Chetwood Associates'Zetter Hotel, created in a former Clerkenwell warehouse, balances a modern agenda with its quirky industrial character The name Zetter comes from the football pools organisation, whose warehouse this building once was. Located in a Conservation Area in London's Clerkenwell, it is a pleasingly solid building, little touched on the exterior by the architect in its new incarnation as a hotel. Signage is minimal. The main change is a newly worked entrance to the south, on Clerkenwell Road, with pavement level rising by around 1m along the eastern perimeter to the cul-de-sac of St John's Square at the rear.
Landscaping of this perimeter by Gross Max will allow the ground floor restaurant to spill out on to the pavement in fine weather, once the delayed infrastructure works by the local authority are complete. The entrance sets the tone of this modern conversion. It is a modest-sized space, kept uncluttered, double-height with a balconied area above reception that is an office; space is not wasted.
Inside, there was not a lot of historic interior that might have been articulated, although there were old pools machines in the basement. Structurally, there are a major crosswall and a row of cruciform cast iron columns running front-to-back, the columns now given one hour fire protection by intumescent coating, then overpainted. Original domestic-scale sashes remain at upper levels.
The plan is deep and non-orthogonal, but Chetwood Associates has been able to carve out a clear logic while retaining a sense of the original building's quirks.
The front-to-back crosswall largely defines the entrance space and is the transition line on which the architect has dealt with the 1m height difference across the site.
A spiral stair, hung from the ceiling, leads up to the restaurant level (and down to the basement). For the less-ambulantly able, the two-sided lifts take people up to the atrium/restaurant level.
This atrium is pivotal to the layout, especially at the higher, residential levels. The old brickwork of the crosswall is exposed as it rises through the building. At ground floor level the atrium's role is less central, providing a small bar-space which feels a bit cut off, not helped by being serviced from a hatch in the restaurant's bar. But the restaurant is the main public space, very much aimed at people locally, not just hotel residents. Clients Mark Sainsbury and Michael Benyan are proprietors of the nearby Moro restaurant.
The restaurant has excellent daylight, provided by galvanised industrial-scale sash windows which replace a variety of other fenestration. From the practice that brought us the Heath Robinson-meets-Modernism of the Butterfly House (AJ 18.12.03), it is not surprising to find some clever, though here discreet, mechanisms. For each of the large wall openings in this high-ceilinged restaurant space there is a fixed light about 800mm deep at top and bottom. In between, a counterbalanced sash, about 2.5x2.5m, can lower 400mm to leave a high-level ventilation slot, or rise 800mm. That produces an open slot at eye level when seated, providing fine-weather connection with the outdoors and its forthcoming pavement tables area.
The kitchen is positioned in an alcove so that, as at Moro, the sight and sounds of the kitchen are partly on show. Located towards the back of the building, it is well-positioned for serving the outdoors via a door on to St John's Square as well as the indoor tables.
Most of the basement level is used as the hotel's netherworld of storage, staff lockers, and plant, though it also contains the WCs for the restaurant and two meeting rooms.
These two feel a bit cut off in the basement and are less refined than the rest of the hotel, for example with skirting trunking and less controlled design of ceilings.
On the five bedroom floors, the atrium comes into its own. Though not large in plan, its apparent area is much larger through its connection with the horseshoe corridor around it and the glazed rooflight. Fire engineering, including smoke testing of a mock-up on site at an early stage, were needed to establish the final set up. The glazed atrium roof provides for rapid smoke exhaust, allowing open balconies. And the horseshoe plan of the corridor allows it to be used in two directions for escape, requiring only one escape stair, saving some 15 per cent of lettable floorspace.While some buzz of conversation can be heard from the bar in the base of the atrium, it is muted on the upper floors. Acoustics are addressed with a carpeted corridor floor, shaped ceilings and recessed doors. The restrained palette, combined with up and down-lighting, avoid conventional hotel glitz.
A new, steel-framed, top floor has been added, set back behind the existing parapet.
Its volume and roof profile are defined by sightlines from surrounding streets so that only the profile of the original warehouse parapet is visible. So while there are 13 outward-facing rooms per floor on floors one to four, the top floor has just seven, wedgeshaped rooms, whose ceilings slope down to the perimeter, the rooms opening on to external terraces. As the existing parapet is quite high, the bedroom floors are raised by a couple of steps to improve views out. There is some rooftop plant, adjacent to the lift shaft, which is the highest point of the roof.
Top floor rooms are larger than on the floors below, with more facilities and baths rather than showers. Generally, options like dial-up DVDs are pitched as compensations for the lack of pool or fitness rooms.As part of this offer build up, however, the temptation to add more furniture than the architect would like - easy chairs and desks - has not been resisted. For floors 1-4, a variation from the tea/coffee-tray-in-the-bedroom norm is a shared vending station adjacent to the lifts and staircase. Creating it is both economical and a possible counter to the isolation people can feel in hotels. The buzz from the atrium is also part of this approach.
Room treatment follows the restraint of the atrium. Sashes have been repaired but left single glazed (for cost reasons), with internal lacquered MDF shutters added - it is not the quietest of neighbourhoods. These provide enough blackout to enable lights to be set in the top member of the sashes to enliven the windows when seen from the street at night. The shutters also avoid the need for curtains, something the architect was very keen to achieve.
Built-in furniture is designed by Chetwood. There was too much variation in the building's shape for the bathrooms to be prefabricated as pods, but Chetwood has gone a long way toward this. Every bedroom has a standard vanitory unit (surface, basin, lighting and WC) and there is a standard shower or bath. Units were made up off site by the joiners and reassembled in the rooms.
With this amount of repetition, it was possible to go for a high spec and get a good price.
The hotel, and Chetwood, have made use of the London aquifer.Water is extracted at a near-constant 12infinityC. The hotel has a plant in the basement that filters, carbonates and bottles this water for hotel use. The water is also used direct as grey water for flushing WCs. And this ground-source water contributes to cooling the water fed to the fan coil units in rooms.
It is good to find a hotel in which the quality and design effort does not fall off moving from entrance to public rooms to bedrooms, and particularly that the bedroom-floor circulation, so often daylight-free and depressing in hotels, has a sense of place here. While the hotel's capacity is 59 rooms, its handling gives the Zetter the sort of characterful intimacy more often associated with country house hotels. It is a place to be, not a point in passing.