It always pays to look up in London, as you never know what architectural gems you might discover in the most unexpected places.
A couple of weeks ago we discovered one such gem in the unlikely setting of Wood Green, when we booked ourselves in for a guided tour of Green Rooms, a fantastic art-led social enterprise hotel offering affordable accommodation to artists and other creative types, just minutes from the Piccadilly line. Situated on Station road opposite some very uninspiring council buildings, one of the first thing you notice about Green Rooms (if you are looking up) are the large bronze plaques which decorate the centre of the striking Art Deco facade and give a hint to the buildings previous incarnation.
Built in 1925 as an office and showroom for the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company, the plaques advertise the many uses of electricity (which would have been generated locally). It is no coincidence that the NorthMet logo resembles that of the London Underground, as the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company (established in 1900) was also linked to the North Metropolitan Tramways Company and the Roundel (which was gaining prominence at this time) had not yet been trade marked by London Transport.
The building is currently owned by Haringey Council and once used as the housing office, but had been vacant (presumed derelict) since 2009. Earmarked for sale, it was rescued from being turned into luxury flats by Nick Hartwright, founder of The Mill Co. Project. Who persuaded Haringey council to turn the space into a creative hub that would support and engage the local community, whilst injecting a new lease of life and bringing new people into the area.
The ground floor, with it’s large curved windows was originally one of 40 showrooms that NorthMet Electric Power Supply Company had across North London and Middlesex, from which they would recruit new customers and sell all manor of labour saving electrical goods (which would in turn increase the demand for electricity).
This large open space has now been transformed into a warm and welcoming reception/bar/cafe and restaurant, which is open to everyone, not just guests of the hotel. It’s modern eclectic interior, full of vintage furniture, pot plants and striped backed style, would not look out of place in even the coolest districts of Stockholm, Berlin or Brooklyn.
The food is provided through a series 6 months long residencies, giving local start ups the opportunity to run their own restaurant (rent free!) and Green Rooms even help them find a suitable venue to move on to when their residency ends. They are currently playing host to Pop’s Kitchen, who offer a contemporary take on Caribbean cuisine. I have already returned to Green Rooms and can personally vouch for the deliciousness of the Jerk Chicken wings (my friend was equally pleased with her Butternut squash soup).
The building has been restored with the help of City Hall and the London Borough of Haringey, all the work was completed with a modest budget of under 1 million pounds. But with the help of chairman Kurt Bredenbeck (leading hotel entrepreneur, known for the Hoxton) they have managed to create a very stylish, luxe-for-less environment, whilst retaining and restoring many of the original period features.
The ground floor toilets have been given a colourful make over by local artist, Pawel Karol. And creative solutions have been employed, where the budget may not have stretched. A large puddle of gold has been used to fill the gap created by missing tiles in the mosaic on the first floor landing. Using a visible mending technique reminiscent of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
On the top floor of the building is a beautiful ballroom with the original stained glass Skylight. This room was possibly the boardroom or staff social area for the NorthMet office, but is now used as a multipurpose event and exhibition space with a fully licensed bar, available for hire.
One of my friends, who is a bit of an Art Deco aficionado, was a little dismayed to see that all the decorative features had all been painted white (as she says that this isn’t how it would have been in the 1920s) but I am less of a purist and like the white on white “wedding cake effect” where the sculptural details are just highlighted by the light, rather than being painted different colours. Whilst I image that this was done due to lack of budget, I feel that the simplicity of the painting keeps the room feeling fresh, bright and modern, and allows it to be a versatile space (rather than a museum piece).
They have also kept many of the original features in Loos on the first, second and third floor. These include the original cubicles with glass paneled doors, mosaic floor tiles and glazed wall tiles and borders.
The tour was led by the friendly and informative Paul Sinclair of Crouch End Walks and there are further tours of Green Rooms coming up, if you would also like to glimpse behind the scenes of this exciting venue and hear more about the history and future of this building.
To read more about the ethos and aims of this venture check out this interview with Nick Hartwright in the Guardian