After being designer of the year at this year’s Maison & Objet, Designer Tom Dixon’s name is now one of the most popular interior & furniture designers worldwide.
He’s been working on huge projects using his unique style, special furniture, and trademark finishes.
One of those projects was for Morgans Hotel Group which has just launched its first Mondrian outside of the US on London’s South Bank, in Warren Platner’s iconic 1978 Sea Containers House
With the longest river frontage of any office building in London, Sea Containers is a London landmark.
The brutalist Sea Containers House building has long been a prominent feature along the river Thames, both within the urban context of the Southbank and the cultural corridor that runs west from the Tate Modern to Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre and culinary destination Borough Market
Looking out over the Thames, with open views of the city’s rapidly changing skyline, the 1978 Sea Containers House building, which has echoes of a great cruise liner berthed on the river’s edge, was designed by the celebrated American modernist architect Warren Platner ( renowned for his ocean liner interiors )
Platner’s initial work for Sea Containers Ltd was originally conceived as a luxury hotel, before the 1970’s oil crisis and world recession and a change of ownership during construction stalled the idea of a hotel and it became an office block
The location, in the heart of London’s business district, led to the decision to complete it instead as office space with Platner remaining responsible for interior and exterior designs.
The Sea Containers House was built in the 1970s, as a luxury hotel, the original design brief was never fulfilled, and instead remained occupied by offices until 2012.
Sea Containers Ltd occupied the building from 1986 up to 2007
During these years Sea Containers Ltd operated in more than 80 countries through three main businesses.
a) its passenger transport division operated 21 ferry routes, ranging from cross-Channel to between Wall Street, Manhattan, and Brooklyn; high-speed passenger trains between London and Scotland; and three ports in England.
b) the leisure division owned or managed 23 luxury hotels on five continents, five tourist trains, two restaurants, and a river cruise ship. These properties included New York’s “21” Club, the venerable Orient Express train, and the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.
c) container leasing.
The company filed for bankruptcy on 16 October 2006.
In 2009 its maritime container interests were transferred to a new company Sea Co Ltd, with the winding down and liquidation of the remainder of the group continuing
Sea Containers House has now become the location for the new 359-bed luxury hotel under Morgans Hotel Group’s Mondrian brand.
Mondrian London showcases that Morgans Hotel Group is again at the forefront of design and style, which have been the company’s hallmark since its first property debuted in October 1984.
The new Mondrian marks the first foray into London for the American Morgans Hotel Group since it commissioned Philippe Starck to design the Sanderson and St Martin’s Lane nearly 15 years ago. The hotel represents a transitional moment for Morgans, which is breathing new energy into the stalled Mondrian hotel brand.
Jason Kalisman, Interim CEO of Morgans Hotel Group …… “We are proud and excited to introduce Mondrian London at Sea Containers to the world today, The combination of incredible design, amazing partners, and a one-of-a-kind building make this hotel a perfect match for what Morgans does best, and I believe the resulting product will be embraced by the local and international community.”
Morgans Hotel Group CEO Michael Gross …..
“We chose Design Research Studio during a competitive pitch to design the new Mondrian hotel because of Tom Dixon’s innovative use of materials.
With locations in New York and Los Angeles, Mondrian Hotel as a reputation for being an American brand, we thought it only made sense to have such a reputable British designer like Tom to be a part of Mondrian London.
The fact that Tom and Design Research Studio had never worked on a hotel before, meant the team would have a fresh set of eyes of the project and this really appealed to us. ”
The buildings’ maritime history was used as the starting point of the interiors concept for the hotel, which “embodies the elegance of a transatlantic 1920s liner” combined with Tom Dixon’s signature modern British style.
Tom Dixon…… ” A hotel is like a cruise liner, and that analogy works really well for me in terms of the scale of all the different things that go on in that building. People will be able to consume a bit of what we do just by having a coffee there or going to the restaurant. And I don’t think Morgans would have come to me in the first place for something that doesn’t have a real signature. ”
It will also push Dixon on to a fresh stage.
His Design Research Studio, begun almost as a sideline to furniture and product design, has become central to his visibility as a multi-faceted global brand
When we saw the building’s proximity to the river we thought there was a strong narrative already,’ says Dixon. ‘Platner is best known for his ill-fated Windows on the World at the top of the Twin Towers, but he also did interiors for Stena Line.
