Rough Luxe, an independent London boutique hotel, is such a departure from the norm that it may be not just a new hotel brand, but possibly a new design trend. This small, unassuming place is located in London’s somewhat rough-around-the-edges King’s Cross neighborhood. A “No Vacancies” sign permanently adorns the property to discourage walk-ins.
Inside, the concept of “Rough Luxe” is brought to life in a contrasting and unusual pattern of old and new. Guests will find walls of peeling paint and wallpaper that respect the history and authentic materials of the edifice, set against original artwork (never copies) and complemented by beautiful fabrics and exquisite bed linens. Rooms have twenty-five year old televisions and day beds that convert at night for sleeping, but there is an on-site innkeeper who serves wine and provides superior service. Rooms share bathrooms, but only guests who know each other will be placed in adjoining rooms. There isn’t any food served in the hotel, but in the courtyard behind the Rough Luxe is a coffee bar and tea room that serves sandwiches, pastries, coffee and, of course, afternoon tea.
The juxtaposition of old and new, or rather rough and luxurious, is the idea of award-winning architect and interior designer Rabih Hage, who runs a gallery and design studio near the hotel. Hage graduated from École des Beaux Arts in Paris. While in France, Hage worked on old buildings and renovated chateaux and farmhouses. He “learned how to turn a ruin into something interesting,” says Hage.
Hage told brandchannel that the name Rough Luxe was initially intended to describe the concept of the hotel, not necessarily to represent a brand. “I was imagining it as a description of what I think pure luxury is,” says Hage, “basically without the bling. It is luxury at its purest state.”
The Rough Luxe hotel may have the feeling of an experimental work in progress, but so far it seems to be working. Richard Eilers, writing in The Observer (November 16, 2008), said: “The rough edges were just part of an impeccably beautiful piece of design. This idiosyncratic place, with its knowing nod to the gritty surroundings, felt like a genuinely warm, and witty, concept.”
With room prices starting at under US$ 200, Rough Luxe qualifies as an inexpensive stay in London. It is pricier than other boutique hotels that have adopted their own version of rough luxury – perhaps more appropriately named cheap chic. For example, a new Paris hotel, Mama Shelter, combines somewhat spartan concrete-walled rooms with stylish furnishings and iMacs in every room. Prices start at a mere 79 euros per night. Yet it lacks the historical element of the Rough Luxe.
At New York’s Jane Hotel, located in the city’s West Village area, be ready for an adventure. A bargain-priced room goes for under US$ 100, but there’s a price to pay: you’ll stay in a 50 square foot “standard cabin” with a single bed and just enough room to turn around. And you’ll share a communal bathroom at the end of the hall. The hotel is steeped in history, though. Completed in 1908, it was originally the “American Seaman’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute,” famous for housing the survivors of the Titanic disaster.
If Rough Luxe were just the name of one hotel, perhaps the brand story would end right there. But interestingly, Hage has bigger plans for the Rough Luxe concept. “There will be other businesses that are part of the Rough Luxe Experience Network, but Rough Luxe will not be a duplicated branded hotel chain,” says Hage. “It will be the name of the network and can be used to describe the movement of rejecting luxury consumption as mass consumption. Luxury should be pure and about rarity, not duplication."
Hotels and restaurants, bookshops, and places that offer special “experiences” will be added to the network. Criteria for joining the Rough Luxe network include the following:
At the present time, the Rough Luxe network includes the historic Cape Heritage Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, originally built in 1771, El Paradiso, a private club perched above St. Moritz, and Shakespeare & Company, a renowned independent bookshop in Paris. For those interested in more “Rough” and less “Luxe,” the network offers “The Cowshed,” located on a St. Moritz mountainside. It has no running water or electricity, and a copper bath is heated from a wood fired stove. The Cowshed is available to as many as six people for excursions and weekends.
- Located in a special or unique architectural and/or historical building
- Interior and architectural design combining old and new elements; original parts of the building are shown, but new useful and original elements are added to the property
- Design is based on a mix that looks random but is done “with a conscious transmission of social and philosophical messages that put intellectual enrichment prior to the physical well being”
- Only original art and design pieces – no copies or prints of existing art or design
- Rough Luxe represents “the exclusivity of the experience and its uniqueness in time.”
It will be interesting to see if Rabih Hage’s vision of Rough Luxe transcends his London hotel and takes hold as a lifestyle brand.