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Harrison weaves Birmingham through the Hilton Metropole

Harrison transforms the Hilton Metropole from a ‘cookie cutter’ 1990s interior to one that encompasses Birmingham’s history and the modern day.

09/01/2023 3 min read

The Hilton Birmingham Metropole, NEC, has reopened to the public following a complete refurb by architecture and interior specialist, Harrison. Despite being a Hilton property since 1999, the global brand felt the pandemic was an ideal opportunity to transform the interior from a ‘cookie-cutter’ concept to a refreshed look which carries modernity.

Tasked with the challenge of unlocking a bespoke personality on the UK’s largest hotel outside of London, Harrison‘s concept was integrated and brand-led, from narrative development all the way through to interior design. The commercial designers wanted to create an experience for guests which encouraged return visits by connecting the Hilton brand to Metropole’s location in Birmingham.

Harrison’s design director, Dean Concannon, and senior designer, Nathan Stevenson stripped the Metropole back to its foundations before incorporating four individual designs with a connecting thread throughout – Brightsmith on the Water, the Gild Bar & Lounge, The Arbor and the Executive Lounge.

“While it has been a part of Birmingham’s landscape for 46 years, the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, NEC, felt like it had been left behind,” Concannon comments. “As the rest of the city flourished and thrived, the Hilton firmly had its feet rooted in 1999. We approached this project from the ground up. We wanted to reimagine the space as a lakeside hotel, colliding rich history, industry, and luxury all in one place.”

Modern features embedding the theme of the ‘City of a Thousand Trades’ include ink drawings of more than 10,000 people to represent the city’s workers who exported ink pens worldwide and artwork on the walls by local artists and photographers. “Each of the new spaces has its own bespoke look and feel – with the unifying gravity of the city of Birmingham pulling it all together,” continues Concannon. “Our team, based in and around Birmingham, really dug deep into the city’s history, its culture and its people, looking beyond the stereotype and finding the true authentic Birmingham, form the post-war industrial giant to the brutalist architecture, to the glitz and glamour.”


Brightsmith on the Water – the hotel’s bar and restaurant – reflects this sentiment, with ‘smith’ referring to the city’s heavy industry which transpires through to the space’s factory floor aesthetic and ‘bright’ drawing on sophisticated details such as the chandeliers and rich materials including brass and velvet. Rough and tarnished surfaces employed alongside a branded monogram and logotype bay homage to the city’s famous jewellery quarter.

Elsewhere, The Gild acts as the ‘melting pot’ of the Hilton by bringing guests together in an informal setting which reflects Birmingham’s crafts with wooden textures and distressed porcelain tiling. Menu boards, table talkers and other consumable references have all been designed to represent makers’ marks and dockets used by craftspeople to fulfil orders or control their wares. The counter’s ‘To Go’ detail represents the industry’s conveyor belt and accentuates the eatery’s fast-paced environment.

Designed as a place of tranquility, The Arbour reflects Birmingham being one of the UK’s greenest metropolitan areas with earthy tones and manmade textures which contrast with organic shapes of nature. Flora acts as a focal feature, representative of hubs in the city such as the botanical gardens and heritage bloom graphics are illustrated across menus and other consumables, complementing the modern interpretation of nearby Victorian hothouses’ architecture.

Exclusively designed for Hilton members, the Executive Lounge has been designed to be bright, airy and considered. Taking subtle inspiration from the West Midlands’ 400-year glass making heritage that reached its pinnacle in the early 20th century, the Executive Lounge features hand finished speckled glass light features and decorative glass screens complimented with jewel-tone velvet furniture.


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