This, plus the hotel’s location on the river, its name and the fact that the owners are Anglo-American, naturally lent itself to a transatlantic style.
The hotel’s design takes inspiration from Sea Containers House, which echoes a large cruise liner, moored alongside the Thames.
Dixon’s design for the Mondrian takes inspiration from the period, the brutalist architecture, Platner himself, the riverside setting and the idea of a transatlantic hotel that combines the best of Britain and America.
“I didn’t know that much about Platner before we started this project, apart from his famous wire chair, which we have used in many projects,”Dixon says.
“It is a chair universally loved by designers but almost impossible to make, with its very complicated shape.
Tom ….. “But through working on the building I started to discover all these other bits and pieces about Platner that make him interesting in a London context. He designed a couple of the Stena Sealink cross-Channel ferries, which were these mad boats with clashing patterns that I used to go on as a kid, with inbuilt discos and crazy geometric carpets.”
It is not hard to draw parallels between Dixon and Platner.
They share a love of geometrical pattern, statement lighting, exposed concrete, metallic finishes and something of a glamorous, 1970s disco-infused aesthetic, applied with a sophisticated touch.
Design Research Studio
Design Research Studio, set up by Tom Dixon in 2007, is devoted to interior architecture and design projects
Design Research Studio’s recent projects have included the private members’ club Shoreditch House in east London, and Paramount’s restaurant and bar at the summit of Centre Point, as well as a new brasserie called Eclectic, which sits within the freshly reinvented Beaugrenelle shopping centre in Paris.
This is the first hotel redesign for Design Research Studio, with the project being the first collaboration between the British interior design practice and the American hotel group.
Certainly for Tom Dixon and Design Research Studio the Mondrian represents a major shift in scale.
“It’s monumental,” Dixon says. “We are designing so many different kinds of spaces in the hotel at the same time – some that are supposed to be hard-wearing and functional, others that are supposed to be more sexy and alluring. It has been a university of professional interior design, and every day we learn a new skill. And we were told in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t to be a Tom Dixon showroom full of my existing pieces, which is fair enough, so everything has been designed from scratch. At the same time it should be a mix of old and new, the borrowed and the blue to make it exciting and give it a patina and history from the beginning.”
Although the structure was originally designed as a hotel and is relatively modern, reconfiguring a building of this size was a challenge.
The Mondrian London Hotel Interiors
“Our proposal was really about trying to find the best of America and the best of Britain and applying them in one space,” Dixon says. “The more we developed that narrative, the more fun we had, and it justified the idea of an American hotel in London.
“Our challenge was to find a way of giving it a broad appeal while also creating a boutique hotel. In American hotels you don’t spend so much time in your room – the important thing is the lobby, the restaurant, the lounge and rooftop bar. It’s about having informal meetings and then living it up until late at night, which is what this hotel will be like. British hotels traditionally have had a very calm existence in the lobby, with afternoon tea and butler service. But here huge amounts of effort are going into getting those communal spaces right.”
The vast 1500 sq ft ground floor area includes a river side restaurant and two bars with access to outside space.
Design Research Studio’s work encompasses a restaurant, bar and lounge overlooking the river, a basement spa, a crafted midnight-blue screening room with brass detailing and 359 bedrooms each with a calm, cabin-like quality.
Embracing the building’s heritage and inspired by the golden age of transatlantic travel, the hotel has several unique and awe-inspiring features
Approaching from the south side, guests are greeted by a sweeping, copper “ship’s hull” that cuts through the glass curtain wall, providing both cover for retail units outside and a reception in the lobby and draws guests from the front door through the lobby and to the riverfront restaurant and bars.
Tom Dixon says, “It was a lunatic gesture from a design perspective… a tricky piece of engineering and manufacturing and a brave move for our client to take on.”
“It was made by the team responsible for restoring the Cutty Sark,” says Helen Arvanitakis, head of interior design at Design Research Studio. “The hull is nicked from the Cutty Sark and we borrowed some bits of authentic maritime history from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.”
The copper shingles have been hand-rolled using the same craftsmanship used to shape train carriages, including hand forming of the curved sections.
160,000 rivets were used to construct the copper hull. The rectangular sections of copper are riveted together to create a patchwork across the surface, which is edged with cove lighting above and below.
