The University Arms in Cambridge, England, which originally opened as a petite coaching inn in 1834, unveiled its $104 million renovation last summer, and it’s once again a property befitting of the city’s architectural and academic heritage.
London architect John Simpson and London- and New York-based Martin Brudnizki Design Studio(MBDS) were tasked with the four-year rejuvenation of the hotel, also revived by new owners Melford Capital Partners. Simpson’s striking neoclassical porte-cochère takes cues from his previous work on Buckingham and Kensington Palaces and hints at the grandeur waiting inside the 192-room hotel, now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
Although Brudnizki, founder and principal of MBDS, knew it would be impossible to ignore the rich educational legacy that shapes Cambridge in the design, he also wanted to transcend its traditional trappings. “It’s a university setting, and history is always important, but even more so was re-establishing this hotel as part of Cambridge. There are lots of small elements that are more like little winks, a look back without trying to be pastiche, but we also needed to look forward,” he explains.
Carpet patterns in corridors subtly call to mind the broad red and navy stripes of the official University of Cambridge tie, and an elegant, scholarly touch is added in guestrooms with leather-topped desks. Striped headboards and pops of red and orange enliven the muted palette, contrasting black and white tiles and brass accents in the bathrooms. Some of the suites, all named for Cambridge luminaries, feature commodious baths with freestanding, clawfooted tubs tucked into turrets, and terraces that overlook Parker’s Piece, the adjacent green common.
Cambridge Blue paneling complements the double-height ceiling and marble flooring in the lobby, while the reception desk is accented with a fabric skirt. A portrait of Winston Churchill looming behind the concierge post affirms that England’s past remains vital to University Arms’ contemporary narrative. The star of the clubby, paneled, bookshelf-filled library is the massive original oak fireplace, while the highlight of the bar goes to the dreamy swirls of the custom wallpaper meant to mimic cool marble, reminiscent of vintage book endpapers.
The inviting Parker’s Tavern is “a space for people living, working, and studying in Cambridge,” Brudnizki says. Here, he reimagined a simple college canteen as a sophisticated old-meets-new restaurant with stunning, restored stained-glass windows and a dark herringbone floor juxtaposing red leather banquettes and gold banker’s lamps. Artwork, a motley collection that delineates retro maps, city landmarks, and local personalities, is found throughout the hotel, notably in abundance at Parker’s Tavern to emphasize a sense of place. According to Brudnizki, “You feel pulled in.”