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Historic post office converted into Villa Copenhagen hotel

Designed by Universal Design Studio, Goddard Littlefair and their hospitality arm, Epicurean, the design within the century-old architectural landmark forms the start of a dynamic new district being regenerated for the city.

08/12/2020 5 min read

Project Team

  • Client

    Strawberry Properties

  • Architect

    Krook & Tjäder

  • Interior Designers

    Universal Design Studio, Epicurean, Goddard Littlefair, Earth Studio, Shamballa Jewels

  • Furniture

    House of Finn Juhl, J.L. Møllers Møbelfabrik, Getama, Fredercia, Fritz Hansen, Carl Hansen, Menu, Fogia, Mobel Copenhagen, Brdr. Petersen

  • Surfaces

    Astrid, Kvadrat, Sahco, Nero Marquina, Zellige

  • Other suppliers

    Flos, Louis Poulsen, Asetp, Universal Design Studio, Axor, Skandinavisk, Nero Marquina

One of Europe’s most anticipated launches of 2020, Villa Copenhagen, officially opened its doors in the heart of Denmark’s capital city this July. The new hotel is housed within Copenhagen’s historic Central Post & Telegraph Head Office, originally built in 1912.

Goddard Littlefair was tasked with transforming the public areas of this iconic building, originally designed in 1912 by architect Heinrich Wench in Neo-Baroque style, with the aim of accentuating the historic aspects of the building and its architecture, and introducing contemporary Nordic designs. 

‘Community was the value that the client and ourselves believed in when we started designing this project,’ Jo Littlefair tells us. ‘The building is iconic in Copenhagen as the Old Post House and therefore synonymous with communication and connecting people together.’ 

‘Our design was focused on welcoming both guests to the city and equally Copenhageners into the building. The design had to appeal to both sets of guests, which meant we had to really understand what design language would appeal to both parties.’ 

Specialising in creating and developing F&B concepts across the hospitality sector, Goddard Littlefair’s emerging sister company, Epicurean, was tasked with designing Villa Copenhagen’s five food and beverage spaces. Epicurean discovered old photographs of the space as a working sorting room for the Post House, which inspired the entire design process – referencing original archways, lights with draped flex, reeded wall panelling and original glazed brickwork. 

‘When we are faced with a new project, we always take the time to research the building’s history and location and the people and personalities that have contributed stories to the property,’ says Jo. ‘Inevitably, this upturns a multitude of design directions and details, which we funnel into a melting pot of ideas. We then pull together strands that weave into a contemporary interpretation that is relevant to the building and the society it serves now.’

Using these elements to tell a story through a contemporary lens, the space has been transformed into a multifaceted breakfast and event restaurant, complete with copper archways made from the Villa’s rooftop and features an open kitchen, café and bakery.

The restaurant and bar – Kontrast – has been designed with the inner-city locale in mind. Styled to be approachable for the Danish market and authentic to guests, it combines mid-century design with beautifully crafted references of the past and present. 

The building and the bones of the structure offered up unique opportunities for a large hotel to feel like a community and a boutique hotel at the same time. 

‘The hotel has an ability to host a large number of guests and has incredible conference facilities but in a much livelier and more engaging environment than most other competitors of this scale,’ says Jo. ‘The interaction of the hotel and the neighbourhood it sits in really beds it into the community, too. We’d love to be locals stopping in for a loaf of bread before catching the train home.’

Historically, the entire building was nicknamed T37, a short version for the address – Tietgensgade 37. The new T37 Bar is complete with restored timber panelling, original decorative entrance and Arabescato marble columns. This beautifully restored area of the hotel retains most of its original features, referencing the heritage of the space in the design whilst adding cheerful and tongue-in-cheek features in both rooms. Satchel straps from post bags hang as a central feature above the bar, and a striking cerise and olive colour palette sits well against the vintage cherry wood and marble features. 

The furniture and finishes were absolutely critical to the scheme, adds Jo. ‘All of the furniture, lighting and finishes selections were selected or bespoke designed to reference the history of the building, local design movements and to overlay the building with a design language that feels relevant for the guest of today. 

‘Historic buildings always hold surprises close to their chest, waiting for the moment that a contractor peels down a wall to reveal an unexpected space or a finish that deserves to be preserved or should influence the design positively. Villa was no exception to this, and it meant thinking with agility to adapt and flex the design to achieve the best results for the interior.’

Also inspired by the building’s Neo-baroque style and the context of the local architecture, London-based Universal Design Studio designed 381 guest rooms across the hotel’s five floors. 

As very little original features of the building remained, Universal began its design process by mapping the building’s interior and either reinstalling or restoring period features, including grand window surrounds, cornices, timber panelling, flooring, doors and architraves. To bring the best of international and local design into the hotel, Universal has curated each room to include bespoke, custom-made furniture, textiles, ceramics and lighting, selected from a range of craft-led European brands, all with a connection to Danish design.

Influenced by the artworks of Danish painter, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Universal has reflected Hammershøi’s understated use of light – using a warm, muted colour palette throughout the rooms that aims to be ‘both timeless and forward-looking’. The suites feature soft ochre-coloured tones, inspired by one of Hammershøi’s paintings, alongside warm-toned furniture, silk curtains, marble tables to dine and work, and large built-in walnut dressing tables and wardrobes. 

‘Our aim was to create a series of rooms that respond to the historic building, while centring on contemporary Danish design, humanness and craft,’ says Richard McConkey, Head of Hospitality at Universal. ‘Copenhagen has a beautiful quality of light, which, alongside the feeling of quiet beauty in the work of Hammershøi, became a key reference point in our design process.’

Unique to each room type, Universal has incorporated a carefully considered selection of classic and contemporary furniture, mixed with customised and reissued pieces from a range of periods, all of which reference functional yet humanist Danish design – including original pieces from renowned Danish designers Finn Juhl, Ole Wanscher, Nanna Ditzel, Niels Otto Møller, Hans Wegner and Borge Morgensen. 

A long-lasting approach was central to Universal’s design for Villa Copenhagen, using natural materials designed to wear in and not wear out and a range of robust materials that can be repaired and updated as they age and wear elegantly over time. 

‘We have tried to look at each room as if it were an individual residence, aiming to emphasise the building’s original character to create a mix of different room types, tones, bespoke pieces and relaxed quiet experiences, which contribute to a stand-out destination for conscious, quality luxury,’ adds Richard.

Other contributors include Earth Studio, a partnership between renowned Danish architect, Eva Harlou, and manufacturer, Mater, who have created the Earth Suite – a fully sustainable suite wholly comprised of recycled materials and eco-friendly and durable Mater furniture. 

The flooring is created from low-impact clay brick tiles and the walls are coated in crushed reclaimed bricks from the building’s renovation.

As Collins Dictionary declares ‘lockdown’ the word of the year for 2020, Villa Copenhagen’s opening in such an uncertain time could be considered a risky move – but the hotel has developed its design and operations to create a hospitality offering that we’re certain will ride out the pandemic and become a Copenhagen institution.

Photography: Stine Christiansen and Andy Liffner

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