The hotel also features various artworks and installations by Dixon himself, such as an over sized link of purple polyurethane foam ” anchor chain ” in the lobby.
The hotel is styled in piecemeal by various artifacts and models, often in the shape of ships and naval instruments, on loan from the Nation Maritime Museum in Greenwich
A five-meter long model of a transatlantic liner sits in the lobby
Nautical influences, including a collection of model ships in the lounge salvaged from the building before work began, are spread throughout the hotel.
The ground floor of the hotel has been dedicated to a Lazarides Editions Gallery, hosting bespoke exhibitions, screenings and events.
Public bathrooms feature porthole-shaped mirrors and other details borrowed from marine engineering.
Dixon firmly believes that this is where the quality of an establishment is set.
The hotel features a 200-seat restaurant, Sea Containers, helmed by Irish-American chef Seamus Mullen who works with ingredients from the local Borough Markets in his all-metallic engine room kitchen.
In the American diner-inspired restaurant, which opens out onto Queen’s walk, the team attempted to expose the original fabric of the building – concrete coffers in the ceiling break up the space and provide an interesting change in texture and height.
“You don’t have what is effectively a seventies building completely denied of its original heritage,” says Helen Arvanitakis.
The focal point of the restaurant is the central stainless steel bar inspired by seating in American diners.
Chef and restaurateur Seamus Mullen and award-winning cocktail expert Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr. Lyan, are at the culinary helm of Sea Containers Restaurant and Dandelyan Bar at the new Mondrian Hotel in London’s Blackfriars.
The interior, designed by Tom Dixon, offers a nod of recognition to the shipping history of the building, while both Ryan and Seamus have written menus in some part inspired by Dixon’s work, creating a handcrafted and original transatlantic experience.
Multiple bar spaces were included to encourage a thriving nightlife around the hotel.
The hotel’s public spaces are deliberately impactful and vivid – the Dandelyan lounge bar ( where experimental mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana will be serving his world-class heady beverages ) with its pink leather seating, dark green walls and huge emerald marble cocktail bar is a classic example.
The Dandelyan is of the gentleman’s club mould: parquet flooring, wood panelled walls, brass detailing, chesterfield sofas and updated tub chairs, all flanked by an imposing emerald-coloured marble bar.
This space can hold up to 250 guests for exclusive parties, with a semi private area at the back of the room also available.
Roof top Bar & Terrace
The new rooftop bar has a glass box structure with floor-to-ceiling glazing tops the east wing of the building and offers guests a spectacular panorama of the river with views north to the City and beyond
The Art Deco style rooftop bar and terrace, inspired by the top deck of a cruise liner has a solid brass bar and plush purple armchairs.
Dixon describes it as being ‘a bit Titanic’.
Agua Bathhouse & Spa
Tom admits he was worried about the sub-basement spa, which is literally below the water line of the River Thames.
In the end he embraced the concept and has created a ‘luminous underwater world’. Users of the Agua Spa move through a submarine-like space, which changes gradually from white to black, to a hidden water feature, creates a feeling of underwater tranquility
The boutique spa has six treatment rooms, one of which is a dedicated couples space. There are two steam rooms, a hammam, spa lounge, a glamour room, a nail bar and relaxation space.
The Agua Bathhouse & Spa, features a sculpture that echoes the copper ‘hull’ of the hotel
Design Research Studio paid tribute to its seafaring heritage by preserving original details such as Sea Containers’ reception desk in the hotel’s spa
The luxury spa features geometric tile, concealed lighting and a set from Dixon’s brass Form range
The below ground /below-sea-level areas also includes a state of the art gym, while meeting and function spaces are located centrally to take advantage of some of the existing building’s largest internal volumes.
Accompanying the food and beverage offerings, the hotel features over 5,500 sq. ft. of stylish event venues, including a 56-seat screening room, that will play host to meetings, groups and events, for up to 300 guests, from fashion shows to press junkets to film screenings and more.
Channelling the velvety glamour of transatlantic cruise ships, the luxurious screening room lined in navy and royal blue, with acoustic 3-D tiles, is decorated with blue carpets and chair upholstery, contrasted with brass handrails and step edging.
