How London’s obsession with pineapples impacted the interiors of the Vegan Suite at Hilton London Bankside
What’s the connection between the Vegan Suite at Hilton London Bankside and pineapples aka the King of Fruits? What’s a vegan suite anyway you may ask?
I stumbled across the Hilton London Bankside vegan suite during my recent research about vegan materials and vegan interior design. As an ex-hotelier, come interior designer and hotel blogger and as a vegan, I was curious to find out more.
A new generation design hotel
The Hilton London Bankside with its 292 rooms opened in 2015 on the Southern bank of the River Thames in the up and coming neighbourhood of Bankside within the Borough of Southwark. You’ll find London icons, such as the Tate Modern and The Shard, as well as one of my personal favourites, Borough Market, within walking distance from the hotel. The once rowdy neighbourhood is now ‘the place to be’ according to the hotel’s General Manager James Clarke.
The design hotel is one of Hilton’s new generation hotels and a true Hilton flagship. The multi award-winning hotel manager, however, felt compelled to take it a step further to keep up with the trendy area.
The world’s first vegan suite
A conversation with a client sparked the idea to create a vegan suite. James, albeit not a vegan himself, is convinced that veganism is not just a fad, but a lifestyle that will continue to grow in the coming years and as such have a great impact on the hospitality sector. “Vegans will be my clients and my employees.” he says.
With a desire to create a luxurious, yet inclusive vegan experience for vegan travelers, he commissioned a London based design firm and in collaboration with the Hilton’s architecture and design team, they worked closely with the Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com).
In January 2019, during Veganuary (www.veganuary.com), Hilton was the world’s first international brand to launch a vegan suite and it’s been a huge success in terms of press and guest feedback. The vegan suite not only put the Hilton London Bankside on the map for the vegan community, but it also had a ripple effect for the Hilton brand itself. When asked about more vegan hotel rooms and other vegan hotel projects, James emphasized that he enjoys the privilege of being the ‘first’ and sees it as a big opportunity moving forward.
A vegan suite with a Sense of Place
The key element of the design brief was to create a fully vegan suite without the use of any materials deriving from animals or animal by-products. This means no leather, no wool and no feathers. However, as with any interior design project, it was also important to create an interior design concept that tells a story.
While the overall interior design of the hotel is hip and trendy with a distinct industrial feel, the vegan suite also needed to be linked to the area.
So, what’s the story with pineapples?
The pineapple isn’t just a delicious tropical fruit and the main ingredient of the ultimate beach cocktail Piña Colada, but it actually also has a strong historical link to London.
The first pineapple to ever make it to European shores was brought to Spain by no other than Christopher Columbus on his return from the West Indies (Caribbean) in 1493. Nearly two centuries later the botanist John Tradescant, who happens to be buried in the Borough of Southwark, first introduced the pineapple to Britain. It was an immediate hit.
A symbol of wealth and hospitality
Logically, only few pineapples survived the long journey across the Atlantic and since they couldn’t be cultivated in British climate, the fruit was very exclusive.
Soon the pineapple became a status symbol for anyone with rank. The exotic delicacy was sold at today’s equivalent of £5000! Those who couldn’t afford the elite fruit, would rent a pineapple for the evening to display it as a centrepiece at their dinner party.
Piñatex and other vegan materials
Piñatex is certainly the key (design) element of the vegan suite. However, every single item has been carefully selected to suit the vegan lifestyle, ranging from vegan furnishings, such as cotton rugs and vegan bedding to vegan bathroom amenities and vegan snacks as well as vegan drinks in the mini-bar. The flooring is made of sustainable bamboo and a pillow menu gives you a choice of pillows filled with down-alternatives, such as kapok, buckwheat or millet hulls.
The vegan suite even features vegan stationary and is cleaned with vegan cleaning products to provide a truly vegan friendly luxury hotel experience for vegan hotel guests.
Thematic restaurant interior design
The design of the Distillery Bankside has a very urban and industrial feel. Many interior design elements take reference to the culture and history of London Bankside and pay tribute to the many artisans that used to live and work in the Bankside area. The Distillery is also known for its creative cocktails and impressive selection of more than 100 gins.
The building of the Hilton London Bankside was actually once home to the famous Victorian Stevenson & Howell Fragrance factory. Since the production methods of fragrances and gin are quite similar from a scientific point of view, the restaurant was aptly named ‘The Distillery’.
The all-day international dining restaurant OXBO Bankside on the other hand features a quirky mix of industrial interior design, rustic design and a ‘ranch meets safari’ theme with faux animal trophies (personally, I’m not a fan, even if they are faux) decorating the walls.
Both restaurants have a separate vegan menu and happily make adjustments to accommodate allergens and personal preferences.
Vegan friendly hotels versus vegan hotels
The things I appreciated the most about my stay at the vegan suite were a) I didn’t have to explain myself and feel like a ‘nuisance’ and b) I could consume with good conscience and without wondering whether it is really vegan or not.
As a huge London fan, I was over the moon to find such a wide range of vegan restaurants in London or at least several vegan options on the menu in most restaurants, yet surprised that I couldn’t find many vegan friendly hotels, let alone vegan hotels in London.
Whereas a vegan friendly hotel caters to the vegan traveler in terms of food choices, a vegan hotel only serves vegan food. In my opinion, a hotel that identifies as a vegan hotel should, however, aspire to create a fully plant-based experience throughout the hotel. Vegan friendly interior design, whether in homes, restaurants or hotels may not be the norm (yet), but I believe it is the future.
Although the Hilton London Bankside isn’t a vegan hotel per se, it has shown the world that creating a vegan luxury hotel experience is possible and it therefore definitely deserves to be called a vegan friendly luxury hotel.
P.S. If you’re interested in vegan interior design for your own home, I invite you to book a complimentary Discovery Call to discuss your (vegan) interior design project.
Photography: courtesy of the Hilton London Bankside