Character Builder

Designer Hilary Lancaster does her history homework and shops locally to give a former office building near Amsterdam a homey new soul.

The site of the Urban Lodge Hotel is far from glamorous. When designer Hilary Lancaster first saw the exterior of the drab office building she’d been commissioned to transform into a trendsetting retreat, her heart sank.

“We joked about how the interiors would be a great surprise for guests because they would be so different from the exterior,” recalls Lancaster, founder and managing director of Fusion Interiors Group.

She’d been tasked with creating an inspiring environment within an uninspiring angular shell on a tight budget. But starting with a blank canvas meant her team could come up with a completely fresh idea. The result is a cohesive visual experience that pays tribute to the locale’s agrarian-meets-industrial roots in a way that’s authentic and anything but gauche.

The 120-key Dutch lodge is tucked just outside Amsterdam’s Sloterdijk village. Formerly occupied by farmland, the town became an industrial hub following the construction of a canal in the 1630s. About 200 years later, railroads began making their way through the area, which is now home to a major railway station connecting the village to the city’s center.

Dutch-Chinese entrepreneur Alex Chang had acquired the property because of its prime location near Sloterdijk station. That locale also became the narrative for Lancaster’s creative brief.

The amalgamation of two ideas—the site’s agrarian and locomotive heritage—was Lancaster’s stepping off point for creating the hotel’s name, interiors and branding. Following an extensive naming workshop in her firm’s London office, the moniker Urban Lodge Hotel was born.

“We decided to combine a lodge feel with a subtle industrial look,” explains Lancaster, whose multidisciplinary firm is based in London’s Shoreditch district. To avoid a trendy look that could be easily dated, the designer used the concept as her main focus for the design. “Once the soul of the hotel is defined, the spirit of the interior can live beyond trends,” she says.

“For this project, we were also working within a tight budget, so we needed to be very creative with the materials,” adds Lancaster. That meant cladding existing columns with what the designer describes as “incredibly inexpensive” reclaimed wood, which was also used in the entry’s ceiling and the elevator lobbies, to produce a chevron pattern. To add drama, ceiling planks were designed to be fitted together diagonally, leading the eye to the reception area and creating a contrast with the hotel’s boxy brick exterior.

The city/country statement starts at the reception desk, which showcases black iodized metal panels and a white tile top. A fireplace acts as the hearth of the lobby lounge, where bookshelves display an eclectic mix of vintage pieces—such as radios, bowls, cowbells, wooden bowling pins and glass medicine bottles—which the designer handpicked from local vendors to add character.

Lancaster used various flooring materials to layer references to the past and present throughout the hotel’s public spaces. For the lobby, she chose low-cost and highly durable tile with a wood look in lieu of the real deal. That surface transitions in the dining area to patterned blue and white tiles inspired by the Netherlands’ Delftware pottery, a regional reference that’s woven throughout the lodge. Toward the bar, concrete resin floors nod to the location’s industrial past while adding a contemporary edge.

A bold contrast from the residential warmth of the lounge’s neutral palette, the adjacent royal-blue, tile-clad bar’s mono-tonal, mono-textural look adds urban impact to the corner of the communal public area while tying it into the dining area’s Delftware-inspired details.

Though the theme of two eras remains cohesive throughout the hotel, each space has its own distinctive look. Behind the bar, for example, the breakfast area and restaurant dining room are divided by a storage counter topped with a partition of shelves that showcase a mix of locally sourced toasters dating to the 1920s and ‘30s. “I fell in love with them, so I found a place to put them,” Lancaster says, noting their decorative details and morning-meal relevance.

“The original idea for the accessories and artwork was to use very simple Dutch objects in repetition,” recalls the designer. That approach is perhaps most apparent in the breakfast area’s animal skulls, a reference to traditional lodge homes in Holland, which are often adorned with such hunting-inspired decor. A mismatched mix of vintage mirrors, bells and blue jars in the dining spaces fortify the repetition notion while imbuing a sense of coziness reminiscent of rural retreats.

For continuity, themes from the public spaces were echoed in the guest rooms via a wood and concrete aesthetic. “If we had a large budget these would have been the actual materials, but as this was not the case, we used faux ones such as vinyl, laminate and wallpaper,” explains the designer. “We wanted a lodge-type feeling so we used oak veneer (laminate) on the headboard and cupboards … The urban part has concrete-effect wallpaper and floors.”

Punches of blue throughout the accommodations also take cues from Delftware. Plates serve as artwork above the beds. In the bathrooms, low-cost white tiles offset pricier blue and white accent tiles, which were created by a local artist and show off traditional Dutch motifs.

Developing a truly authentic design scheme in what could be perceived as a lackluster locale offered a two-fold lesson: There’s no need to overshoot the budget to deliver a strong statement and (perhaps more importantly) stick to the story. “We tried to use nearby suppliers as much as possible to save on costs, but sourcing reclaimed wood and having some furnishings made in Amsterdam—such as the large bench opposite reception—also added the local touch,” notes Lancaster.

“We always try to create a narrative from which the design will emerge,” she adds. “That’s why we start with research and deep concept work. It can take longer, but the result is worth it. There is nothing more soulless than ‘copy-and-paste’ design.”

From commercial to cozy, there’s no soulless detail left inside the Sloterdijk property.