MY YEAR: Signature Living cofounder Lawrence Kenwright

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In the past 12 months, Signature Living cofounder Lawrence Kenwright has led the launch of a film-themed hotel, signed and redesigned liverpool’s historic Albion House for conversion into the Titanic Hotel, and is now close to signing his next hot hospitality venture

WINTER 2012 – I built a film-themed hotel

On November 16 we signed a building on Stanley Street, Liverpool with plans to convert it into a film-themed hotel with its own bar, club, restaurant and 24-hour concierge service.

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This was to be Signature Living’s fourth hotel. The company, run by my wife Katie and I, offers accommodation catering to groups. So guests can hire out a whole floor at the weekend catering to up to 20 people. During the week floors can be divided to cater to a smaller number of people. That’s our main USP. I was inspired to develop this kind of accommodation after an unsuccessful weekend on a stag do in Newcastle.

I do design and help the building team, working on site with the guys. So from February we were doing 20-hour days on the Stanley Street property for six weeks. We put in 15 bathrooms, seven kitchens and reconfigured the whole of the hotel in that time. I slept on site.

It got better as the job went on because we had some bedrooms. We thought the funding would drop in quicker than it did so we’d put our flag in the sand and had to stick to the timescale — we had guest already booked in. I didn’t speak to anyone — I just focused on getting it finished.

SPRING 2013 – I landed Albion House

We opened The Signature Hotel Liverpool, Stanley Street, on April 6 and welcomed our first guest. About a month later we finished the whole thing off.

Those first few weeks of operation we spent finalising details, honing in on the design element.

Katie didn’t get involved in the build, her main role was to ensure we filled the place and to make sure we’re offering a great service. We’re now listed as the number one hotel in Liverpool out of 98 on TripAdvisor and the number one hotel in the speciality lodging category.

We realised we were onto something different in the hotel sector and was looking for our next project.

We went after the Bank of England building — a Grade 1-listed building but the whole process was too intrusive, the issues with heritage were just too strong so we came away from that and the same person owned Grade II-listed Albion House, the former headquarters of White Star Line — owner of RMS Titanic. I knew the guy was quite attached to the building, he’d owned it for 27 years or something and other people had tried to buy it in the past.

Anyway, I put an offer in and they said ‘yes’, but then a week later they said ‘no’.

SUMMER 2013 – I designed The Titanic hotel

This was July/August and I decided to up the offer a bit on Albion House and the owner said ‘yes’. I quickly got my deposit in and exchanged keys.

I spent a lot of time working on plans over the summer. On the top floor I’d like to have a bar and restaurant with a huge balcony overlooking Liverpool’s World Heritage Site, the River Mersey, Albert Dock and all of Liverpool’s best buildings — it will benefit the city.

The Titanic will be a boutique-style hotel with a wedding venue, which is a great way to fill the beds. It’s themed loosely on the Titanic because you can’t get away from its [the building’s] heritage, but it’s more about the Hollywood film and the greatest love story ever told than it is about the negativity of the disaster.

We’ve had feedback saying we shouldn’t use the Titanic as a selling point and I totally agree, so we’re not trying to do it in that way, we’re trying to be very tasteful about it.

The first-floor balcony — from which worried White Star staff shouted news of the ship’s sinking to crew members’ families crowding around the main entrance below them — is still there, obviously we’ll be telling guests about its significance.

AUTUMN 2013 – I’m eyeing my next hot hotel deal

The total investment for the purchase and conversion of The Titanic will be £7m and we’re looking to start building in November, ready for a partial opening on April 6, that’s what we’re going to work to.

Now I’m working around the clock again — it’s like going into a boxing fight, you have to train now to make the fight easy. I’ve got my brother, Graham, who is going to run the building team on site.

Other than that, we’re looking at locations for our next hotel. We have another site in Liverpool we’re looking at. We’re planning a Bill Shankly hotel for football which we’d like to open at the start of next year (see page five of Boutique Hotelier for more details).

So The Titanic will open next, then a Bill Shankly hotel. Liverpool’s known for its football, its tourism with the museums, and it’s very quickly getting known for its nightlife. We’ve covered nightlife with our party/group hotels, tourism will be covered by

The Titanic, and football will be covered by the Bill Shankly hotel. We’re also looking at a few sites in Manchester. We’re in quite serious negotiations so again we’d be looking to open that in the latter part of next year. Longer term, we want to be in London.

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