First there were the Victorian boarding houses, then the chintzy B&Bs. Then came the avant-garde backlash: boutique hotels with themed rooms, by way of Morocco, Manhattan and Malabar. Brighton's hotel scene has seen as many reinventions as local disc-spinner Norman Cook. Just as the outlandishly quirky boutique hotels of a decade ago are starting to look a little tired, it's perhaps a sign of the times that the once hippy-centric North Laine quarter is stealthily gentrifying itself in a rather commercial and un-Brightonly manner (there's now a Carluccio's, a Yo! Sushi and a myhotel in a new glass-fronted development).
Yet a classic addition to Brighton's hotels comes courtesy of the Kemp Townhouse. Opened last month by Claas Wulff and Russell Braterman, it resides in a gracious four-storey Georgian townhouse on the fringes of Kemp Town.
East of the city centre, the area is home to some of the city's finest Georgian architecture as well as some off-the-beaten-track bars, cafes and boutiques.
This is the couple's first hotel project, although Claas did a stint at the neighbouring Drake's boutique hotel and, prior to opening Kemp Townhouse, went back to school in Hamburg to retrain from the scullery up in a luxury hotel. The commitment and attention to detail is tangible. There's no reception, yet when I visited, Claas was at the door welcoming in and seeing off guests as if it was his home (which it is – he and Russell live in the basement).
The record restoration, in which the building was turned around from a run-down B&B to a stylish boutique hotel in just over four months, doesn't show signs of haste. The fabric of the building has been faithfully reconditioned: Claas was careful to point out the completely re-roofed extension, portions of wooden banisters that had been replaced, and tiled fireplaces that had been uncovered and restored. They pretty much worked around the clock to get the hotel up to scratch and early signs show that it has paid dividends.
Kemp Townhouse, 21 Atlingworth Street, Brighton, East Sussex (01273 681 400; www.kemptownhouse.com). The hotel slots uniformly into an idiosyncratic Regency-style terrace off Marine Parade, where the Georgian townhouses' bow windows mimic the waves of the sea beyond. Some look fairly grubby, making the spruced-up Kemp Townhouse stand out.
It's in good company, with one of Brighton's original boutique hotels, Blanch House, a few doors up, and Drake's – a more recent addition – around the corner.
Time from mainline station: a 20-minute walk or five-minute taxi journey (£4 one-way) from Brighton's train station, with links to Gatwick airport, London, Bedford, and along the south coast.
The décor adheres to the boutique rule-book of neutral hues. In a city that has long been associated with kitsch, this is one of a few hotels where it feels restful rather than lacklustre. The nine bedrooms are all decorated with mushroom-coloured walls, charcoal-grey carpet, mahogany furniture and modern, white-tiled wetrooms. Unusually for this type of building, the three ground-floor guest rooms are all wheelchair accessible. The furniture was chosen by Claas and Russell, so you might find an antique mahogany dresser in one room, or a strikingly modern four-poster in another.
Silver and glass pots and beaten silver trays were sourced on trips to Marrakech, whilst some of the artworks are family heirlooms. The arrestingly large and modern chandelier in the breakfast room was shipped in from New York and marine objets – from scallop shells to starfish, monochrome America's Cup photos and an 18th-century portrait of a ship's captain – all nod to the hotel's seaside situation.
Binoculars – I'm told for watching boats on the horizon and not the neighbours – are provided on the window tables. Our top-floor bedroom was one of the two largest and in addition to a wetroom has the hotel's only bathtub, positioned on a plinth in an alcove in front of the bed.
Breakfast was a highlight, too. Floor-to-ceiling bow windows flooded the teal-painted room with summer sunshine whilst guests convened and pored over the weekend papers. A table laid with fresh pastries, juice, mueslis and muffins was supplemented by top-notch cooked-to-order eggs, pancakes and English breakfasts.
The room also doubles as an evening lounge with an honesty bar, where you can enjoy an aperitif on the cashmere-covered chairs (standard in all rooms) before going out for dinner.
Freebies: bottled mineral water, tea and coffee, South African bath products, old-fashioned Dutch "Wilhelmina" peppermints.
Keeping in touch: free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel, and the guest lounge has a LAN socket for those who prefer to be wired. Flat-screen TVs come as standard. There are no phones, although Claas and Russell are on hand to recommend and book restaurants or taxis.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Small double rooms start at £115 per night; the largest start at £195 mid-week, including breakfast. The hotel is also available for exclusive hire on request.
I'm not paying that: Sea-dragon Backpackers (01273 711 854; www.seadragonbackpackers.co.uk), just beyond the skeletal West Pier, has bright doubles from £30 with breakfast.Reuse content