Converted 19th Century Diamond Factory Makes for a Boutique Gem

How does a chain of hotels manage to keep each of its establishment completely individual? This is the question that Sir Hotels is seeking to answer. By commissioning a different designer for each hotel, and by letting the city be their guide, each Sir finds a unique flavour and look. Design couple, Alon Baranowitz and Irene Kronenberg have certainly made their mark in Amsterdam with the Sir Albert.

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We caught up with them to hear more about their love affair with the city, and what it takes to maintain distinct personality in each and every design…

The Sir Albert, in one of Amsterdam’s coolest neighbourhoods, is distinctly its own person. Lacquered wood runs seamlessly into deep leather as the space flows just as effortlessly from room to room. The building’s past life—as a 19th Century diamond factory—was as important to the designers as their new additions, and the industrially high ceilings and vast windows take pride of place. The result? A laidback masculinity that reflects the neighbourhood as well as the hotel’s namesake.

The success of Sir Albert is evident from the way that Amsterdam has embraced its space. This, Kronenberg and Baranowitz say, is their greatest success. It’s not just tourists snatching borrowed weeks of relaxation amidst its fireside armchairs, local Amsterdam folk have taken it under their wing just as much. A home away from home, even for those who live in the city.

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THE PLUS: Tell us about what the Sir brand means to you?
Irene Kronenberg:
Sirs are about a certain personality. Sir is the title that speaks about manners and the service you can expect to receive, but then it’s more open. So the idea of having a chain brand called Sir gives us the freedom to personalise all the different Sirs.

Alon Baranowitz: We decided each Sir should be designed by a different designer which would add a layer of interpretation. If one office does them all, at the end of the day, it looks familiar. We were in the team that inaugurated this brand but when you give it to different designers each Sir is really different. For the Sir lovers that follow the brand, they know they will get great service but the experience of the spaces and what awaits inside, is a kind of anticipation because they don’t look the same. They don’t have the same vibes which makes the brand really unique.

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TP: And what is the particular flavour of the Sir Albert?
IK:
It’s in the Albert Cuypstraat street, and it was almost natural to call it Sir. Each designer has a blank canvas to interpret the specific personality of the Sir. So this Sir is a modern, young aristocrat. He’s an art collector; he’s an object collector; he’s a bon vivant. He likes to travel and he’s a fan of the wabi sabi philosophy, which goes with the design of the Izakaya Restaurant (http://izakaya-restaurant.com/amsterdam). So this is the story from where we start to design this property. All the design here is very masculine.

TP: Which features of the building’s history as a diamond factory were you looking to keep?

AB: The spaces were quite humble and big because they used to have lots of machinery in. So the spans between walls are really big which was convenient when dividing the rooms. We wanted to keep the facades of the building. Actually, we opened them a little bit to the canal side which was blocked. We were lucky to get a building that was easy to transform into something new, but along the floors we spread memories of this building, memories of the industry, memories of times gone by, that belonged to there. So anyone that visits the hotel gets a little glimpse of what was here before, which I think is very important.

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TP: How did you go about deciding what the feel of the Sir Albert would be?
AB:
When we design anything, we start with context. We never come with a preconceived idea of what we are going to do. We always listen to the place, to the history, to the sight, to the neighbourhood, to the people, to the culture. And then we start to think about what would resonate best with this specific building and neighbourhood. We leave the place to lead us. But, as Irene mentioned before, The Sir Albert is very masculine in feel. We knew that Albert really likes black and dark brown so we knew that they would be quite paramount in this design.

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TP: What sort of materials did you decide on to capture this vibe?
IK:
Leather and wood.

TP: How do you create flow in your spaces?
IK:
The key is the layout. How you move in the space is how you create energy. We try to imagine how people move in the space. We want to let them be themselves.

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TP: Who do you see using the space?
AB:
If the neighbourhood find the hotel as their second home—if it’s where they like to come, work, do their meetings, have lunch or dinner—then for us, we did it. If a tourist sees this neighbourhood sitting inside having time of their life, he says ‘Wow I came to the right place; this is where I want to be.’ Tourists are an already captured audience: they ordered the hotel, they are going to stay. But to bring in the neighbourhood, this is totally different. You have to understand the local culture. To create this beautiful balance between being a hotel and being a public space for the neighbourhood is a very intricate thing to do.

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TP: So you wanted to make Amsterdam feel like home in your designs?
IK:
Sir hotels have this very personal, close, warm, service style. You want to feel super welcome. Having a study, or a library—all these notions that come from the house culture. We try to interpret that into the hotel so that you get a house, a home. That’s what we were trying to convey to the guests.

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TP: Do you feel it’s a challenge, to create a space with so many purposes?
AB:
The more variables, the more complicated it is. But you have more opportunities too! It’s fun to play with so many variables. We need to respond to the way we are living our lives today. We all use our iPhones with 30 apps open and you just juggle them. So you want to continue this kind of mind-set, even in a hotel… ‘I want to sit here, but I want to feel that, and I want to eat this.’ It’s a very complex world, and you have to cover everything—it’s great fun really.

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TP: Are you happy with the reaction you’ve got from the public?
IK:
A lot of people we meet in other countries say, ‘I went to a hotel, it’s not in the first ring of Amsterdam, but it’s the place to be’. And we say, ‘Which hotel?’ And they say, ‘The Sir Albert.’ And it’s nice to hear!

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TP: Okay, final question… what sort of travellers are you?
IK:
Busy travellers. Our professional life is about travelling. We are traveling all the time: here for a few days, in London, in Prague. But we enjoy life when we are travelling, for business or for pleasure.

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Plans & Drawings:
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Designer’s Hotels is an ongoing series celebrating excellence in boutique hotel design around the world.

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