It’s a few hours into our stay at the Treehouse Hotel when I realise we’re behaving strangely. I’m standing by the window with a cuddly Paddington Bear tucked under one arm, holding a kaleidoscope up to my eye with the other. My friend Jess has just put an Elvis 7-inch on the turntable and is now cross-legged on the bed, a soft, sloth-shaped toy in her lap, shouting questions at a Magic 8 Ball. We’ve only had one cocktail.
“Climb up and play” is this new hotel’s tag-line, opened last week on Langham Place, a couple of blocks north of Oxford Circus. It’s a tag-line which might make cynical Londoners roll their eyes, but in the po-faced world of luxury hotels, the concept behind it is refreshing. “[It] is meant to evoke nostalgia and whimsical memories,” Arash Azarbarzin, the president of SH Hotels, tells me before my stay. The Treehouse brand – more are opening next year, although he won’t tell me where – aims to make guests relive that sense of fun and excitement they used to feel when scaling a tree. “Every detail is imagined through the carefree, optimistic lens of childhood,” he explains. It’s an interesting idea from a company with a strong track record of interesting ideas, including 1 Hotels (New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and, in 2020, London), the eco-friendly hotels that used clever branding and design to make sustainability sexy.
Arrival is fairly low-key (no climbing involved), with a shingle-and-branch-clad café, Backyard, offering a suitably treehouse-like welcome, leading to a lift that whizzes guests up to the main floors. This used to be the St George’s, a hotel plonked on the top floors of an uninspiring office block from 1963. What you don’t appreciate from the ground is the height of the building. The reception, decked out with tactile wood and filled with enormous potted plants, is on the 15th floor, with genuinely startling views over Regent Street and Fitzrovia, all the way to the London Eye.
Drag your eyes away for a second, though, and two things jump out. Firstly, everyone is incredibly young and attractive and well-dressed (cool khaki jumpsuits for the women; all black for the men). Secondly, the reception desk is made entirely out of rows of glass jars filled with playful bits and bobs: bouncy balls, scrabble pieces, crayons, marbles, Lego. “Help yourself to whatever you fancy,” chirps the bright-eyed boy at reception. We don’t, at least not yet, and instead head to our rooms, which are spread along the neutral corridors in the floors below, from the 12th to the 14th.
All have excellent views, either east or westwards. The Standard rooms are a little boxy, but the enormous windows, filled with cosy full-length window seats, more than make up for it, as does the design, with raw cement ceilings, wooden floors, colourful cushions and a big bed. The Club Suite is pick of the bunch, with a huge bedroom, double-width windows, a seating area with vintage tan-leather chairs, a rough-wood desk, a copper free-standing bath right by the window, and a bright-white bathroom. A few whimsical touches stand out: the vinyl turntable (nice touch: a record was playing when we walked in), the stuffed toys on the sideboard and the floor-to-ceiling birch trunks in the bathroom, a nod to the treehouse theme. A nifty cuckoo clock attached to one of the trunks springs to life every hour (don’t worry: it stops between 9pm and 9am). Like 1 Hotels, this brand has woven sustainability into its design, with (almost) no single-use plastics, custom-made bathroom goodies in big, refillable bottles, and triple-filtered water taps in the corridors, with glass bottles to fill up.
We take the lift back up – to the 16th floor, the very top, home to The Nest. There are those views again, all 360 degrees of them, stretching all the way to Canary Wharf, with a wraparound terrace and a cleverly designed space that clusters vintage chairs around little tiled tables, giving it an intimate, clubby feel. I order a Cuckoo Nest Spritz, which tastes like a grown-up Shirley Temple – delicious, especially with a bowl of hand-cut corn tortilla chips, served with spicy pico de gallo.
Back in the room getting ready for dinner, we start to notice the other playful, verging on ironic, touches dotted about the place. The paintings by the bed are, on closer inspection, paint-by-numbers pictures. There’s a Seventies View-Master on the coffee table, which reveals 3D dinosaurs when we take turns peering through it. A colourful map spins beside a cupboard; a child’s night-light on the bedside table projects stars onto the ceiling. The old baseball mitt is out of place in a British hotel, and a grumpier guest might find some of the toys and gadgets irritating, but this stuff is the hardware of our childhoods, and we can’t help but be delighted at each discovery. Maybe those cocktails were stronger than we thought.
If the rooms make us feel nostalgic and youthful, the restaurant, Madera, imported from Los Angeles, makes us feel our age (we’re Seventies babies; you do the maths). It is beautifully designed, with plants trailing from the ceiling, wicker light shades, leather chairs and stone-topped tables pushed up against huge windows, but the music is pounding (there is a DJ in a corner), and the crowd is young and impossibly cool, as is our smiley waiter. The service, by the way, has that American overattentiveness which can be both charming and a little irritating. The modern Mexican food, though, is excellent: tequila prawn flatbread, halibut ceviche, jumbo shrimp tortillas and a short, sharp wine list. We eat more than we should and head downstairs, falling asleep to the white noise of London buzzing outside.
The space is transformed the next morning – sunlight-filled, serene, with pretty floral cushions and a Mexican-inspired menu. On the way out, I stop at the glass jars at reception and self-consciously unscrew one of them. “For my daughter,” I lie to the girl at reception, pocketing a bubblegum-pink bouncy ball. She just smiles.
Double rooms from £299 (020 7580 0111; treehousehotels.com), 14-15 Langham Pl, Marylebone, London W1B 2QS
Read the full expert review: Treehouse Hotel