Soho Sanctum

Inner Sanctum – Mark Fuller on his new Sanctum Soho hotel

Emily Manson

Thursday 26 March 2009 00:00

Mark fuller
He’s the man responsible for some of London’s best-known celebrity haunts of the past decade, from the glitter ball-strewn Sugar Reef to the Embassy clubs, which are now being rolled out internationally. But then Mark Fuller changed tack with Garry Hollihead to open a small hotel in rural Cookham, and now he’s back with a new hotel in Soho due to open in April. Emily Manson reports on a man who’s risking it all for his next big thing

“Fuck the credit crunch. Bring it on.” Mark Fuller’s tone is bullish, but he readily admits that this is not the climate he had expected for the launch of his new £10m Sanctum hotel project. “Ultimately, we didn’t have much choice. This project has been on the go for three years, and we’ve got to take it as it comes and be pragmatic,” he explains.

A joint venture between veteran nightclub operator Fuller and the property’s landlord, Soho Estates, the hotel came about when Fuller was shown the two townhouses in Warwick Street as a prospective new club and felt “a fire in my belly suddenly reigniting”.

He’d always wanted to do another hotel, something a bit bigger than his joint project with Garry Hollihead, the Inn on the Green in Cookham Dean, Berkshire. It was also always a dream of his to do a bespoke boutique rock’n’roll hotel that was music-friendly as, after spending a career in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, “I didn’t want to end up as Peter Stringfellow the second.”

So how did Fuller come up with the design for this place? Having spent a lot of time recently in the UAE fixing up his burgeoning Embassy network there, he was being continually reminded about what his likes and dislikes were in hotels.

“I want to develop a new style of hotel,” he enthuses. “It doesn’t matter what hotel you stay at in the world, you always come across a grey suit – and I wanted to add an extra dimension and also innovate in the design.”

So how did he manage this? Well, with quirky elements that in less capable hands could be considered gimmicks but under Fuller’s direction may well make Sanctum a must-be-seen-at venue.

His much talked about “crash pads” at Sanctum are Fuller’s answer to “the mate who’s got a bit drunk and rings up and needs a place to crash”, with a double bed, plasma TV, walk-in shower, loo and minibar. “It’s Soho. People are bohemian, and if they need a room for a sex liaison after a party, that kind of thing, it’s there,” he explains, helpfully.

The other bedrooms have been given a personal feel, yet are state-of-the-art, with all the must-haves, including iPod connection, internet, entertainment systems and, of course, Egyptian cotton bed linen.

Special innovations include his minibar box of tricks, which includes blindfold, sexy knickers, oils, candles, sweeties and chocolates. Or the “24-hour room service” hampers – the Soho, Brighton or LA containing elements to suit different moods. Or even the old fashioned sweet shop in the lobby and sweeties in every room. “Jelly beans were nice, but are boring now, and we wanted something else.”

There is also plenty of telly. Each room has more than 400 channels with “everything from porn to the latest movies, via Sky Sports, of course,” according to Fuller, and this will be enhanced by optional in-room beauty treatment services and same-day laundry.

Sanctum Soho bedroom

On top of the 30 rooms – which, incidentally feature all-bespoke furniture, including some circular beds, some double baths in the rooms – is a Third Space health and fitness club, private cinema and a rooftop lounge and bar with an eight-person external Jacuzzi, all for hotel guests only.

In fact, the only part of the whole project that will be open, shortly, to the public is the 60-seat restaurant, No 20, run by executive chef Ollie Burgess and head chef Gavin Austin. The remit these two talents were given was to break the mould and do something special. Fuller hopes it’ll be “fun, quintessentially British comfort food – at restaurant, not hotel prices.”

Dishes are set to include starters such as crab and sweet corn chowder with brown crab toast and salt cod cake with Baby Gem, tomato and chilli jam while mains will feature lamb cutlets with tarragon sauce lemon sole with spinach and nut butter and even Burford Brown omelette with garden herbs. Desserts will range from classics such as treacle tart and clotted cream to orange and grapefruit jelly with Champagne sorbet. An average spend of about £40 per head is expected.

Fuller is adamant about keeping the rest of the hotel for residents’ use only. “I’m so fed-up with hotel bars filled with suits in meetings or footballers I want it to be cool, and I think it’ll put more value on the room. If you want to party here, book a room and show me your colours.”

But even so, spending £10-odd million at this time is still quite a gutsy thing to do. At least, he says, “the dollar and euro are strong, and bands still seem to have money. The groups who play at Hyde Park under our Flying Fish events will stay at the hotel. We need something new and fun to liven up London – it’s so boring, this grey, dull, miserable, sad London.”

