Acclaimed London interior design house, Goddard Littlefair, has completed the interior of a former Victorian railway hotel in York.

It is always wonderful to see historic properties given a new lease of life, and Goddard Littlefair has done just that in its considered refurbishment of what was formerly one of Britain’s greatest Victorian railway hotels. 

Housed in a purpose-built structure in yellow Scarborough brick – designed by architect William Peachey – the hotel first opened its doors in 1878, and still retains a great deal of its original architectural details today. 

It was highly important that Goddard Littlefair honour this unique heritage, while rejuvenating the hotel’s many public spaces and 159 bedrooms.

“Our overall ambition was to breathe life back into every artery of the hotel’s interior,” explains Goddard Littlefair Director and Co-Founder, Jo Littlefair, “giving a nod to tradition and heritage, but also creating a tremendously warm, light and welcoming contemporary environment for guests.

“We were briefed to reinstate the hotel’s essential character and to pay respect to its original architecture, whilst at the same time ensuring a feeling of comfort, restfulness, so that The Principal York was once again a true destination hotel.”

One of Goddard Littlefair’s first tasks was to rationalise guests’ arrival experience. The hotel originally had two entrances, the first on the garden side of the hotel for guests arriving by coach or car, and an underused secondary entrance on the other side for guests arriving by rail.

It was key to ensure that both entrances provide guests with a real sense of arrival, with both routes quickly joining one of two main public space circulation axes – the Promenade or the Colonnade. The Colonnade – which proceeds from a glass-roofed original hexagonal arrival space – now makes a real impact upon guests arriving via the railway station, stretching out towards the main public spaces beyond.

Ten custom-made mirrors, some full-height and some sitting above doors, line the space, whilst glass and brass pendant lanterns add yet more light and warmth via a specialist, subtly-sparkling antiqued finish.

The carpet is a bespoke design for the project, by Goddard Littlefair in conjunction with Brintons – who designed and made over 1700m2  of custom Axminster wool carpet and rugs for the hotel’s public spaces and guest rooms.

Bespoke high-backed wing chairs in mink brown leather and cushions in green silk velvet complete the look of this warm, inviting space.

The relocated reception area is now awash with light, and dressed in furniture that has a pronounced residential flavour, including two large desks designed to ressemble giant trunks; a display of framed vintage keys and wingback chairs arranged around a newly-installed fireplace.

At the heart of the hotel are two large, light-filled open spaces – the lobby lounge, which contains the hotel’s wonderful, dramatic staircase, and the Garden Room beyond, which looks out over the hotel’s extensive gardens. There are clear views through from one to the other, to ensure they interact, via the existing central and the two new entrances. 

Both spaces feature striking oiled oak flooring from Havwoods with a special ‘sawn’ surface and laid in a herringbone pattern, and bespoke chandeliers, made up of faceted, cut crystal baguettes set within in bronze frames, which Goddard Littlefair developed together with Heathfield.

The Garden Room now provides the perfect space in which to enjoy afternoon tea, with its elegant Chesterfield sofas, wing chairs and marble-topped tables. Antique details such as books, old trunks, ornaments and even thank-you notes from the hotel’s own archives have been sourced by Goddard Littlefair to evoke the hotel’s heritage and long-standing reputation.

At the left-hand side of the lobby lounge is the staircase, which has been refurbished and re-carpeted with a bordered goose eye patterned carpet. New wall mouldings and panels have been added, acting as a background to the stair’s dramatic new decorative feature – a five-storey-high eclectic collection of mirrors with picture lights above.

Upstairs in the guest rooms, Goddard Littlefair has created a soothing residential feel that will immediate put guests at ease. Soft wool throws, bespoke-designed for the project and supplied by Bute Fabrics, sit atop bed divans and mattresses by Moonraker. Pastoral-themed artwork and period cartography add visual interest.

Wooden panelling extends from the bedroom through to the bathroom, which features a roll-top standalone bath, marble flooring and bespoke washstand and mirror in pre-aged timber.