Tag Archives: South Bank

London Slant: Come and explore the cool new Mondrian hotel

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!

Mondrian Hotel London superior room

The view from my former office—now a Mondrian London hotel room.

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.

Mondrian Hotel London

Sea Containers House: like a liner moored by Blackfriars Bridge on London’s South Bank.

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.

Mondrian Hotel London

The copper reception desk, like a ship’s hull, is part of a structure that starts outside the building and continues within.

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”.

Mondrian Hotel London

Contemporary sculptures contrast with model ships to make the lobby funky and fun.


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.)

Mondrian Hotel London

The dramatic drip in the spa.

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.

Mondrian Hotel London

Riverview suite with Warren Platner chair (centre).

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.


Who needs the hassle of long haul travel when you live in London? You can just sit put and let the world come to you. I certainly felt as though I was in Bali at a concert of the island’s music and dance the other night.

London gamelan

Dancer moves to the rhythm of the Balinese gamelan.

I might have been sitting in St Luke’s church near Old Street tube, but in my mind it was years ago when I visited a temple in Bali’s central hills. Then, devotees in elaborate costumes performed rituals against a backdrop of emerald rice paddies. But what I most remember was the music. A gamelan orchestra of xylophone-like instruments and gongs played hypnotic, flowing sequences of rippling notes.

I’ve remained on red alert for gamelan music ever since.  And, I’ve discovered, you can find it all over London, from the South Bank to the Horniman Museum. I was listening to the LSO St Luke’s Community Gamelan Group. Anyone is welcome to join their Monday evening practice sessions to learn how to play. Plus they regularly put on performances to sell-out crowds.

Last Friday evening St Luke’s was joined by Lila Cita, the UK’s leading Balinese gamelan group. The two teams of musicians came together in a lively concert that powered along at a lick.

The scene was set with ranks of elaborate gold and scarlet metallophones ready to ring out when struck by shark’s tooth hammers. To either side were glittering parasols and giant gongs. On came the performers: men and women in sarongs, crimson military-style jackets and blouses, with flowers in their hair. The drums struck up and they launched into cascading, classical pieces like Golden Rain. These mixed with more challenging contemporary pieces such as Short Ride in a Fast Machine, an exciting arrangement of John Adams’ 1986 composition for a western symphony orchestra.

London gamelan

A fascinating instrument: an exotic creature with red pom-pom cymbals on its back.

Then came the dancers, in their shimmering brocades. First on was 7-year-old Maya Channing, tap-dancing for her first time in public as she elegantly enacted the misadventures of a naughty Balinese pig. Next were ceremonial dances by sinuous ladies and ferocious-looking men.

London gamelan

Men perform a martial arts dance.

By now the gamelan had drifted into the background, letting the performers take centre stage. I enjoyed its gently tumbling notes as much as the earlier, more distinctive set pieces. It brought back the temple music in Bali that was played as an accompaniment to offerings to the gods.

*Watch out for more performances coming up at St Luke’s and by Lila Cita. If you’re reading this at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, the evening’s programme noted that one of the performers is running gamelan projects in UK prisons.