White City House at the BBC’s old Television Centre boasts all the details you would expect from Soho House – but what really sets it apart is a firm focus on art and a comforting dose of nostalgia. The Glossary takes an inside look at the interiors putting west London back on the creative map.
BBC Television Centre. It’s hard to imagine a better site for Soho House founder Nick Jones to commandeer and add to his ever-growing global portfolio of private members’ clubs. Ever since it’s birth in the late 90s, Soho House is a brand that’s built its reputation on being the media world’s favourite haunt. So for White City House – as the latest London outpost is called – to be located in this iconic 60s West London landmark is quite a coup. Part of a £1.5 billion residential and retail makeover, the development aims to do for west London what Shoreditch House did for east when it opened in 2007 as a space for creative types to meet and relax.
The property’s illustrious past guided the project, with the Soho House interiors team, helmed by design director Linda Boronkay, working in league with art curator Kate Bryan to create a venue that celebrated its rich broadcasting legacy and mid-century modern aesthetic. Architect Graham Dawbarn was said to have devised the original question mark-shaped masterplan while doodling in a pub. The iconic Grade II-listed doughnut-shaped Helios at its heart now includes private residential apartments together with 45 White City House hotel guestrooms. Meanwhile the members’ club occupies the eighth, ninth and tenth (top) floors of the adjoining newbuild.
“This was a building at the forefront of broadcasting,” explains Bryan, who has been head of the group’s art collections globally since October 2016 when she began work on White City House. “There was so much history there, but it was also radical. We wanted to tap into that nostalgia but not forget it was also somewhere that was technically innovative.” Bryan and Boronkay worked in tandem to develop the project, with the latter taking interiors inspiration from James Bond movies of the 50s and 60s, and of course, that televisual paean to sleek mid-century style, Mad Men.
But against this backdrop of 60s materials of terrazzo, rich wood panelling and patterned fabrics created by resurrected modernist textiles company Tibor, it’s British broadcasting history that is championed and referenced in the completed club spaces. As the BBC’s headquarters, Television Centre is deeply embedded in the national consciousness. The studios produced programmes such as Blue Peter, Take Hart and Doctor Who, and the Soho House team have had fun weaving nods to these childhood favourites into the interiors. Circular motifs in the bas-relief wood-panelled lifts echo the design of the Doctor Who TARDIS, while the illuminated dots on the façade of the ground floor Allis bar reference the atomic dots on Television Centre’s brick exterior. “The references aren’t immediately obvious but they feel familiar. Guests should be able to connect the dots in the end,” says Boronkay.
For art curator Bryan, it was a dream project. With Jones wanting to take the Soho House art collection “to the next level”, she was given carte blanche to acquire brand new artwork, rather than simply borrow from the 3,500 pieces circulating around the 19 clubs. “This is our first entirely specific collection; everything was commissioned or acquired with the site in mind,” she explains. “It’s such a historic place, occupying a big part of the shared British cultural landscape for the second half of the 20th century. It was such a ripe starting point and all the artists were on board as soon as they heard there was due to be a Soho House there.”
Every artwork exhibited in the ground floor spaces has a television connection with Archie Proudfoot’s ode to “Test Card F”, a beautifully rendered painted-glass panel featuring the chalkboard girl and her clown, taking centre stage. Bryan spotted the London-based sign painter and gold leaf artist at The Other Art Fair. It was Proudfoot’s first commission for Soho House group: “The brief was that I could use classic BBC imagery. It became the largest and most complex piece I’ve ever worked on,” he says.
Bryan estimates that around 40 per cent of the artworks on display at White City House are by artists who have never previously contributed to Soho House’s collections. “Mary McCartney’s wonderful diptych is her first work for us and Chris Levine’s ‘Playschool Windows’ is not only our first acquisition by that artist but the first light-based work in the collection,” she says. The three pieces by Levine are a play on the iconic shapes of the windows – round, square and arched – in the cult classic children’s programme.
Levine had fond recollections of the show: “When Playschool was mentioned, immediately the portals burned onto my consciousness. It was one of the things we were fed as children, the windows – every day we go into a different portal, entering a different dimension. Well, that’s my territory.” Produced in single wavelength laser light, which transmits as a very pure blue, the shapes appear almost three-dimensional echoing into infinity.
On the ninth floor, which is the main club floor incorporating a bar, dining room and lounge areas, it’s the late children’s TV presenter Tony Hart who is commemorated. “Everything displayed here is a love letter to Hart. He was such an important figure as he made art programmes on the BBC for 50 years,” says Bryan. “I started talking to major museum-level artists and it turned out that lots of them sent their art in to the programme, hoping it would appear on the show’s gallery.” This determined the commissioning for the space with Bryan asking artists including David Shrigley, Julie Verhoeven, Gavin Turk, and Gillian Wearing to “tap into their inner child”. Many can be seen on the wood veneer-panelled walls of the dining room and Bryan is evidently pleased with the results. “They’re so special, ranging from a pristine maquette by designer Thomas Heatherwick to a work actually made in 1973 by Sue Webster as a young child,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see a permanent homage to Tony Hart – the members love it!”
A similar tribute gallery is on display on the top floor in the wood-panelled cabana that leads out onto the rooftop pool. Here artworks inspired by the natural world are dedicated to David Attenborough. Also in keeping with the mid-century mood is a series of pieces by contemporary artists working in geometric abstraction, a movement that peaked during British modernism.
Best of all, you don’t have to be a White City House member to enjoy the new spaces and artworks. Guests who book into the guestrooms also gain access to the club facilities, which include the rooftop pool, expansive wellness area, gym and pool measuring 30,000 square feet in the basement, and a two-screen Electric cinema.
In the bedrooms fluted timber wardrobes, parquet floors, Formica furniture and vintage-inspired lighting maintain the 60s mood. Overnight guests can also enjoy spying past and current BBC stars in photography collages created by Peter Blake. “He created four different versions, with the all-star cast assembled outside the façade of Television Centre. There is one in every room,” says Bryan, “They’re nostalgic, charming and classic Peter Blake.”
Doubles rooms start at £195 per night; 2, Television Centre, 101 Wood Lane, White City, W12, whitecityhouse.com
Images: © White City House.
A version of this feature was published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Glossary.SHARE THIS ARTICLE