Kraków architects set UK city abuzz with their lavish makeover of iconic hotel
A historic hotel in the UK is again charming the British public following a lavish refit by a Polish architectural and design studio.
Regarded as one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the Queens Hotel in Leeds first opened for business in 1937 on the site of another hotel that had previously stood at the same address.
Built in Art Deco style, it was the first hotel in Leeds with ensuite facilities; billed as the most luxurious option for accommodation in the city, its status was reflected by an opening ceremony overseen by Princess Mary of York.
Featuring interiors by William Curtis Green (whose other projects included the Dorchester Hotel, Wolseley House and New Scotland Yard), guests would later include Princess Grace of Monaco, Laurel & Hardy, Bill Haley, Cary Grant and Nelson Mandela.
Now disgraced after his horrific abuse became public, the coffin of entertainer Jimmy Saville was also placed on public display inside the hotel’s bar following his death in 2011.
By this stage, however, the Queens was a shadow of its former self, looking increasingly like a faded and outdated relic in one of Britain’s most dynamic cities.
Now, thanks to the Kraków-based Iliard studio, the hotel has come full-circle to once more become one of the calling cards of the city.
Undergoing a GBP 16 million pound refit, the Grade II listed building has already reported a 50% surge in bookings since the nine-month renovation came to an end.
Responsible for the renewal of the hotel’s public spaces, Iliard were tasked with giving the Queens “a profound transformation that would break from the existing layout.”
Agnieszka Dziedzic, one of the lead architects working on the projects, said: “Our aim was to restore the splendour of the place. The main goal was not so much to preserve, but to emphasize more vividly the historical identity of the Queens.
“At the same time we wanted to achieve the perfect mix of tradition with current interior design trends so that the new face of the hotel would become attractive to modern guests.”
Speaking to TFN, Wojciech Witek, Iliard’s chief development officer, added: “Our target was to return the building to the public. Previously, the hotel had felt cut off from the street whilst inside, whilst the lobby was nicely decorated, it was showing signs of age and lacked any life. It was, essentially, just a big reception area.
“The new owners wanted to return the building to life, so we made it our mission to make the building more visible from the street and to introduce new functions and purposes that would ensure that the hotel wasn’t just used by visiting hotel guests.”
To do so, Iliard rethought the entire layout of the hotel’s ground floor.
“A spacious common area was created just behind the main entrance to The Queens – a social hub with City Square views,” says Witek. “Thanks to that, guests who visit the hotel just for an afternoon tea or dinner can immediately feel accommodated. Also, The Grand Pacific – an elegant restaurant with an outdoor terrace was created.”
Reception, meanwhile, was moved further inside the Queens allowing for the creation of an experience designed to be more discreet and intimate.
Striking in its design, this was reimagined with the introduction of a heavy wooden counter, a large Art Deco-style lamp, bookcases and a fireplace so as to add a sense of refined warmth.
“Existing elements, such as wall and ceiling decorations, founded the base of the whole interior design scheme,” says Witek. “The original ribbed ceiling in the new lobby was accentuated with lighting and finished with decorative plaster while the whole design was complemented with unique equipment and furniture made to individual order.”
Classic wallpaper patterns, boldly-coloured custom-made carpets and eye-catching posters and graphics, were also added to provide a rich and eclectic flourish.
Designing also the hotel’s ballroom, conference facilities, gym and public toilets, not to mention a wine bar that will be added in the future, Iliard’s concept has found itself subject to increasing media attention over the past couple of weeks.
Despite its success, the project was not without its challenges.
“This wasn’t our first project in the UK,” says Witek, “so we already knew what it would be like to work there. However, the pandemic brought a lot of complications that we’d never previously experienced.
“In essence, we were having to supervise the construction process remotely via Sype and other such tools, so we had bizarre occasions when we were having to say if the lights were right via remote chats and iPhone photographs. In that sense, the project was very unusual.”
There were, though, pleasant surprises, such as the rediscovery of original ceiling decorations over the coffee bar.
“To be working ‘virtually’ from Poland, it was amazing to react to such a discovery – speaking to the owners, we tweaked the project so as to expose this previously hidden section of ceiling and I’m really proud of that. I think it lends something truly special and authentic,” says Witek.
Previously collaborating with such brands as Marriott, Hilton, Accor and Radisson, for Iliard the Queens project has proved particularly pleasing – and not just in spite of the challenges, but because of them.
“When designing within a historical framework, you always have to ask yourself the question if the context is a problem or a chance,” says Witek. “And from our perspective, not just the Queens, working with old buildings is really interesting because doing so is about dialogue as opposed to monologue.
“In many ways, if you’re building a project from scratch, it’s an expression of your own ego. But when you’re working with a historic property, you have to get inside its head and start a dialogue with history. For me, that’s definitely more interesting – after all, by their very nature dialogues are more interesting than monologues.”
Certainly, the effort has proved worthwhile. Channeling the spirit of Gatsby, the new look Queens has earned a string of plaudits not least for its Grand Pacific restaurant – an extravagantly delicious space complete with a 15-foot bespoke chandelier, crystal lights, gilded mirrors and ornamental pineapples.
The hotel, meanwhile, has also won the hearts of the press with The Sunday Times going as far as naming it in their Top 100 list of ‘Best Places to Stay’ in the UK.