Harrison has completed a momentous three-year project with leading global hospitality company, Hilton. The Hilton Birmingham Metropole, NEC, which originally opened in 1976 before joining the Hilton family in 1999, has now re-opened offering guests and visitors alike the opportunity to experience a true taste of everything Birmingham has to offer through four new and distinct spaces.
During the COVID19 pandemic when hospitality businesses were forced to shut their doors, the Hilton began a complete transformation from ’90s ‘cookie cutter’ hotel to one fit for 2022’s discerning customers. Tasked with the challenge of unlocking the bespoke personality of the UK’s largest hotel outside of the capital, Harrison devised an integrated, brand-led approach. This covered all aspects from narrative development, through to F&B and operational strategy, to interior design and GA concepts.
By creating an offer which oozed authenticity and created a true connection between the hotel and the city of Birmingham, the transformed spaces now engage guests and encourage them to make full use of the Hilton’s facilities. Through immersing visitors in the ‘Brummy’ experience, it maximises revenue and encourages repeat visits.
Creating spaces which not only look great but are functional and generate income too is a core part of the Harrison strategy. At The Hilton Birmingham Metropole, NEC, the design and functionality of the core businesses spaces – outside of the rooms themselves – had not been reviewed since the ’90s. This led to bars and conference rooms which were no longer fit for purpose.
To combat this, the Harrison team, led by Design Director, Dean Concannon and Senior Designer, Nathan Stevenson, stripped the hotel back to its foundations in order to rebuild with a brand proposition to improve the hotel’s connection to Birmingham through bespoke story telling, optimise functionality and in turn generate revenue, and create welcoming environments people genuinely want to spend time in. In order to do this, Harrison:
· Identified guest portfolios
· Developed key brand pillars and cornerstones
· Delved deep into the history of Birmingham and created a connected and genuine storyline between the hotel and the city itself
Harrison rewrote the narrative and created four individual concepts with a connecting thread throughout, each encompassing a different aspect of the city’s personality, such as ink drawings which represent the 10,000 plus people who used to make ink pens exported worldwide. Intertwining and working together as one living, breathing entity, the four new spaces are – Brightsmith on the Water, the Gild Bar & Lounge, The Arbor, and the Executive Lounge.
The result is a destination of two tales – ideal for those looking to take in the sights, sounds and flavours of the City of a Thousand Trades, as well as creating a welcoming and warm one-stop-destination for those visiting the NEC, or on their way to the airport.
Throughout, Harrison wanted to continue the celebration of Birmingham’s trades, and incorporate those keeping the traditions alive today, such as by using local artists and photographers who’s work can be found adorning the walls.
Harrison Design Director, Dean Concannon, comments: “Hilton Hotels are iconic and well-known worldwide. While it has been a part of Birmingham’s landscape for 46 years, The Hilton Birmingham Metropole, NEC, felt like it had been left behind – as the rest of the city flourished and thrived, the Hilton firmly still had its feet rooted in 1999. We approached this project from the ground up. We wanted to reimagine the space as a lakeside hotel, colliding rich history, industry, and luxury all in one place. Every element needed to be recreated, from the layout to the design and everything in between to ensure first and foremost it could cope with the incredible number of people that pass through the hotel’s doors on a daily basis. But more than that, the hotel has become a destination in itself, not just a place to sleep.
“Each of the new spaces has its own bespoke look and feel – with the unifying gravity of the city of Birmingham pulling it all together. Our team, based in and around Birmingham, really dug deep into the city’s history, its culture, and its people – looking beyond the stereotype and finding the true and authentic Birmingham, from the post-war industrial giant to the brutalist architecture, to the glitz and the glamour. This has been a long process, but we are incredibly proud of what we have achieved.”
Brightsmith on the Water is a bar-restaurant with views looking out onto Pendigo Lake. In the evening, it is visually stunning as the lights from neighbouring Resort World reflect on the calm water. The bar and restaurant space leads to an outside terrace, complete with canopies to allow nearly all-year-round use – taking you one step closer to the water’s edge.
The name ‘Brightsmith’ bridges reflects both Birmingham’s industrial past as well as glamour this industry paved the way for. ‘Smith’ is the heavy industry, inspiring the factory floor aesthetic, while ‘bright’ draws attention to the glitter of sophisticated details like chandeliers, brass, and velvet. Base materials inspired by production and trade marry perfectly with glamorous details and soft furnishings to build character and tell a rich, more authentic story. Where they might sit at odds with one another in a different setting, here these contrasting elements perfectly represent Birmingham’s industry as well as iconic spaces such as the beautiful terracotta buildings, and the elegant Piccadilly and Great Western Arcades.
The F&B offering takes classic British food and cocktails – made using local brands and products – and brings them to life with quirky reinventions to add a modern twist. Brightsmith’s narrative is woven through menus and other branded assets – with rough and tarnished materials employed alongside a bespoke brand monogram and an intricate logotype in homage to the city’s hidden gem – its famous jewellery quarter.
The Gild is the melting pot of the hotel – the place where guests from all walks of life come together to dine with family, catchup with friends, plan days out in the inspirational library, and host meetings with business partners in the creative workspace. Exploring Brimingham’s ‘City of Contrasts’ narrative, The Gild champions the historical ‘City of a Thousand Trades’ and reveals how a new wave of designers and makers are responsible for the Midlands’ creative resurgence.
A double entendre, ‘Gild’ is both an archaic English spelling suggesting a ‘collective’ or ‘meeting place of artisans’ – chosen to reinforce the craft F&B offer, as well as the sociable qualities of the venue. It also represents the craft process of applying gold leaf to wood, stone, or metal – subtly underpinning the high-quality promise of every element of The Gild.
Craft flows through The Gild, from the design to the unique drinks and light bites menu. From artisan coffee and juice to healthy and free-from options, accompanying a carefully curated selection of craft beers, cocktails, and wines. Menu boards, table talkers, and other consumable references have all been designed to represent the makers’ marks and dockets used by craftspeople to fulfil orders or control their wares. Finally, the ‘To Go’ detail on the counter is representative of the conveyor belt of industry – encouraging a fast-paced environment where food acts as fuel.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the hotel’s events hub, The Arbor has been designed as a place of tranquillity where guests can enjoy nourishing food in calm surroundings. The breakfast and daytime buffet zone is inspired in both design and name by one of Birmingham’s best attractions, the Botanical Gardens. In fact, Botanical Gardens’ creator John Claudius Loudon, was the first to use the term ‘arboretum’ in the context of garden design.
Brimingham is one of the UK’s greenest metropolitan areas and The Arbor reflects this perfectly through earthy tones and manmade textures contrasting with lush organic shapes of nature to bring a sense of the outside, in.
Along with flora, Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens are famous for their stunning Victorian glasshouses. The Arbor’s graphic palette pairs these two elements beautifully – with use of heritage bloom illustrations across menus and other consumables complementing a modern interpretation of the Victorian architecture of the hothouses. Brand assets then bring the story to life by recommending places to visit in ‘Green Birmingham’, revealing the Botanical Gardens’ history along the way – from the one-of-a-kind fern houses to Gladly, a cross-eyed bear who was once an inhabitant of the garden’s menagerie (fondly named by locals after a hymn, “Glady, the cross I’d bear!”).
Exclusively designed for Hilton members, the Executive Lounge has been designed to be bright and airy, considered, and exclusive. Taking subtle inspiration from the West Midlands’ 400-year glass making heritage that reached its pinnacle in the early 20th Century, the Executive lounge features hand finished speckled glass light features, decorative glass screens complemented with furniture in jewel toned velvets.