Not everyone comes to London to see the Queen—or Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Trafalgar Square, for that matter, and even the entirety of Central London. Instead, some come for business, to see friends and family, and still others to experience a side of London not splayed out on postcards in gift shops.
These people could do well to check into Urban Villa, a newly opened aparthotel in the Brentford section of London, about 40 minutes west by rail from Waterloo Station. The difference between this aparthotel and many others is the rich hipster boutique element woven in by owners Eric Jafari and Andrew Fowler, evident the moment you step in the tall newly constructed glass building.
The hotel reception, topped and backed by slabs of grey-veined marble also serves as the bar, backed by four long shelves sporting mostly high end liquor of all types. After check in, by all means ask them to mix you a gin and tonic, it’s good (if “good” means “strong”).
To the right, the hotel opens into a particularly airy and spacious, (perhaps too much) lounge equally heavy in the boutique spirit, with an almost quasi-industrial flair, especially in lime green separators between seating areas. Pass a hanging garden on the left, and the space widens still further into juice bar and cafe.
The ten or so books posed on a few shelves on the wall tell you much about the desired ambiance and clientele—Steve Jobs biography, the 4-hour body, The Food Revolution, and a Coco Chanel picture book. Besides, the sparse minimalist, Scandinavian style tables and chairs furniture aren’t the sort you snuggle into with a good book, but a SurfacePro3, for sure.
The design comes care of Grzywinski+Pons—a New York City Design company—who must have indeed faced a challenge when first presented with the cavernous glass space lacking any of the historical and cultural charm of so many London hotels. The firm was also in charge of the 100 apartments across 12 floors.
Open the door of Room 805, a standard studio villa (starting at $175 per night), and the hallway immediately floods with light (at least in the day), thanks to the broad floor-to-ceiling windows backing the apartment. The sun beams fall first on the kitchen and living area, which tapers on the latter’s side, but leaves enough room for a sofa and wall mounted TV.
The kitchen gets the majority of space and late, in fact, together with the full range of cooking appliances, can make a lovely dinner party of 3-4 people. For groceries, simply pop out to the Sainsbury’s right next door. The tea fan in me was also particularly pleasure to see Teapigs alongside the Nespresso machine, as opposed to the usual crappy hotel tea left alongside better quality coffee, but then again, this is England.
It’s when you get closest to the sun, however, that the clear highlight of all rooms at Urban Villa comes into focus—a crescent-shaped indoor balcony enclosed by the buildings curing exterior glass. It’s a stroke of genius and acts as a sort of personal sun room, but with air conditioning. No doubt plants would love it, but these, like every other decorative element in the apartments, are kept to a minimum. But it’s well worth dedicating some time to enjoy the room from long lounge chairs in the morning with tea or evening with cocktails.
From the sun room, however, you can see one of Urban Villa’s downsides all around you, or beneath you, in the large construction site it’s inside. No doubt this will be mitigated once finished, but the heavy traffic on the M4 road that runs along the hotel will continue. That said, from eight floors up, noise was never a serious issue during my stay, but perhaps something to consider.
After the glory of the sun room, the purely functional bedroom and bathroom may seem less thrilling, (unless you inspect the “urban art” supplied by Lazarides Gallery in Fitzrovia). The New York influence shows itself again in the Malin + Goetz toiletries in the bathroom, yet another reflection of the claim on Urban Villa’s website, which calls the hotel “a touch of Manhattan style with thoughtful British modern luxury.”
As someone who actually lives in New York City, it really depends on which New York you mean, although it clearly seems Urban Villa is referring to Midtown Manhattan glass and not the battered brick of SoHo or brownstones of the Greenwich Village. However, in my eyes, Urban Villa echoes Northern European tastes more than anything else.
In final consideration, although Urban Villa’s location in Brentford in somewhat of an issue for those visiting London’s main sights or entertainment venues, it’s well worth the trek if not. The hotel’s inventive design mostly intrigues and the value for cost is incredible, one of the best in London. If you need something longer term, and the facilities to match, it gets even better.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of Urban Villa. All photos by Mike Dunphy