Thursday 20 June 2019

First Look: Inside Ireland's first 'street art hotel'

Pól Ó Conghaile takes an exclusive tour of The Hendrick in Smithfield with curator, James Earley

The Hendrick's lobby with a piece by Maser over the reception area.
The Hendrick's lobby with a piece by Maser over the reception area.
An accessible room at The Hendrick
James Earley at work
A piece of the Windmill Lane walls, signed by members of U2
A take on the iconic photograph of Michael Collins, by Will Saint Leger, hangs in a bedroom corridor.
The Hendrick's courtyard, with James Earley's mural
The Hendrick Hotel Bar
A piece by Joe Caslin at The Hendrick
The Hendrick, Smithfield
Street art in the lift lobby of the Hendrick
A bedroom at The Hendrick
Self-service automated check-in pads at The Hendrick
A twin room at The Hendrick
Artist James Earley. Photo: Al Higgins
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

It feels like a new hotel opens every couple of weeks in Dublin. That means sharper themes and angles are required to make a splash.

Think of the basement cinema at The Devlin in Ranelagh, for example. Or the underground river powering the Iveagh Garden Hotel.

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To this list, you can add The Hendrick (see galleries), which opens in Dublin's Smithfield today as "Ireland's first street art hotel", crammed with 259 artworks.

"Every piece is an original," says curator, artist James Earley, "from commissioned paintings and murals to limited edition prints signed by artists."

Stepping into the lobby on a preview visit, the first piece I see is a vibrant, abstract canvas by Maser over the hotel's self-service check-in tablets.

Next to the lifts, signed by members of U2, is a chunk of wall recovered from Windmill Lane Recording Studios, framed in steel beams.

A piece of the Windmill Lane walls, signed by members of U2
A piece of the Windmill Lane walls, signed by members of U2
James Earley at work
The Hendrick's lobby with a piece by Maser over the reception area.
An accessible room at The Hendrick
A take on the iconic photograph of Michael Collins, by Will Saint Leger, hangs in a bedroom corridor.
The Hendrick's courtyard, with James Earley's mural
The Hendrick Hotel Bar
A piece by Joe Caslin at The Hendrick
The Hendrick, Smithfield
Street art in the lift lobby of the Hendrick
A bedroom at The Hendrick
Self-service automated check-in pads at The Hendrick
A twin room at The Hendrick
Artist James Earley. Photo: Al Higgins

Everywhere I turn, Instagram-ready pieces catch my eye, from international artists like Blek le Rat, Shepard Fairey and Taki 183, to Irish names like Obey, Joe Caslin, Will Saint Leger and sign painter Vanessa Power.

75pc of the budget and commissions are Irish, Earley says (developers, the Dublin Loft Company, would not discuss its investment in the hotel or its art) with the highest-profile pieces on display in the lobby, atrium, lift areas and room corridors.

Bringing street art, with its roots in an outdoors, outsider artform, into a hotel presented both challenges and opportunities, he tells me. 

"It helps to demystify things and open up accessibility. That's something I feel really strongly about, educating people about Irish art without hindering the integrity of it."

The Hendrick itself is a slickly produced 3-star, with 146 rooms tight on space but kitted out with power showers, "Super Speed" WiFi, TVs and smart storage nooks, alongside hip touches like its cocktails (the 'Jameson Black Barrel Whiskey Sour' is a highlight, I'm told, at €14.95) and a breakfast partnership with the Bretzel Bakery.

The idea is to "challenge the expectations of a city hotel", says Dublin Loft Company director Kelly Cosgrave, while reflecting Smithfield's "creative flair".

James Earley at work
James Earley at work
The Hendrick's lobby with a piece by Maser over the reception area.
An accessible room at The Hendrick
A piece of the Windmill Lane walls, signed by members of U2
A take on the iconic photograph of Michael Collins, by Will Saint Leger, hangs in a bedroom corridor.
The Hendrick's courtyard, with James Earley's mural
The Hendrick Hotel Bar
A piece by Joe Caslin at The Hendrick
The Hendrick, Smithfield
Street art in the lift lobby of the Hendrick
A bedroom at The Hendrick
Self-service automated check-in pads at The Hendrick
A twin room at The Hendrick
Artist James Earley. Photo: Al Higgins

But the obvious question... is the street art theme just a corporate wheeze, a nod to contemporary art with a greater eye on Insta-friendly marketing?

"Anything I do has to be done for the genuine, correct reasons," replies Earley, who has also curated art collections for the Press-Up Group's Dean and Devlin hotels.

"For me, there has to be conceptual credibility to a project, that the artists are treated correctly, that the artists are treated with respect."

The owners have allowed that, he says, affording Earley creative control over a sprawling collection that mixes a range of styles and approaches, from small stencils to large murals and vivid, abstract designs.

A bedroom at The Hendrick
A bedroom at The Hendrick
James Earley at work
The Hendrick's lobby with a piece by Maser over the reception area.
An accessible room at The Hendrick
A piece of the Windmill Lane walls, signed by members of U2
A take on the iconic photograph of Michael Collins, by Will Saint Leger, hangs in a bedroom corridor.
The Hendrick's courtyard, with James Earley's mural
The Hendrick Hotel Bar
The Hendrick Hotel's lobby
A piece by Joe Caslin at The Hendrick
The Hendrick, Smithfield
Street art in the lift lobby of the Hendrick
Self-service automated check-in pads at The Hendrick
A twin room at The Hendrick
Artist James Earley. Photo: Al Higgins

He's been painting himself, too. Earley is responsible for one of three large murals in the atrium, and fans will spot several references to his family history (Earley & Company produced stained glass in Dublin from the 1850s to 1970s) in this and several glass pieces echoing church windows in the industrial-feel lobby space.

Look and feel aside, The Hendrick is a basic stay with no hot food menus (Deliveroo is lined up to do in-room deliveries, and the hotel provides plates and cutlery). "We don't plan on seeing you much, with the best of Dublin on your doorstep," it chirps.

Describing itself as "a blank canvas for anyone visiting the capital" feels cheesy, but the hotel genuinely appears to engage with its Smithfield neighbourhood - from design touches like the cobble-locking in the lobby's wooden floor, to pointing guests towards goodies on their doorstep - food at Wuff or Urbanity, for example, or nearby attractions like the Lighthouse Cinema or revamped Jameson Distillery Bow Street.

And the price? Rooms start at €109 per night on hendrickdublin.ie.

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