The Return of Claridge’s

Richard Waite

As far as Warren Beatty was concerned, heaven could wait. Mark Twain wasn't going unless he could smoke a cigar there. "I don't want to go to heaven," exclaimed Spencer Tracy, star of Adam's Rib and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. "I want to go to Claridge's."

No disrespect to the Supreme Being, but after visiting David Linley's new suites at this grande dame of hotels, it is easy to see where Spence was coming from. The suites are posh London as it only ever was in movies and novels. Older than a good many countries, there has been a hotel on this site since 1812. Known as Mivarts until it was bought in 1854 by William Claridge, Claridge's has long been the sort of place where royal families stay when in England. It is therefore fitting that Viscount Linley would be involved in the hotel's latest incarnation—not only is he a world-renowned designer but he also happens to be the queen's nephew.

Queen Victoria, Linley's great-great-great-grandmother, put Claridge's on the royal radar in 1860, when she paid a call on Empress Eugenie of France, who was a hotel guest. Noble patronage continued into the following century, and during World War II Suite 212 was declared Yugoslav territory to enable that country's current crown prince to be born on native soil while his family was in exile. (Certain rumors hold that soil was placed beneath the bed.) And in 1945, when the war ended, Winston Churchill holed up at Claridge's after losing the general election.

These days the royals and heads of state are joined by fashionistas, rock gods, and movie stars. But look past the glamour and you find the grandeur, which is what makes Claridge's such an interesting property to Stephen Alden, CEO of the Maybourne Hotel Group, the company that owns the hotel. It's Alden who balances the requirements of a demanding clientele with the rich heritage of the property.

According to Alden, Linley was an obvious choice for designing the 11 recently refurbished suites. "I think Linley has an understanding of Claridge's and what it has meant to many people," he says. Linley has appointed the rooms in three styles: Traditional, evoking the late 19th century; Art Deco, which includes pieces from the twenties; and the Hybrid, which incorporates the best design elements from both eras.

"We were keen to interpret the original decor in a sensitive way, preserving some of the best things, such as the beautiful Art Deco furniture," Linley says. "We combined them with new pieces, carpets, fabrics, and finishes." In order to maintain each room's individuality and be true to the period it was named for, Linley worked with a variety of fabric designs and suppliers. In the Deco suites he created a palette of muted, pastel tones—like duck's-egg blue, lilac, and silver—and the fabrics are of simple designs with textured velvet stripes. The Traditional suites feature rich reds and golds as well as lively, ornate patterns, much like those of the mid-19th century.

Indeed, it is sometimes hard to tell where the antique ends and the modern begins. Some of the light fixtures, for example, were original pieces found at Claridge's, while others have been matched by contemporary companies such as Vaughan lighting and Charles Edwards. The Deco-style crystal column lamps as well as the polished Macassar ebony and white-leather furniture (including chairs and side tables) have been sourced from Cygal, a German supplier based in Kuppenheim. However, this is more than just pastiche Deco—it is instead a subtle and witty reinterpretation of the period. For instance, the shagreen-print wallpaper in the hall alludes to the Jazz Age mania of covering objects in sharkskin, while the central piece of furniture in the coolly elegant drawing room pays homage to another indulgence that caught on in the years between the wars: cocktails.

Both the Deco and the Traditional suites feature freestanding bars, custom-made for Claridge's, with backlit glass tops and trademark Linley veneers, although in different versions. The Deco style has an underlit frosted-glass top and is made of Macassar ebony and walnut with a sycamore inlay, while the traditional model is done in walnut with a striped, mirrored top. "It's the piece I'm most proud of," Linley says. "It elevates what is normally a mundane, utilitarian piece in a hotel suite to a celebration of cocktailmaking."

Moving into the bedroom, one finds another unique Linley creation: the Claridge's tub chair, a compact button-tufted armchair that provides a curvaceous counterpoint to the linear feel of the Deco pieces in the drawing room. In the Hybrid suites, the chair is upholstered in a cobalt-blue fabric from Wemyss, a Scottish company that specializes in linen-based furnishing fabric. The blue is very much in keeping with the overall color scheme of the room.

Linley also crafted the walnut bed, which has a decorative burr ash–inlaid headboard and was inspired by one of his own furniture collections that features reinterpreted classics. The white Irish linen bedding is made by German fabric specialists Zimmer and Rohde. The Corinthian bedside table lamps are also a Linley specialty, as is the stained sycamore–and–cowhide leather luggage stool at the foot of the bed.

The conversation between Linley and Claridge's is just beginning, it seems, with discussions under way for further collaboration in the future. Considered by Alden to be "the legacy designer" for the hotel, Linley is delighted at the prospect of being asked back. "Since childhood, Claridge's has always been a very special place for me," he says. "I associate it with celebrations, happy times." Almost 150 years after Queen Victoria gave Claridge's her seal of approval, it is good to see that a fondness for the place is being kept in the family.

The Linley suites at Claridge's range from $5,000 to $6,500 a night. At Brook St., London; 44-207/629-8860; claridges.co.uk.

The Accents

"In creating the suites," explains David Linley, "we were mindful of the fact that people have a sense of loyalty and love for Claridge's for a reason." Thus each Linley suite is an individually created work—a unique combination of new and restored pieces. Following are some of his team's design choices for the rooms, which incorporate style elements from two of the hotel's main period influences: the mid-19th century and the 1920s.

Art

From an evocative seventies-inspired fashion illustration by David Downton to architectural black-and-white photography from the Getty Images Gallery, the Linley team has scoured London for works that add glamour and personality to each room. Getty Images supplied by Project Art, 44-207/386-0040; David Downton, dd@daviddownton.com

Custom Woodwork

Linley built his business on his knowledge of woodworking and cabinetmaking, a field in which he trained. The "leaping deer" marquetry on the TV cabinet in the Traditional suites displays the sort of detail he is known for. This motif, replicated in rosewood, oak, and walnut inlay, was based on an original metalwork pattern in the hotel entrance designed in the late twenties by Oswald Milne. Marquetry inlay and bespoke work is a large part of Linley's business, so while this motif is custom for Claridge's, guests can create personalized designs such as family crests or landscapes. From $10,000 for bespoke services; 44-207/730-7300

Hidden Gems

The glamour of Linley's suites is underpinned by a forensic attention to detail. For instance, the drawers in the dressing room are fitted with removable suede-lined jewelry and watch trays that fit easily into the safe. Linley makes a number of sleek jewelry boxes and offers custom service to match existing furniture. Jewelry boxes, from $390; bespoke service, available upon request; davidlinley.com

Mood Lighting

"It's important to take into account the practicalities of modern life but also the frivolity of some aspects of modern luxury," Linley says. The bedroom's whimsical bronze tree standard lamp (above) from Vaughan lighting is practical and frivolous in equal measure. $3,600; vaughandesigns.com

Keeping Time

This delightful mantel clock from Ato is a true vintage Deco piece. It was found languishing in a cupboard in the hotel and sent for restoration to a specialist (Gutlin Clocks & Antiques, King's Rd.; 44-207/384-2439). Leon Hatot, the maker, was one of the most highly regarded watchmakers in Paris during the first half of the 20th century. He was a pioneer of electrical movements for clocks, and his designs are part of the DNA of Deco. leonhatot.com