With a love of old buildings that started at college, what better place for Carmel to ply her architectural trade than the historic, cobbled streets of Bath.
Carmel has always loved art. She wanted to be an interior designer, but after encouragement from her art teacher she shifted her artistic flair to her new passion – becoming an architect to breathe new life into beautiful old buildings.
Nowadays, Carmel couldn’t picture life any differently, and with a passion for buildings what better place to be than Bath – a city steeped in history and architectural splendour.
Joining a project in 2015 to create a Bath location for boutique hotelier, St James’s Hotels Group, introducing the IHG brand, Hotel Indigo – a project which was losing hope after the initial scheme was unsuccessful – Carmel couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on her life. Working with ISG to convert a Grade I listed building into a hotel as spectacular as the Bath surround, the team worked tirelessly to preserve the building’s definitive charm, while developing unique twists in its design features – in keeping with Hotel Indigo’s passion for infusing local culture into its spaces.
It’s been a long road, but five years and countless late nights later, Carmel has played a vital role in realising the vision for the hotel – meaning it can open the doors of a beautifully unique space to visitors wanting to stay in a stunning piece of Bath history.
Restoring buildings from the ruins has been Carmel’s life’s work.
Yet transforming the historical elements of a Grade I listed building, with strict conservation requirements, into a unique hotel in the heart of Bath was seemingly out of reach for Carmel, project director for Darling Associates, and Matthew Keys – the client representative and development manager for boutique hotelier, St James’s Hotels Group. The initial project had proved difficult, and led to ISG taking the reins of the scheme in an attempt to realise St James’s vision for its Hotel Indigo in Bath.
Carmel and the design team set about reinventing the building, introducing a modernised design and injecting a new lease of life into the hotel – precisely what Carmel enjoys about her work: “I like bringing buildings back to life, giving them their character back and putting the heart back into them,” she explains. “The building was looking very tired and unloved – I like making these buildings sing again.”
With a design consisting of 12 beautiful townhouses combined – each dating up to 300 years old – Hotel Indigo Bath boasts a unique heritage. With the previous scheme leaving the project at 70% completion, the team was tasked with completing the project to the specific conservation needs of a listed building.
“The whole project needed re-working to create the hotel’s unique features in a preserved building,” describes Joseph Elliot, ISG’s project manager. “It posed a real task for Carmel and our team, but we were all up to the challenge and looking forward to reimagining the design.”
To preserve Bath’s distinct aesthetic and array of listed buildings, the Bath Preservation Trust (BPT) has been campaigning to protect the city’s history since 1934. With the Hotel Indigo site, South Parade, representing a ‘heritage asset’, it was crucial that every element of the building remained in keeping with the unique requirements of the city.
Working with ISG, Carmel was committed to retaining the historic elements of the building, while also developing unique twists in the hotel’s design features, in keeping with the Hotel Indigo brand and Matthew’s passion for incorporating local culture into its spaces.
To celebrate the building’s authenticity, the team regularly cleaned the cast railings to preserve the external beauty of the hotel, and made sure that all materials used internally worked with the building’s ancient infrastructure. This created more challenges, including the need to use very specific supplies such as lime and lath plaster, which required factoring a 60-day drying time into an already tight time frame.
Despite strict guidelines for retaining the building’s original charm, the team collaborated creatively when it came to enhancing the more unique aspects of the hotel – fashioning rooms from old underground vaults, and creating a designated space to allow Hotel Indigo to carry out a staff training programme prior to opening. Carmel praises the individuality of the hotel’s design: “What we’ve created is unique – of all 166 rooms, no two rooms are the same. Reimagining the underground vaults as bedrooms has been a really original touch for this old style of building.”
Working with a conservation officer, the team agreed a design that adhered to the requirements of both listed building preservation and Bath’s city aesthetic. In order to preserve the building’s history, ISG worked closely with Carmel to develop every feature authentically. “It was imperative that Carmel was completely happy with every element,” says Joseph Elliott. “From making sure that the skirtings were not disturbed or removed, to restoring every staircase, we worked hard to make sure that the building retained its historic design.”
With the previous scheme proving unsuccessful, the team was hit with the added challenge of having to start afresh on already completed elements of the project, to allow them to successfully create the hotel’s key features.
While juggling the rescoping work and crafting the new hotel’s layout and design, an even bigger challenge presented itself – COVID-19. “Keeping everybody safe was of course the most important thing,” confirms Leigh Jones, ISG’s construction manager on site.
The team operated with a skeleton staff, designing a new site layout that would safely house the people still working to bring Hotel Indigo to life. “We were fortunate that we were able to develop innovative new ways of working in a safe environment, which allowed a slimmer version of our team to continue operating without being at risk,” continues Leigh.
A methodical approach to challenges aside, the relationships between Carmel, ISG and Matthew played perhaps the most vital role in getting the project over the line on time. ISG account manager, Philip Bristow, explains: “Plenty of unique challenges have been in our way, but the project has stayed in a good place thanks to the excellent relationships that have been formed. With a managed programme and costs agreed by all parties, the hotel has set itself in the best position for the grand opening.”
Client and development manager, Matthew, expressed his gratitude to Carmel and ISG following the hotel’s handover in July: “The quality of the project is fantastic, which would not have been achievable without all of your efforts. It has been a long time coming, which makes this a very important milestone for us.”
Hotel Indigo Bath opened its doors on 9 September 2020 to visitors from all over the world, wanting to stay in a stunning piece of Bath history, as they experience the city’s timeless landmarks.
The hotel is owned by St James’s Hotels and operated by Castlebridge Hospitality under licence from IHG® Hotels Ltd. Castlebridge Hospitality is a privately owned hotel management company, formed following the merger of St James`s Hotel Group and Castlebridge Hotels in 2018. The team has over 20 years’ experience in developing, owning and operating internationally and privately branded hotels in the UK and continental Europe.