The Toffle Towers series takes place in and around the eponymous hotel – it’s historic, a bit shabby and definitely quirky. In this post I’ll show you how I designed the hotel’s lobby.
My new book Toffle Towers book 3 is out today! It’s written by Tim Harris and illustrated by me. You can grab a copy at the links at the bottom of this blog post.
To celebrate the release of third book in the series, I’ve prepped a bunch of behind-the-scenes blog posts. I’ll show you how I designed the characters; how I designed the cover for book 1; how I designed the hotel’s exterior; and how I designed other elements like the shuttle bus and the title typography. But today, I’m showing you how I designed the hotel’s interior.
First I read Tim’s early draft. He described a curved symmetrical staircase with a portrait above the central landing. The portrait showed Terence Toffle, the founder of Toffle Towers and Chegwin’s long-lost uncle. The staircase and portrait form an essential part of the cover of book 3, released today:
Tim also described a reception area with a marble countertop; there was also a dining area on the ground floor called the Grazing Room. There would also need to be hallways leading off to the left and right for the ground floor rooms.
Here’s my very first scrappy sketch of the lobby staircase.
Before I got started on some sketches, I wanted to figure out the rough layout of the hotel – so I studied hotel floor plans and then made my own. I drew these at the same time as I was designing the hotel exterior – it needed to match up, at least roughly. Note to eagle-eyed readers: these are based on an early draft of book 1, that’s why the number of rooms doesn’t match the final published book. And if you were hoping to find the mysterious, lost room 50 on these plans – apologies, it’s not shown here. But you will find out where it is when you read book 3.
Once I had figured out the floor plan, I could start figuring out what the lobby would look like. I did a google image search of real hotel lobbies, particularly ones with symmetrical staircases. Then I started designing my own. I went WAAAAY overboard, trying out lots of different decor in both daylight and nighttime lighting.
Here’s one version. You can see the Grazing Room windows in the far back on the left, and a hallway leading off to the right. The reception area is also to the right, while the staircase leads up to the landing and portrait, then up again to the left and right wings on the 2nd floor. Here’s a slightly different version … … and another … … and another … … I told you I went overboard … … still going … … ok, this is the last one.When I find myself spinning my wheels like this, it usually means that I’ve gone down a wrong track and I need to try something different. These were all feeling a bit corporate, a bit too modern. A bit laboured. The wood panelling seemed like a step in the right direction, though, so I went back to google image search to find some more inspiration. I kept thinking of Professor Xavier’s mansion from the X-Men movies, as it’s old-fashioned and has a symmetrical staircase. Turns out they film the interior shots for those movies in a real mansion in the US. I found photos of it with its beautiful wood-panelled walls, and decided to have a go at a version like that.
It’s a lot of brown. Looks kinda like the walls are made of chocolate. Which would be great! But it wasn’t quite right. Then I started looking at old 1960s-70s style illustration and came across the set design from the Disney film 101 Dalmatians. They have all these quirky picture frames filling the walls. That seemed like it could work in Toffle Towers; it’s a place with a long history, so the picture frames could be black and white or sepia photos of previous guests and notable townsfolk. That idea lead to the next version, which felt 90% of the way there. Here’s the final version of the lobby, as seen in book 1 – when Chegwin and his parents walk inside for the first time.