April 9 2007

My first thought when asked to review a ‘boutique’ hotel, was something along the lines of ‘God help me’. It seems this new breed of hotel was designed purely for city boys and city girls to pour money into for the duration of yet another pointless business trip.  Overpriced, understaffed, and all because people want a kooky carpet in every room. 

So it was with a strange recalcitrance that I walked into London’s Zetter hotel for my Sunday night stay. The former 19th century warehouse sits on the Clerkenwell Road amidst design houses and refurbished blocks in the increasingly trendy Farringdon. Opened in 2004 by Michael Benyan and Mark Sainsbury — the pair behind acclaimed restaurant Moro in nearby Exmouth Market — the focus is strongly on cutting edge-design and eco-friendly living. Natural light floods in from the building's five-storey semi-elliptical atrium, while a borehole drilled beneath the property provides water purified and bottled for drinking.

The tiny lobby is dominated by its chandelier of pink glass calla lilies, and offers three options. To your right, a wood panelled, cork stooled bar, with the Mediterranean themed restaurant beyond. To your left, a small, perfectly formed reception desk. And straight ahead, the red mirrored, boudoir themed lifts. 

Reaching the fifth floor, the aspects of design suddenly become more apparent. The large atrium pushes natural light through the building, and the artwork from local artists breaks up the slightly drab pastel décor. My room for the evening didn’t feel like your bog-standard abode. The eclectic mix of original Penguin Classics, wide screen TV and soft furnishings felt more like an affluent teenagers bedroom than twenty something playground. The enormous wood decked balcony matched the room in size, while London’s newly emerging skyline provided the perfect backdrop.

Add to this ambient mood lighting, free wireless broadband, DVD player and access to a 4000-track music library, my preconceptions of ‘trendy’ hotels suddenly seemed a bit archaic.  The hotel has done away with the outdated amenities that characterise so many other establishments. Most rooms don't have a mini-bar or tea-and coffee-making facilities. Instead, coffee and vending machines on each floor dispense everything from champagne to disposable cameras. Greeting fellow travellers in matching robe and slippers while buying a bottle of champagne is surprisingly relaxing.  

What started out as another over priced, poncy auberge, became a well thought out, modest getaway for the design orientated traveller. But then again, there’s nothing worse than a pretentious critic being proved wrong. By Matthew Hussey