Into The Grove: Martin Hulbert on his design revamp at the Hertfordshire hotel

The Grove Hotel, Hertfordshire

We get under the design of The Grove’s new look and discover how Martin Hulbert and his team has evolved the hotel’s style in keeping with its original magic and luxury, as it reopened following the lockdown in May

The Grove in Hertfordshire unveiled a new look when it reopened in May, after an overhaul by design icon Martin Hulbert.

The project saw the hotel’s three restaurants, lobby and all 189 bedrooms in its west wing refurbished, with the work representing a significant investment for The Grove over the last two years, which has been able to be ramped up during lockdown.

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London-based designers Martin Hulbert and Jay Grierson of Martin Hulbert Design, who have worked with The Grove since the hotel’s launch in 2003, were charged with updating the property while retaining its ‘signature warmth, character and luxurious modern touches’.

One of the biggest projects was the makeover of the west wing bedrooms, which have been completely remastered with new colour schemes and furnishings.

The Grove’s signature restaurant The Glasshouse has been redesigned, to bring the ‘outside in’. New velvets and leathers have been installed, with kinetic sculptures suspended from the ceiling and voile drapes used to create intimacy. At the Glasshouse Bar, a new mirrored bar space has been created.

Also part of the overhaul are The Grove’s Lounges, a series of characterful drawing rooms at the heart of 18th century mansion.
The Grove’s Stables restaurant has also received a complete refresh, with warm tan leather seating and equine artwork as a nod to the late George Stubbs.

The mansion house home to The Grove has a long history, and has previously been used as a gardening school, health centre, riding school and girls’ boarding school, among others.

In the 1940s it became the secret wartime HQ for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway. 

By 1996, the Grove was in a ruinous state. It was rescued by Ralph Trustees Limited, and it opened eight years later as a luxury hotel and spa.

This latest project has helped The Grove re-establish itself in the top tier of luxury hotels in the country, and evolve the look and feel of the property as it looks ahead to business after lockdown.

We spoke to Martin about the inspiration behind the design and his process throughout the project.

How did your design process work with The Grove?

We started to update areas of The Grove around six years ago, with updating the event spaces and adding some new ones. We knew then we would eventually move onto the public areas and bedrooms. This gave us a long time to think and really consider how we would transform the existing interiors with the future in mind. 

We started with online and round the table discussions with past and potential future guests. This process also included the hotel management teams. Through this we gained real insight into their views on the hotel and how it should evolve in its future.

When did you first start on the project and how long did it take to see it through to fruition?

I never really stopped working for this client since we opened The Grove around twelve years ago. It was around six years ago when we began making major changes and culminating with The Glasshouse, lobby, bedrooms and lounges over the past three years. We still have a little bit to do.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

I suppose one challenge was rethinking interiors that we had already created. We all very much wanted to keep the original essence of the interiors but tweak and update them with the future in mind.

Did you work to a set brief? And does this brief change much as the project progresses? 

The brief was set by the discussions we had with the early guest workshops. We did also evolve the brief as we became more focused on a specific area. 

What were the main aims and objectives with the new look?

Firstly not to throw everything away, or lose the spirit of the original interiors. We wanted to build on the interiors connection to the landscape around The Grove. To bring out its back story which was an important outcome of the workshops. We wanted to create a more handmade and natural relaxed look and feel.

How do you source materials/fabrics/furnishings?

We have our eyes and minds wide open and are constantly looking. We look at magazines, we go to various trade shows. We are constantly in contact with all sorts of suppliers. We often like to work directly with manufacturers, artists and craftspeople to create new things.

What are the key considerations in general when designing? 

The key considerations for us is to create hotel interiors that are original, individual and inspiring, that are deeply comfortable, thoroughly clean and maintainable, have a sense of place and most importantly have atmosphere. 

How do you ensure that design and functionality go hand in hand?

We talk often and in depth with the people who look after and work in our interiors. We also work closely with our manufacturers to help trial and test our ideas. 

What are some of the biggest design trends to come out of the last 12 months?

I think we have been humbled over the last 12 months into enjoying more simplicity and honesty, trends that are leading towards nature and natural, also individuality and less show-off oriented: more grounded. 

How often should a hotel look into redesign or a design update of their spaces?

I believe hotels need to constantly but subtly evolve to keep them fresh, so they can keep up with the ever changing market and continue to stand out ahead of their competition. Hotel interiors need to change for example if they want to change the nature of a restaurant as a whole.  If new hotel interiors are well designed and maintained they can become classics with a backstory of their own. If you can achieve this, they shouldn’t ever need a complete scene change. 

How has your design process changed / been impacted by the pandemic?

It hasn’t changed that much. It has given us more time at home therefore more time to think. We have also learnt to trust ourselves better.

What other UK projects do you have in the pipeline?

We are working on various residential projects as well as hotels in Wales and York and we will be continuing to subtly evolve and tweak The Grove. 

Tags : DESIGNMartin HulbertThe Grove
Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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