For some time now, the David-and-Goliath narrative between Manchester and London has been an exciting battle to watch. London, a giant in size as well as spirit, is unequivocally the epicentre of the UK hotel design and hospitality scene. But it is not alone. Small yet mighty and effortlessly dominating the Northern hotel landscape, Manchester’s compact city center is an incubator of vibrant innovation and pure style; home to lifestyle and fashion brands that unapologetically break the mold. It therefore confidently squares up to many major hotel design hotspots around the globe (seriously, ignore development in the city at your peril).
Within the hive of new development that is simply bursting out at the seams is LEVEN, the new hospitality brand that has arrived with a bright and infectious personality.
Taking on the challenge to achieve meaningful luxury/lifestyle hospitality in the heart of Manchester required individuals who were able to navigate the lifestyle sector and pinpoint valuable opportunities. Cue the arrival of Timothy Griffin, PJ Kenny and Shanthan Balakrishnan, the Founders of Wellbrook Hospitality who prior to this accumulated 20 years’ experience between them as senior leaders at Ennismore.
“We saw an opportunity to enter a space that is dominated by staid-legacy thinking,” said Griffin. “Challenging the status quo, thinking differently, and bringing a fresh dynamic approach are all key components of our DNA. Wellbrook Hospitality is also unusual in that we are one of the only independent operators that not only create new brands, but manage all technical, design and pre-opening services along with operating under flexible HMA terms.”
LEVEN Manchester, the brand’s debut hotel located on the corner of the infamous Canal Street, is where the brand’s narrative begins to create a conscious, community-driven series of spaces that speak the local language.
“It’s like LEVEN gatecrashed the party, deliberately ignored the dress code and brought its own booze.” — Hamish Kilburn, editor, Hotel Designs.
From the outside, the property’s striking red bricks and characterful Crittal windows reflect the same style as many other building’s in Manchester: original, untouched and charmingly rustic.
But inside, the 42-key hotel is equipped and designed for modern travellers, and includes contemporary co-working, co-living, on-trend retail space and a yet-to-open food and beverage experience.
Immediately upon entry, the scene is set as a laid-back lifestyle hotel. The cosy lobby is adorned with emerald green scalloped tiles, blackened steel ceiling-height units and statement lighting, which creates a dramatic entrance. The space feels home-from-home level of intimate, with faux fur throws draped over miss-matched furniture and a gallery wall of abstract art that makes guests stop to exhale and admire with a tilted head.
As far as ‘the brand’ goes, it’s like LEVEN gatecrashed the party, deliberately ignored the dress code and brought its own booze. And talking of dress codes, in one corner of the lobby, the retail concept allows the brand to further flex its muscles with the slogan ‘work life’ taking on a whole new meaning, which is imprinted in the various on-trend merchandise available, Including jumpers, socks and drinks containers. Adjacent to this is the modest check-in area and café, which is aptly subtle, allowing for the friendly nature of the staff the opportunity to ensure guests’ experience from the start is one that is warm and memorable.
The hotel’s 42 guestrooms and suites are spread over eight floors, and comprise of four thoughtfully designed accommodation types: ‘Life Size’ (standard guestroom), ‘Living Space’ (one-bedroom suite), ‘Living Large’ (one-bedroom duplex) Penthouse suite), and ‘Living The Dream’ (two-bedroom duplex Penthouse suite).
Although each room and suite is designed to be different, together they share the same design language with oak parquet or timber floors, bespoke furniture and quirky ‘do not disturb’ signs. As well as being a pioneering hotelier – that, nobody is questioning – Griffen is also an exceptional interior designer. Inside the hotel he took the historic roots and industrial bones of the building, and masterfully married them together with sleek interior touches and intuitive design solutions. Here, the devil is in the detail. For example, the rooms, which feel lifted and airy with plenty of natural light flooding in, feature by-folding wardrobes that open to reveal a simple yet clever mirror that slides across the piece of furniture.
“We wanted the interior design to be consistent with the pillars of the LEVEN brand,” added Griffin. “Leven means ‘live’, so we crafted spaces that would feel not only stylish and sophisticated, but warm, relaxed and homely.”
In the Life Size and Living Space rooms, soft grays and blues are offset by rich green velvet, leather and black marble furnishings. The duplex Penthouses – sheltered in a seamless extension on the top floors of the building – have a calming neutral color palette throughout and upper-level bedrooms that are accessed by whimsical, wooden spiral staircases.
“We selected calming colors throughout, paid attention to the tactility of fabrics and materials using natural woods and stones to complement the industrial fabric of the early 20th century warehouse,” added Griffin. “We played around with the idea of using graphic paint lines in the corridors, however settled on floor to ceiling wooden panels painted in a charming Farrow & Ball Card Room Green juxtaposed with an industrial mesh ceiling.
The beds, with natural fiber mattresses from Naturalmat, feature padded leather headboard paired with black metal frames. The artwork, deliberately positioned on the left hand side of each guestroom to avoid unsightly symmetry. From black-and-white images of the city to an upside-down poem and the odd dog in between, the art curation raises questions. “It’s all been curated by Tim, and there’s no real theme with these pieces” said Kris Doyle, General Manager, LEVEN Manchester. “He just knows what he likes and can capture what works.”
The bathrooms, meanwhile, complete with anti-steam mirrors and industrial-style gray concrete tiles, have been designed to be minimalistic wet rooms. They include quality brands, such as Hansgrohe showers (hand shower and overhead shower), Roca basins, GROHE flush plates and Duravit toilets. Creating a cohesive design tone between bathroom and bedroom – all while taking the wellness outside the bathroom – the ‘Living Space’ suites also feature deep free-standing baths from Porcelanosa.
Entering a new territory in the luxury/lifestyle sector, LEVEN has unquestionably arrived, and in doing so it has set the tone for lifestyle hospitality to transform and adjust its settings yet again.
So what’s next for Wellbrook Hospitality, and the LEVEN brand? “We are in advanced discussions for our second and third sites in the UK and Europe,” said Griffin. “Along with Branco Capital we are looking at New York – a favorite city of mine after living there for over a decade.”
And with that, I bid farewell to Manchester – a city that will forever inspire me to push boundaries and ask questions – with the knowledge that when I return, whenever that may be, LEVEN will have established itself as the trend-setting, gatecrashing friend in the industry who we all want to socialise with.
Main image credit: Heiko Prigge