An eye for design
If you’ve ever wondered why we’re called The Refuge or wanted to find out more about the stunning place we call home, then here’s a quick rundown of our design credentials.
The building that houses us and Kimpton Clocktower Hotel has been a Manchester landmark dating back to 1895, when it first opened as The Refuge Assurance Company’s headquarters.
The magnificent terracotta Grade II listed building has stood the test of time and was restored to its former glory in September 2016 – when we opened our doors to become The Refuge.
Designed by Alfred Waterhouse back in 1890, its first phase was completed in 1895. After his death in 1905, his son, Paul was then appointed to design the second phase, featuring the iconic clocktower (hint, that’s where the hotel took its name from). The Waterhouses worked on some of the best-known buildings in Manchester at the time, including Manchester Town Hall and Assize Court, the extension of the Manchester museum and a number of buildings for Manchester University. Alfred Waterhouse also designed the Natural History Museum in London.
If you haven’t visited just yet, think Gothic architecture, glazed brick, tiles, faience, stained glass and carved wooden staircases – all combined with contemporary elements for today’s modern traveller. Each and every touchpoint represents the building’s inspiring story and background – from coats of arms to grand inscriptions.
All of the hotel’s 270 loft-style bedrooms, including 11 suites, were designed to make the most of the stunning, double and triple-height ceilings. Each room borrows design inspiration from the Manchester party and music scene (because obviously music runs through the veins of this magnificent city!), with vibrant, bespoke textiles designed by Timorous Beasties, which incorporate the iconic Manchester worker bee, along with contemporary graphic prints adorning the walls.
Walking through the front door, you can’t fail to notice the extravagant stained-glass cupola which gives a final flourish to the vast neoclassical lobby. To your right sits a life-size bronze horse specially commissioned by Sophie Dickens (Charles Dickens’ great, great granddaughter) – you can still see the outline of the turning circle used by horse-drawn coaches to bring mail in (and then be turned round to head back out).
Across the building there are representations of Manchester’s coat of arms which was given to the city in 1842 – you can find a particularly fine example in stained glass decorating the marble Director’s stairs (don’t take the lift to the mezzanine floor, otherwise you’ll miss it!). Talking of staircases, there’s also an exquisite marble and bronze staircase leading to some of the bedrooms, which runs the entire height of the building.
The whole building is a feast of symbolic detail inside and out. Castles, scallop shells and ships – if you’re into symbolism then you’ll know how these items specifically resonate with the Refuge Assurance building – if you’re not, give it a Google, as it’s super interesting!
Did you know that Manchester is the only inland city in the UK to be honoured with an international sailing ship as a token of its global trade? If you keep your eyes peeled around the building, you’ll see The Refuge has two types of ships represented on the façade. The ones repeated on corbels breaking the pediments above the second-floor windows represent Manchester’s ship from its coat of arms but also look like Noah’s Ark – representing care and protection.
Now, let’s talk about the clocktower itself. Standing a staggering 217 feet high with an amazing four-face clock at the top, it’s become one of Manchester’s most famous skyline features. The Refuge Assurance Company was very proud of its Manchester origins – if you look closely, you’ll notice that female worker bees represent each hour on the clock façade, because Manchester’s busy-as-a-bee.
Of course, we can’t forget The Refuge. Described as the glamourpuss of Manchester by restaurant critic, Marina O’Loughlin, the 10,000 sq. ft space is home to our stunning restaurant, bar, winter garden and den. The feature wall in the Dining Room is adorned with a vinyl of The Glamour of Manchester – the iconic cover artwork from the 1920 book by D.L Kelleher.
Along the back wall you’ll find a huge piece of graffiti artwork by Ben Eine. The work was spearheaded by the organisers of Manchester Art Fair and, working with the team at The Refuge, Ben chose to paint ‘Hell Is A City’ on the interior wall. The mural is inspired by the 1960 cult-classic film, Hell Is a City, a cop thriller starring Stanley Baker which was filmed in the Manchester with the rooftop of the Refuge Assurance Building being the location of a rather famous scene in the film.
The Refuge Assurance Company ethos is summed up at the entrance under the main tower by two female figures in the Beaux-Arts style. One represents ‘Thrift’, with bags of gold clutched to her bosom, and the other ‘Industry’, who’s doing needlework. The message is clear, work hard, save, be prudent and life will treat you well – certainly some good rules to live by.