The latest offering from US chain Morgans Hotel Group, Mondrian London at Sea Containers features bespoke nautical and Art Deco-inspired interiors by Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio. Design studio Magpie has created identities for the hotel’s bars and restaurants, referencing botanical drawings, Pop Art and 1920s decadence…
Located by the Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank and overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral, the Sea Containers building was designed by architect Warren Platner in the 1970s. It was originally conceived as a luxury hotel but became offices for the Sea Containers shipping company before the south wing was transformed by Morgans (the east and west wings will soon be occupied by Ogilvy & Mather). The hotel opened late last year and has 359 rooms, two bars, a cinema, a spa and a restaurant.
Interiors reference the building’s heritage and are designed to evoke a sense of being on a 1920s transatlantic liner: the restaurant features letters from the building’s original signage as well as a ship’s figurehead and a model ship on loan from Greenwich Maritime Museum. There are some striking contemporary touches, too, from a giant copper clad wall in the lobby inspired by a ship’s hull to a purple sculpture based on an anchor chain and a large copper droplet suspended from the ceiling in the spa.
Magpie was asked to create stationery for the hotel as well as menus and branding for its drinking and dining spaces, and has devised an elegant set of identities which aim to evoke a sense of luxury while complementing Dixon’s designs.
For guest stationery (pictured top), the studio created a Pop Art-influenced graphic pattern, Boat Wake, as a reference to the period in which the hotel was built, its riverside location and the central design concept of a sea voyage. “The intention was for a subtle and sophisticated way to show sea travel, without showing a boat,” says Magpie co-founder Ben Christie.
The black, white and grey colour palette with flashes of pink matches that found in the hotel’s bedrooms and the pattern has also been applied to key card holders. Black-and-white laundry bags feature visual puns which play on the hotel’s US roots and UK location, with one featuring an image of pants (trousers) on one side and pants (underwear) on the reverse.
For the Sea Containers’ restaurant, Magpie was asked to devise a system that would convey the idea of sea travel and freshness – the industrial kitchen space is intended to resemble the engine room of a ship, while gold circular mirrors in the bathroom look a little like portholes. Food and drink menus and coasters feature etchings of ingredients from octopus to pumpkin and gold foil symbols based on those used in nautical flags.
“We liked the way the symbols referenced sea voyage but in a modern way, clean and geometric,” says Christie. “The heavy use of gold foil makes it feel luxurious in a modern and bold way, as well as tying back to the opulence of transatlantic ocean liners,” he adds.
Menu covers are made of laser etched veneered wood, which Christie says is a reference to food crates, again suggesting a sense of freshness. “The texture lends an earthy, natural feel [and] we chose black ash to match the tables,” he says. The black, white and gold design also matches the restaurant’s fixtures and fittings, from the large gold ‘S’ and ‘C’ hanging on a wall above a dining table to the mini yellow submarine suspended above the bar.
Also on the ground floor is Dandelyan, a cocktail bar run by Ryan Chetiyawardana (founder of Shoreditch bar White Lyan), which creates drinks using fresh herbs, flowers and seasonal ingredients. The interior combines copper lampshades and pink leather sofas with parquet flooring and a green marble bar.
Drinks menus are based on Victorian field guides and feature vintage botanical drawings, litho printed in fluorescent colours. Copper staples were added to create “a little dash of opulence”, says Christie, and the same illustrations are used on coasters alongside a modular typographic logo in House Industries typeface, Neutraface 2 – chosen for its “modern take on a traditional, clean, British sans serif.”
“Ryan and the Morgans team’s vision for the bar was ‘Modern Botany’. To reference the experimental and botanical nature of the cocktails, we took archival botanical drawings and gave them a twist by injecting them with pop colours and interweaved typography,” Christie explains. “We gave the printer a real challenge by tasking them with integrating fluorescent inks into the imagery to give them a modern punch.”
While each of the hotel’s eating and drinking venues has a luxurious feel, the most decadent is the Rumpus Room – an upstairs bar in a glass box extension, with stunning views overlooking the Thames. The name and décor is inspired by the Bright Young Things, says Mondrian, who it describes as “a voracious pleasure-seeking band of bohemian party-givers and blueblooded socialites who romped through the newspaper columns in 1920s London.”
With a gold bar and tables, plush velvet chairs and a cluster of chandeliers, it’s a modern-day take on Great Gatsby opulence. Magpie created matchboxes, wall signage, invites, business cards and reserved signs for the bar, combining a typographic logo with a pale pink and petrol blue palette and some surreal illustrations by graphic artist Emily Forgot (Emily Alston).
“The brief for Rumpus Room was to capture the spirit of The Bright Young Things – we referenced the subtle pink and petrol blues of the interiors, as well as that opulent gold again,” explains Christie. “The typeface heavily references Art Deco, but in a clean, modern way,” he says.
Alston was asked to create a series of dream like illustrations inspired by the era, channelling F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Russian-born painter Erté and photographer George Hoyningen Huene. She also created illustrations for a phenakistoscope invitation for the bar’s launch, pictured below, and her artwork is used on all of Magpie’s work for the bar. “Emily’s style fitted perfectly – she has a lot of deco influence in her work, but she does it in such a beautiful and playful way,” adds Christie.
With a striking use of pattern, colour and illustration, Magpie’s designs perfectly capture the vintage-meets-contemporary style that is central to the hotel’s interior. Finishing touches from the copper staples to gold foil and laser cut wood add to the sense of luxury, while Alston’s illustrations add a playful touch the Rumpus Room branding. Magpie has also created window graphics for Dandelyan and signage for the Rumpus Room entrance but the overall effect is understated, inkeeping with the hotel’s minimal approach to branding – there is no large-scale signage inside or out, with each Mondrian hotel designed to have a boutique feel and unique interiors.