When it opened in the early 1980s Sea Containers House was one of the most glamorous office buildings in London. I was lucky enough to work there and it was always fun to welcome visitors who’d gasp when they arrived. The river views! The marble loos! The Dynasty-style brass lights and balustrades!
Our office team worked late and we regularly saw the sun sink down in a flaming ball, passing dead centre through the London Eye. We often joked that we might as well bed down in our offices for the night. Now, the spaces where we beavered away have been turned into the guest rooms of the chic new Mondrian London hotel—and we actually could sleep there.
Even as an office block, Sea Containers House had the feel of an ocean liner, drifting grandly along the Thames. Its designer, celebrated US architect Warren Platner, was sometimes spotted striding through, captain-like, checking that we didn’t wreck his concept by sneaking in unauthorised table lamps or blinds. Today, the building has been transformed from workplace to hotel by designer Tom Dixon. It’s fascinating to see how he has maintained the original Platner and nautical aesthetics in an interior that is thoroughly 2014.
Best of all, he has connected the building to the riverfront. Restaurants and watering holes open up onto the Thames walkway, there’s a terraced rooftop bar with splendid views of the City spires and many suites have balconies that hover over the river below. It’s a place to sit and be amazed by the diversity of boats and their activities, rather like being on Venice’s Grand Canal with a backdrop of the dome of St Paul’s instead of the Salute and the pealing bells of St Bride’s replacing those of St Mark’s campanile.
But the big drama happens at the main entrance, where’s there’s a desk in textured copper shaped like a ship’s hull. Dixon has also brought back the model boats from the building’s office era and mixed them with giant contemporary sculptures for check-ins with “wow”.
My second intake of breath came in the spa, where a droplet of gold is suspended as if set to splash down into a pool. (I was also intrigued to see that the former office reception desk had reappeared at the spa entrance, its marble surface buffed and perfect for this ethereal space.)
Platner‘s layered brass lamps and maritime mirrors appear all over the hotel. I glimpsed the maestro’s touches everywhere from the screening theatre to the Sea Containers private dining room, where the huge gold S and C that formerly sat on the building’s facade now decorate the walls.
But what most grabbed my attention were Platner’s iconic 1960s chairs. (If you fancy one, they’re yours for £2, 256.) We had them in our meeting rooms and today they look as contemporary as ever in the Mondrian’s top suites.
Full marks to Dixon for taking a building’s heritage and, without ever resorting to cliché, bringing it bang up to date. Sea Containers House was originally constructed as a hotel, but switched to offices before it could open. Now it feels like it has sailed back into port and come home.