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HomeDesignDesign Focus: Hotel Indigo

Design Focus: Hotel Indigo

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) is massively contributing to what we can safely say is Dundee’s renaissance with the opening of Hotel Indigo – its flag-waving, celebration of all that’s standout about the city’s past and present. The design pops with the three J’s – jam, jute and journalism – and loads more besides.

It’s a three-phase project. Phase one is the 102-room hotel, which opened on the 11th of July and shares a courtyard with the hotel’s bar and restaurant, Daisy Tasker, on the left (as you approach). Phase two is the as yet unopened Staybridge apartments (85 in all) on the right, scheduled to open January 2019.

Phase three involves a building at the entrance to the courtyard, known as The Smugglers, which is listed. Its fate as a future bar isn’t exactly sealed because phase three will reflect the needs of the business at the time when it kicks in next year, but this is certainly one of the ideas on the table according to the hotel’s Director of Sales, Elaine Gray, who kindly showed me around the hotel’s communal areas as well as a few of the rooms. I asked Elaine how the hotel’s benefited from the buzz around Dundee and about the Hotel Indigo design ethos, and she said, “Amazing things are happening here and the hotel’s definitely at the forefront of this. We have 50 international media staying during the week that the V&A opens. No pressure then!”

She continued, “Every Hotel Indigo is designed in sympathy with its location, for example the one in Liverpool is in a former spinning mill with old drum kits as lights as a nod to its most famous sons.”

On a sunny day in Dundee the walk up to the hotel courtyard from Constitution Street reveals just how much of a landmark the building is, yet, as Elaine also explained, it was overdue some much-needed TLC. “It’s the old Baxter Jute Mill that had lain derelict for 50 years so it took the contractors almost a year to make it ready for the construction work to begin. The roof had practically caved in, plus I think it took about three months alone to get through all of the pigeon poo.”

The contractor has been on-site for a total of two years and the plan is for the land that their portacabins currently occupy to become a car park eventually. This land, as Elaine also explained, used to be the location for a since demolished former Dundee institution known as The Marquee where many Dundonians of a certain age celebrated their 18th/21st/ engagement.

Gordon Campbell of jmarchitects project-lead the development. He said, “The conversion of the disused old Mill building provided many challenges. Predominantly those relating to the constraints provided by the existing structural layout. The introduction of three new stair cores and two new lift shafts were necessary to meet current building standards and hotel brand standard compliance. jmarchitects were therefore required to carefully design and plan these circulation routes in order that they could be incorporated within the existing cast iron beam and column arrangements. The retained cast iron columns, whilst providing a unique feature, also provided a challenge when planning guestroom layouts.”

He continued, “The overall scheme elevates this historic building and iconic Dundee feature to its original glory, matching the historic design aesthetic and bringing this once derelict building back to life.”

Now for the interior design. Through the main door, reception is a large oblong space off which there’s a 20-person capacity meeting room called ‘Gnashers’ (pet dog of The Beano’s Dennis the Menace) immediately to the right as you enter through the red Perspex vestibule. Take a left and you’re on the long walk up to the reception, with a smattering of seating and tables either side, and just before you reach the desk, you can turn off to the left again for the lobby containing the lifts and then forward on to Daisy Tasker.

Reception area design highlights include the colour scheme, dominated by teal coloured painted walls and a black painted ceiling (including the exposed air conditioning pipes), and despite the large windows there’s nothing stark about the way the light falls. It’s a very cool, relaxing shady space. Some of the furniture is plain, other pieces, like the semi-circular chair-booths, are fairly Kubrikesque, like velvet horseshoe-shaped booths in various colours. The floor is concrete and there are original black pillars dotted about the place.

An entire wall of Dundee-related nods and memorabilia, whether that’s jute, journalism or jam, reaches just the right design pitch without being too loud or overpowering. There are old pieces of mill equipment, pictures and even an old cash register.

The focal point of this entire area is arguably the reception desk. The gold-metal fronted desk and brown tarnished metal back screen are overshadowed by the dramatic circular lights that are strung above it in four rows of four that get progressively lower.

There’s even an old NRC cash machine – the company still has its HQ in the city – and the plan is to convert it into a computer game, as a nod to yet another Dundee claim to fame, the gaming industry. One of the art students who works behind the bar is working on developing this at the moment.

Moving through to Daisy Tasker and my first question to Elaine was ‘who’s that?’ to which she replied, “Daisy Tasker was a 14-year-old girl who worked in the mill. She grew up to be a glamorous figure who organised tea dances and stuff so she became a bit of a romantic figure in local lore, so we went with her name instead of, say, a Marco Pierre White restaurant, like some of the other Indigo Hotels have done. The local story has really gone down well with guests who ask the same question as you did.”

This is a lovely space with exposed brick walls, brick vaulted ceilings and original high arched wall of windows that were restored by Sharkeys and a row of horseshoe-shaped velvet seating on the other wall as you enter from reception at the far end is the bar, that is a little art deco, with what are to me, Japanese influences. The monochrome colour scheme is simple yet dramatic, with an entire back bar that’s a wall of light with embedded black gantry shelves. Black ‘witch hat’ pendant lampshades light the bar, and the front of the bar is a chalk-coloured corrugated stone, in front of which sits a row of black metal bar stools.

Peacock-blue horseshoe-shaped booths on the wall opposite the window are lovely, and other highlights include the long refectory-style wooden tables, the piece of exposed original roughcast wall above the serving station (on the other far wall directly opposite the bar) and the huge statement cylindrical pendant lampshades in white. Above the main part of the space hang while spherical lights that look like misshapen blobs of white marshmallow. There are also wooden floors throughout and a smattering of chairs and tables made from a combo of wood and plastic.

I also got to tour a couple of the rooms. The colour scheme as far as the décor goes is muted greens and greys, offset by vibrant furnishings and abstract art by Lauren Li Porter. She was commissioned to do three works: Bon Accord, Dundee Cake and Marmalade and these designs have worked their way onto both wall hangings and cushions.
An Orkney-based artist made some throws that represent the ripples of the Tay, and they go well with the tartan curtains and cushions. The high, bulky beds are regal looking with velvet headboards (in a variety of colours) and there’s a few copies of The Beano in each room of course. And a 70s-style trim phone in, again, various colours!

I was drawn to the tiny writing on the picturerail, which, if you look closely is the cheat code for the Grand Theft Auto game, or the recipe for Dundee cake, depending on which room you happen to be in. The bathrooms are tiled white (with one solitary orange marmalade tile in each) contrasted with slate grey fixtures and fittings. When you take a selfie in the mirror #HotelIndigoDundee is visible mirror-ready (i.e. back to front as viewed on the wall) legibly in the back of the shot!

We wrapped things up with another chat about the Staybridge apartments and, as Elaine explained, they are going to be a real home from home. “We expect there to be 60 per cent long
stay and the rest are transient visitors. They are self-contained apartments, and three nights per week we organise social events with drinks and nibbles. This has been a surprisingly big hit in Newcastle with 60 people attending one night (I was even thinking of giving some of my single friends a heads up) and so we’re looking forward
to how well all this is going to be received in Dundee.”

by Jason Caddy

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