Architect Harrison Ince was engaged by the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) in 2010 to assist with updating and strengthening the famous brand, without losing sight of its core values or alienating its primary customer base.

YHA has a rich and strong history, which started over 100 years ago. The spirit of YHA had to be protected, not suffocated by one blanket identity. This assignment started with extensive research into the company, the estate and its range of accommodation types and packages offered and the competition. YHA offers a broad range of accommodation tailored to suit the needs of education groups, families and individuals in some striking premises and locations.

Each YHA facility was grouped into one of four segments which defined the level of accommodation and facilities provided. In order to formalise the differences between the segments, design manuals were developed to detail the standards to be achieved for each of the premises. These manuals included golden rules for each area of the hostel, detailed design drawings including layout plans and elevations illustrating fixtures, fittings, furniture, lighting, floor and wall finishes.

Whilst the design manuals were being developed, Harrison Ince was involved in a number of refurbishments in 2011, ranging from the small rural farmhouse at Rowen and coastal, cliff-top house at Poppit Sands to the larger, more high profile London Oxford Street, which went on to be crowned as one of the best hostels in the world at the eleventh annual HOSCARS (Hostelworld Hostel Awards).

2012 saw larger projects still, including the Grade II Listed Grinton Lodge in North Yorkshire and the Grade I Listed Wilderhope Manor in Shropshire. YHA acquired a new site, Losehill Hall in Castleton, which has become a flagship education centre.

Due to each site having its own unique style and characteristics, it was impossible to standardise the interior design schemes for the estate. However some fixtures and fittings, such as bunk beds, shower units and self catering kitchen joinery units were standardised as they had become tried and tested installations which resolved historical operation issues experienced throughout the country.

Lead architect on the YHA project was Paul Harrison: “We are proud to be working with YHA to create hostel environments which complement modern life and provide invigorating surroundings, whilst supporting the various needs of their guests.

“Working on the youth hostel developments and refurbishments is both challenging and rewarding due to the variety of properties, and we ensure that each site is honoured with a creative and tailor-made design to inspire each guest and provide a sensitive link to the location and environment.”

The interior scheme for each property takes into consideration the character of the property, its location and the customer base. Properties attracting a high percentage of school groups will have and internal layout configured to accommodate large groups of people in one space at a time with materials, fixtures and fittings to suit the use of each area. City centre properties often attract families and individuals so the schemes are tailored accordingly whilst remote rural premises are treated sympathetically and the facilities and specification adjusted to suit.

2013 has seen the completion of five high profile sites – York, Ambleside, Stratford-upon-Avon, Canterbury and Malham – with a total spend of over £6m. Each site varies in size, character, customer base and location type, ranging from city centre to national park.

“We are looking forward to strengthening design principles for YHA through ongoing developments,” says Paul, “including an array of projects from city centre Cambridge, rural Pen–y–Pass and the iconic Blacksail.”

YHA York – 200-bed Victorian mansion – project cost: £2m
Conservatory extension, new cafe bar and reception, state-of-the-art seminar/education facilities. All 45 rooms refurbished with 32 en suite. New self-catering kitchen. New car park.

The design of the hostel cafe bar and communal areas was developed to complement the contemporary extension at the front of the premises. The goal was to create a youthful, modern and comfortable space where hostel guests and visitors could socialise. This was achieved with the use of strong colours, modern materials and comfortable furniture.

YHA Ambleside – 240-bed Lakeside premises – project cost: £1.4m
Revamped restaurant and bar open to non- residents. New external terrace overlooking Lake Windermere. 64 refurbished bedrooms with 11 rooms en suite. New self-catering kitchen. Refurbished education/seminar facilities.

The cafe bar at Ambleside was the drive for the development, so the focus was to develop a new restaurant and bar which would attract visitors into the premises. The cafe bar had to appeal to a broad range of guests so a homely and approachable environment was created using natural materials which complemented the lakeside position.

YHA Stratford – 132-bed Grade II Listed Georgian mansion – project cost: £1.2m
New cafe bar, restaurant and external terrace. All 32 bedrooms refurbished with 16 rooms en suite. New state-of-the-art seminar/education room. Refurbished self-catering kitchen.

The new cafe bar and restaurant were the key areas of this redevelopment and the style and character of the property were used as inspiration. Classic colours and fittings were incorporated to create a versatile environment which would appeal to a spectrum of guests.

YHA Malham – 81-bed rural location in National Park – project cost: £420k
New extension housing state-of-the-art education facility. Newly reconfigured reception and waiting area. New restaurant and dining room. All 19 bedrooms refurbished with five rooms en suite. New self-catering kitchen.

Malham’s rural location attracts a variety of customers and so the design had to appeal to school groups, families and individuals. The design therefore had to be universal and a comfortable environment was created using fresh colours, contemporary furniture and vintage-style fittings.

YHA Canterbury – 74 bed character city property – project cost: £580k
New cafe bar and dining room. All 15 bedrooms refurbished with seven rooms en suite. All communal areas refreshed. Refurbished self catering kitchen.

Canterbury’s city centre location appeals to families and individuals and a bright and unique environment was produced to complement the features of the property. Inspiration was drawn from the bright colours found within the existing gothic style stained glass.

What YHA says
Jake Chalmers, YHA (England and Wales) property director, says: “If you’ve stayed in a youth hostel, you’ll know there is not one model of interior design or standard photo above the bed, each YHA is unique. We start from a very strong position as our hostels occupy amazing locations and buildings – from purpose-built youth hostels to castles, 13th century farms and Victorian mansion houses.

“We want our customers to be inspired by where they are. It’s not simply about convenience of access or the flattest and biggest TV that you would usually associate with hotel chains.

“With such an asset, our interior design needs to be inspiring and enable our customers to fully experience these amazing locations, meet new people, explore and enjoy new and old activities.

“Being a charity, however, our budget is extremely limited, so the use of bright colour in our youth hostels plays a major part in bringing them to life, and moving us away from the institutional look of white walls and bed linen. Naturally YHA green features in all our hostels, but so does electric blue, bright pinks, etc.

“Our focus is on functionality and being cost effective to the end user. We don’t have TVs in the bedroom and yes, we’ve still got our bespoke bunk beds, but it’s these little design quirks, as well as our standard YHA bedding – green of course – unique shower design, amazing self-catering kitchens and great social spaces, that identify us and make us memorable.”