The 359 guest rooms feature a palette of subtle greys and whites, with furniture and lights designed by Tom Dixon
Devoid of the usual hi-tech paraphernalia found in modern hotels, the cabin-like (in size and style) standard bedrooms are pared-down, muted, calm spaces to counteract the visual and aural noise experienced on the ground floor.
Rooms with rosewood doors feel like cabins and bathroom mirrors resemble portholes. Curved walls suggest ocean waves.
“The studio wanted to pick up on some of the materiality you find in Platner’s interior designs,” Helen Arvanitakis said “They feature curved walls, reflective brass detailing and dark rosewood panelling made out of Formica, referencing the ocean liners of the 1920s.”
The bedrooms are calm and subdued with a nautical cabin feel, done in shades of grey with splashes of rich colour contrasting against standout metallic pieces, to create a peaceful haven for sleep. They have a womb like cabin feel.
Thirty of the 43 suites have river views so if you peer down from the river-facing balconies, you can’t see the Thames Path, giving the distinct impression of being on a boat.
For the newly opened Mondrian Hotel London, designed by Tom Dixon, Henry Bourne’s photographs feature as life size 3D prints in the hotel lobby lifts
The lifts break away from the nautical theme, featuring beguiling, full-height holographic images of Dixon and members of his office in familiar guises: Queen Victoria, an English gent, an astronaut etc
The Sea Containers House – Development Project
The Sea Containers House building was bought by developers Archlane in 2004, when Sea Containers Ltd was needing to sell off key assets
The 100 million pound re-development of the site includes a nine storey extension to the rear of the building.
Sea Containers is made up of the original North Building of 21,027 sq m and a new South Building of 5,922 sq m, delivering 26,949 sq m of offices in total.
In addition, there is a 359 bedroom ‘Mondrian London Hotel’ as an integral part of the development.
Sea Containers has been entirely pre-let to Ogilvy, Puma and We Work.
Ogilvy & Mather has signed one of London’s biggest office lettings of the year, taking the entire 226,343 sqft north building at Sea Containers House on the South Bank.
Ogilvy, has spent years scouring the market for a move after two decades at Canary Wharf.
It is understood the advertising agency who will move in mid 2015, has a 25-year lease without breaks at around £45/sqft, with three years rent free.
The creative partnership of BDG and Matheson Whiteley won the competitive pitch to design the new head office for Ogilvy Group UK in London.
Conceived in direct response to the client strategic brief, the collaboration allows Ogilvy Group to benefit from cutting edge workplace analysis and a fresh vision for workplace architecture of the future.
With a focus on enhanced communication through movement, choice and availability of a diverse range of spaces, Sea Containers House will provide a unique and highly effective environment that is set to drive collaboration and innovation across the business
This complex building has been designed and refurbished as a collection of brand ‘neighbourhoods’ drawn together by a network of public spaces, such as the amphitheater, winter garden, restaurants and cafes
About Morgan Hotels Group
Morgans Hotel Group is a fully integrated hospitality company that operates, owns, acquires and redevelops boutique hotels in gateway cities and select resort markets worldwide.
Morgans Hotel Group Co. is widely credited as the creator of the first “boutique” hotel concept in 1984 and a continuing leader of the hotel industry’s boutique sector.
With an understanding of their specific customer base, the creative class, they work with designers, artists, craftsmen and musicians to push the boundaries of what a hotel can be, and the Mondrian name has become a byword for elegance, luxury and vision.
They own, partially own and/or manage a portfolio of thirteen luxury hotel properties in London, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco, comprising over 3,700 rooms.
Morgans Hotel Group operates Morgans, Royalton and Hudson in New York, Delano and Shore Club in South Beach, Mondrian in Los Angeles, South Beach and New York, Clift in San Francisco, Ames in Boston, Sanderson and St Martins Lane in London, and a hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Morgans Hotel Group has other property transactions in various stages of completion, including a Delano and a Mondrian in Turkey, a Mondrian in Doha, Qatar, a Mondrian in Nassau, The Bahamas and the new Mondrian in London.
Each of their owned hotels was acquired and renovated by the Morgans Hotel Group and was designed by a world-renowned designer
Morgans also owns a recently acquired 90% controlling interest in The Light Group, a leading lifestyle food and beverage company
Tom Dixon Biography
Tom Dixon was born in Tunisia in 1959, to an English father, a teacher, and a half-French, half-Latvian mother.