Fuller’s overriding tone is optimistic and enthused, but he’s not unaware of the huge gamble he’s taking. “Of course we were over budget, but a lot of the incoming stuff has got cheaper recently and, hopefully, this is going to be the flagship of a new chain,” he says. “We want to capture the imagination of sad Britain and we just had to go for broke. It’s terrible timing, but we had to throw caution to the wind. This is shit or bust, and there was no point doing it half-cocked.”


Mark Fuller began his career managing bands and organising club nights in London. He was responsible for concepts including the Boardwalk on Soho’s Greek Street and Little Havana on Leicester Square. In November 1999 Fuller launched Sugar Reef in Piccadilly, followed by Red Cube in Leicester Square in October 2000, firmly establishing himself on the Soho nightclub scene.

After selling Red Cube and Sugar Reef in the summer of 2001, Fuller opened Embassy London on Old Burlington Street.

In February 2003 he joined forces with Iron Maiden manager Andy Taylor to form Concept Venues to open the Inn on the Green in Cookham Dean, Berkshire.

In 2006 Fuller and business partner Garry Hollihead bought Geales fish and chip shop, a concept that they are now exporting to the UAE, along with the Embassy brand.


Lesley Purcell, of design company Can Do, has previously worked for the Maybourne Group redesigning the Berkeley, Claridge’s, Savoy and Connaught hotels and is now the lead designer for the Sanctum hotel. She talks to Emily Manson about the project.

How did you get the job?

“When I first met with Mark Fuller and John James they’d already had a number of presentations, which were all very polished and accomplished schemes, but they were looking for something more edgy and more daring and, to coin the expression, more rock’n’roll.

“Mark described the clientele they were hoping to attract – namely, music, film and media industry types, who’d be part of the showbiz, bohemian side of Soho.

“These are people who are all very well travelled and have stayed in hotels all over the world, so we needed to offer something exciting and new, but in a niche way, not a gimmicky or theme-hotel way. We had to be very careful not to veer into that territory.

“We started by doing a lifestyle presentation rather than series of schemes, to capture the mood, and then, once we were appointed, came up with five schemes for the rooms.”
What were they?

“Mark hates green, so that idea quickly went out the window. I thought we’d end up with one or two colours, as there are only 30 rooms, but we loved them all so much we decided to go with four.

“They are the Espresso Deco, which is chocolaty coffee and black the Silver Bullet: all very silvery and black and a lot of mirrors the Purple Haze, which is lacquered belle époque in its lines and quite boudoir-esque and, finally, Naked Baroque Nudes, which have very pale luscious pinks and creams in a French style and also a more modern interpretation.”
How did you make the rooms different?

“I felt that, bearing in mind the target market, it wasn’t necessary to be constrained in the way we often are by having all the usual room components, like desk, tub chair, desk chair, luggage rack, etc. If you have to do that, it doesn’t leave you any room for anything interesting. I’ve tried to be creative, so if people need a desk, why can’t it also be a cocktail bar with a couple of stools? We designed it so if you need to work, you can do it there.

“Another feature I felt strongly about was that we had proper keys. I didn’t want to have these hi-tech cards it’s so much more sexy to have diamante-studded key handles with massive tassels on. The whole experience is sexy – from the entrance to the corridors, with their aubergine plum walls and downlighters, to the key to the room.”
What did it all cost?

“Pretty much everything was bespoke, so FF&E fit-out has cost in the region of £750,000, including the cinema, restaurant and rooftop spa. The rooms vary wildly, from the big suites at around £30,000 to the crash pads at around £15,000.”
What was the hardest part?

“The fact that we’re responsible for every inch – it’s not just the public areas or spa or rooms. And even though it’s a small hotel, it’s a huge creative project that needs to be unified without being uniform, as well as exciting from the minute you walk through the door. In the press, it’s been billed as a hotel for rock stars, but that’s not really the point. You don’t have to be a rock star to come, but we do want you to feel like a rock star when you walk in.”
What’s the project been like?

“It’s been an incredibly fun process, because Mark and John James are good at handing over creative responsibility. Obviously, they keep a watching brief, but they’re not the kind of clients who want to rub test every bit of fabric. We were pretty much given the ball and told to run with it. Now things are snowballing, and every new bit that gets finished I get more excited than the room before. The rooms look so amazing and are exactly what I’d imagined.”



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