Inside NoMad London, a historic court turned luxury hotel

Fiona McCarthy
·4-min read
Photo credit: Benoit Linero
Photo credit: Benoit Linero

There’s a certain frisson walking through the solid 13ft-high timber doors of the new NoMad London hotel in Covent Garden, knowing who has passed through them before you.

Located in the former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, built in 1880, many a famous name, from Oscar Wilde and the Kray twins to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, have been tried here. Even Dame Vivienne Westwood spent a night in its cells for breaching the peace in 1977.

This month, the Grade II-listed building, neighboured by the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden’s famous cobblestone piazza, has been sensitively transformed by hotelier Andrew Zobler’s Sydell Group (who most recently partnered with Soho House’s Nick Jones for The Ned in 2017).

Photo credit: Emsie Jonker
Photo credit: Emsie Jonker

‘Since we opened NoMad in New York eight years ago, we’ve always had our eyes on London,’ says Zobler down the line from his office in the US city. The company also has hotels in LA and Las Vegas, but it took longer than expected to find a building in the UK that could rival the old beaux-arts office block on Broadway.

Bringing historic buildings back to life has long been Zobler’s forte, but with the long-neglected magistrates’ court he has had the chance to do something a little different. ‘We’ve inherited older buildings before, but we’ve never created a new building within an existing one,’ he says, referring to the vast, light-filled three-storey atrium restaurant space.

Reminiscent of an Edwardian greenhouse, it was created in what was once the courtyard where police vans whisked in with arrestees for trial or incarceration.

Photo credit: Simon Upton
Photo credit: Simon Upton

It has also proved the perfect canvas for playing out what Zobler describes as the NoMad design philosophy of mixing, cajoling and juxtaposing ‘the tensions of old fashioned, bohemian and modern while maintaining a sense of place’. For the London outpost, New York-based design studio Roman and Williams was tasked with bringing a light but sophisticated transatlantic touch to the interiors.

Founded by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, the duo previously collaborated with Zobler on the first Ace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan and the quartet of Freehand hotels. ‘We wanted NoMad London to be beautiful, bohemian and evocative all at once,’ says Standefer, who recently, along with Alesch, masterminded the renovation of The Met’s British Galleries, which opened in March. ‘The building is muscular and remarkable, so you’re embraced by its strength; the interiors are rich and textured and balance the bones.’

Photo credit: Simon Upton
Photo credit: Simon Upton

Roman and Williams has imbued a New Romantic verve to the collected and homely, yet implicitly glamorous, spirit of NoMad London.

‘We want people to feel comfortable and curious,’ Standefer continues, of the journey they’ve created through their use of richly hued damasks, velvets and mohairs (such as the hand embroidered Watts of Westminster archival ‘Pear’ damask that swathes the reception area), decorative millwork, intricately veined marbles and custom limed-plaster walls.

The Fireplace Room shimmers with a gold-inflected hand-painted chinoiserie by Zuber; in the old courtroom, the French artist Claire Basler has trailed a moody, dusky cloudscape around all four walls. Arresting, dramatic art throughout the hotel, commissioned by French design studio Be-Poles, is a key ingredient of the NoMad magic. In particular, the large, swirling abstract artworks by artist Catherine Denervaud pay fitting homage to Covent Garden.

The end result throughout the hotel’s 91 rooms, two restaurants (overseen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten alumni executive chef Ian Coogan), numerous bars, library and event spaces, is ‘a little bit of New York meets London, a little bit of 1920 meets 2020,’ enthuses Zobler.

Photo credit: Benoit Linero
Photo credit: Benoit Linero

Side Hustle, the hotel’s street-level restaurant and bar, boasts swarthy prohibition-era-bar-meets-British-pub leather-clad walls and banquettes, contrasted with modern Martin Parr photography. Late-night lounge Common Decency, which was decorated by scene painters from the Royal Opera House, will be the after-midnight spot to imbibe one of the hotel group’s star mixologist Leo Robitschek’s famous dirty martinis while tucked into one of the snugs.

‘The tension of masculine and feminine references creates a powerful narrative,’ furthers Standefer, of the way furniture custom-designed by the duo sits seamlessly within the mix of handblown glass chandeliers and antique pieces sourced from Rupert Bevan and Jamb.

Along with other nods to the building’s illustrious history, like the permanent museum space dedicated to showcasing the history of London’s first professional police force, the Bow Street Runners, ‘there are lots of stories to discover and hopefully even more to create’, says Standefer. From £400 per night, thenomadhotel.com/london

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