Brintons – as are the carpets throughout the project. A discreet concierge station awaits guests at the top of the Colonnade, so that guests arriving this way can be accompanied to the reception room.
The building’s staircase is an elegant focal point, along with a bespoke chandelier
The Promenade, which meets the Colonnade at a T-junction at its top end, runs the full width of the ground-floor area. It features the same pendant lights as the Colonnade and teams brass top-lit light fittings with artworks, as well as a Brintons’ grey carpet with a darker border.
Opening up views throughout the space was key and two new entrances were cut into the Garden Room, alongside three more into the relocated reception area, flooding the ground floor with natural light. ‘It was a major challenge creating light and flow to the ground-floor public spaces, but visitors can now easily see all the wonderful, inviting spaces and the gardens beyond, with views over to York Minster,’ says Littlefair. ‘This also brought much-needed light to the whole central core.’ The new public and lounge spaces are bright and generously proportioned and form a fabulously light and welcoming space for guests to sit, eat, drink and relax in.
Suites in the hotel, featuring wool throws from Bute Fabrics
The new reception is located next to the garden entrance and is spacious and light, and features two large desks designed to resemble giant trunks, while a bookcase displays framed vintage keys. A separate seating area has wingback chairs arranged around a newly installed fireplace.
The Lobby Lounge and Garden Room spaces are two light-filled spaces sitting at the heart of the new scheme. The Lobby Lounge boasts handsome original columns with ornate capitals, all of which have been refurbished, as well as containing the hotel’s dramatic staircase. A triple-tiered bespoke chandelier, made up of faceted, cut crystal baguettes set within bronze frames, hangs down through the stairwell. Goddard Littlefair developed, together with Heathfield, the chandeliers for both the Lobby Lounge and Garden Room.
Suites in the hotel, featuring wool throws from Bute Fabrics
The Garden Room is a particular highlight of the final design and is a beautiful, long, light and elegant space, complete with Chesterfield sofas, wing chairs and marble-topped tables.
Tall plan chests around the edges of the room conceal waiter stations, as well as refrigerated drawers and storage space for point-of-sale materials. Oiled oak flooring from Havwoods with a ‘sawn’ surface to deliver an informal, not-overly-polished look feature both in the Garden Room and Lobby Lounge.
This Junior Suite has views to the York Minster
‘I’m definitely most pleased with the Garden Room; it’s really satisfying to see a space so completely transformed,’ says Littlefair. ‘The real key to making it successful, beyond the two new entrances, was the decision to take the reception out of the centre of the ground-floor space and into its own side room, because the “business” of arrival was killing the whole area.
The beautiful, dramatic staircase is now the heart of the hotel and all the social, grand spaces that spill off it.’
The hotel’s own archives were thoroughly investigated too in the search for treasure from the past, revealing such gems as a collection of old thank-you letters from the Thirties to the Fifties, which have been displayed in the corridor approaching the restaurant. Upstairs, the guest suites boast great proportions; plenty of natural light and a natural elegance with their high ceilings. Each comprises a sitting area with bespoke sofa, bedroom and bathroom.
Bathrooms in the hotel’s suites feature standalone roll-top baths and marble floors
The design accent here is on relaxation, answering a brief to be residential in feel and scale, so that guests feel instantly at ease. A dado rail and wood panelling adds warmth, while fabric headboards add softness with their concertina design. Soft wool throws, bespoke-designed for the project, use Bute Fabrics. Bathrooms feature a roll-top standalone bath, marble flooring and bespoke washstand and mirror in pre-aged timber.
‘This project has been a great experience for us,’ says Littlefair. ‘It has been incredibly rewarding and we feel privileged to have been involved. We love restoration projects and challenges – particularly, as here, when we can address the whole space, be creative and successfully breathe new life into a property.’