Rituals: Nick Hartwright

Wood Green in North London is not an area usually associated with creativity, but this is where you’ll find Green Rooms, the UK’s first arts hotel set up by Nick Hartwright. Housed in an imposing 1930s municipal building just off the high street, it offers rooms and workspaces to travelling artists while doubling as a hub for the local community that provides jobs and an inspiring place to hang out. Sitting in the sparse Berlin-style lobby, surrounded by mid-century modern British furniture and with Missy Bones his Staffie-cross for company, we spoke to Nick about rescuing the space from developers, bringing unusual acts and artists to new audiences, and the importance of including local people as regeneration sweeps the UK. 

Does the subject of gentrification come up a lot?

Constantly. Gentrification is a terrible word - it has really negative connotations. There’s a fine line between regeneration and gentrification. London is changing, areas like Wood Green are going to be heavily developed over the next 15 years and if you don’t start signposting change and including the people that already live here in that journey now then you end up with split societies. By doing things like this we can lead what comes next.

What was the most exciting thing about finding the building?

The first time I saw it I was having a meeting in the council offices opposite. They were thinking of selling it to make into flats so I rented it off them. Then getting in here and exploring was amazing, it had been a housing office until 2008 with the ugliest suspended ceilings, beige carpets and strip lighting. When we stripped it back we discovered the history of the place and all these great architectural features, like this beautiful wooden floor hidden under concrete.

What influenced the interior design look?

I spent loads of time in Berlin and love the hostels and hotels there, so I’m into things that just work and are about function over form. It’s a typical 1930s English building so all the furniture is English, either crafted by small factories or by vintage brands like Stag and Ercol. Other than that we let the building speak for itself. Also, because of budgetary constraints, the stripped-back look works well for us.

What’s your daily ritual?

I walk the dog around Epping Forest or Alexandra Palace, and that’s where I start my day. Up early, thinking about stuff, and phoning people while I’m not in a work environment. It gives me some space away from everything where I can start putting things in the right boxes in my head. 

What makes Green Rooms different from a normal hotel?

It’s more than a hotel. We wanted to make it a platform to use as much as a place to stay. It’s a place for people to hang out - get drunk at the bar, or drink coffee in the morning - but it’s also nice because of the mix of people coming through, from mums with their kids and the old guy who wants a quiet pint, to all the artists staying here. You have rooms, a hotel bar that doubles as a meeting area, and a top floor, which is a rehearsal, performance and party space all in one.

Who have been your favourite guests so far?

We had 36 Japanese performers staying and rehearsing here for a show called Miss Idol Berserker at the Barbican. The arts can be really restrictive sometimes, so by having things going on in areas like this that aren’t usually associated with creativity you’re opening that world up to new audiences. 

How did you get into finding and setting up creative workspaces?

A few years ago a group of us leased a warehouse on Vyner St in Hackney and we rented out desks, held events and put on gallery shows. It worked brilliantly, so when that building got sold I worked with the local housing authority to set up something similar in Haggerston, then onto Tottenham. I work with councils setting up sites then mentor people to create their own visions and run them. It’s not about a parachute drop of hipsters into an area; it’s about making sure there are strong links with what’s already happening there.

So it’s important to balance helping the arts community while also creating opportunities for local people?

There are loads of social problems in London and one way to address them is creating vehicles that people can feed into and get something out of, whether that’s jobs or spaces where they can work, live and relax. That way you can start to fill the gaps. Local authorities are under-resourced and don’t have the skills, so projects like this can really help, from obvious things like employing people in the area to providing spaces that local people can use. 

What part of the project have you found most satisfying?

When I’m here and I see things happening, like mums with their kids hanging out, it makes me really happy. And when we have resident artists using the space to live, work and exhibit their pieces it’s great. Seeing it come to life is just brilliant. 

What inspired you to pick these pieces from Whistles?

I need a versatile suit for work but it’s the kind of thing I can never find. I like Whistles a lot because it seems so similar to how I think about design, and how good things don’t have to be ridiculously expensive. The suit is deconstructed and that echoes my thoughts on functional design, taking the fluff away to focus on what’s essential and looks good. I love simple things done well. 
Nick wears: Deconstructed Twill Blazer, Slim-Fit Twill Trousers, Everyday T-Shirt