The family spent time in Morocco and Egypt before moving in 1963 from Suez to Huddersfield and a teaching post.
A year later the family moved again, to London, where Dixon attended Holland Park Comprehensive, the flagship of the comprehensive system.
The arts courses at the school were good, and Dixon walked away with an A grade in A-level pottery – “my only design qualification and it has served me well’” – but felt cheated by the lack of academic learning.
The headmaster had scrapped streaming and adopted an egalitarian approach; by the 1970s the school had become, in the words of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, “a byword for all the ills of the nation’s education system”.
Dixon started a foundation course at the Chelsea School of Art in 1979 but dropped out after six months, when he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident.
“It was actually an advantage for me not to have gone along the academic route,” Dixon says. “I was a shy and retiring boy, and my subsequent impression of art schools was that too often all those tutors and all those crits would knock any creativity out of people. For some it might be the best years of their life, but I found it restrictive.”
Dixon found a job as a technician, also at Chelsea Art School, and developed both an affection for the machinery he found himself surrounded by and a distrust of academia as too restrictive and too distanced from the real world of design.
He played bass in a band called Funkapolitan for two years in the early 1980s, achieving some success and recording an album.
There was a spell working in the nightclub business as a promoter.
He gradually started making rough-and-ready pieces in his studio, mostly through welding, first in south London and then Olympia, west London.
“I learnt to weld in a friend’s garage under the pretext that I was going to repair my fleet of vintage motorbikes. But I ended up discovering this passion for building and making things, and people started buying it relatively quickly. I knew people who had needs – photographers who needed sets or fashion designers who might need a window display. Those kinds of people were also buying my early designs. I learnt on the job and I’m still doing that.”
In the mid-1980s Dixon was spotted – along with Marc Newson and Jasper Morrison – by the Italian producer and manufacturer Giulio Cappellini, who put a number of his most marketable designs into production.
They included the curvaceous S-Chair, which also found its way into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
His work – the Crown Chair from 1989, the Pylon Chair of 1992 and others – combined a sculptural quality with a love of engineering, making and industrial manufacturing processes.
Yet there was also an entrepreneurial energy.
“I was selling stick insects to my co-pupils at junior school,” Dixon says. “I have always had a trading mentality. And there weren’t really many avenues for people like me who were self-tutored. There were jobs for proper industrial designers but that wasn’t me. I was just somebody who made things and sold them, mainly on the international market and to my own network of clients.”
Dixon opened his first shop in 1992 on All Saints Road, Notting Hill, selling his own pieces and work by other designers, and a few years later co-founded Eurolounge, the company that manufactured his plastic Jack Light.
In 1998 Dixon surprised everyone by accepting the post of head of design at Habitat, becoming its creative director three years later.
He stayed with the company – founded by Sir Terence Conran in 1964 but then broken up and sold from 1992 onwards into a series of more corporate hands – until 2008.
The company was already in decline, and despite Dixon’s best efforts he was not able to throw the business into reverse.
“Ultimately I didn’t have as much power as people thought I did,” Dixon says. “The power rested with the people who controlled the money. Jumping into a high-street chain was super-radical for me, and going from managing 15 people to having a big team of professionals was an amazing new platform. But I needed to put myself in a more dangerous position, so jumping off a quite comfortable job felt right, just like joining had felt right. There was a point at which I thought if I ever need to do something interesting in design then I need to own the joint again.”
Dixon had already been multi-tasking and had established his own design house in 2002, backed by the Swedish investment house Proventus.
The relationship seems to work well, allowing for the steady expansion of the brand and of Design Research Studio.
He shares a period house in London with his partner, Claudia Nella, an osteopath (they have two adult daughters), and has a converted water tower across the road from the Dock that is used by visiting friends.
For many years he was often to be seen in the company of Molly, a toy poodle. After her recent death at a grand age, a poodle puppy called Elsie has now arrived at the Dock.
New projects for the future include landscaping for a park at Greenwich Peninsula, a fishmonger’s and a greengrocer’s in the Marais, Paris, for the French entrepreneur and financier Cédric Naudon, plus ambitions for a stronger retail and studio presence in New York.
A collaboration with Adidas produced its debut capsule range of clothing and luggage focused on design-conscious travellers in spring/summer this year.