David Heathcote explores the best examples of Art Deco in Britain. At Claridge's Hotel in Mayfair, he enjoys the glamour of the Deco fumoir and samples the cocktail bar.
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Oh, this is lovely.
All I want to do here is nothing.
In the Thirties, the hotels of Mayfair offered decadent luxury
to the rich, the royal, and for the first time, the famous.
Claridge's was one of THE places to go
for the ultimate Art Deco experience.
We're on our way to Claridge's,
which, by some amazing good fortune, I'm going to visit and stay in
and it was one of the original luxury hotels in the world.
And it still retains that status now.
I can't wait to see it. I've never been there,
I have no idea what it looks like,
but it is apparently an Art Deco gem.
Staying at Claridge's can cost anything up to six grand.
It's rumoured that everyone from Audrey Hepburn to George Clooney
to Kate Moss have been guests.
Oh, I think we're nearly there.
Ah, here we are.
Well, it's all they say it is. Well, at least from the outside.
Just have to kick my way through real celebs.
-Good morning, sir.
-Oh, good morning.
-Thank you very much.
I'm checking in for a night.
It's rare for Claridge's to let cameras in, so we've agreed to observe their rules
to protect the privacy of their guests.
A man who has spent three decades
in the Claridge's uniform knows more than most about the hotel.
It's sensational. It's almost like a living museum.
It goes back to the period of the Twenties when literally half
of the hotel is of that period, the Art Deco period,
and from the restaurant to the rooms, we have 203 rooms at the hotel,
and almost half of them are Art Deco.
Half of it is Art Deco and people will say, "I want an Art Deco room."
A lot of them won't stay anywhere else.
A lot of our regular guests have their favourite suites
and other guests, they've read about it.
Guests arriving for the first time,
and they want to stay in an Art Deco suite.
So, can you tell me which royalty, which celebrities like which room?
No. What I could say is that we have lots of regular guests
that enjoy particular rooms, but, you know,
one of the wonderful things about all of our guests staying here,
whether they're royalty or just regular people,
is that they respect our discretion
and we really value their discretion.
God, that key's a bit mystifying.
'Right now, it's time to explore my Art Deco suite.'
I feel like I could run an economy from here.
Get rid of that.
Nobody in there, then.
Oh, yeah, this is great.
Ooh, that's like a Ruhlmann... It's really lovely.
God, that's fantastic.
And then these lovely lights.
It's this whole business of pools of light,
which you can really see working in here.
So, that it was important to have
pale walls, so that all this other stuff...
It's an early kind of minimalism in a way, this idea of lots of light,
lots of reflected light, lots of pale colours. Oh, fantastic!
These little chrome switches here.
Oh, that's it!
This is lovely. It's slightly low for me,
but what used to be called a vanity unit, but very elegant.
Rather too much of me in the mirror, but fantastic and gentle and flattering light.
Bare bulbs in chrome tubes.
I think they were still thrilled by electricity,
so the bare bulbs not really a problem for them,
whereas now we would think it's a bit unfinished.
Oh, that's the business.
Oh, that's great!
What is that, waste?
Quite like Niagara.
Isn't that lovely? You can have a sort of...
You can get wet in thousands of different ways, but in a Thirties style.
This stuff is lovely.
You know, they couldn't make this until they invented
continuous plate glass and it was invented by Henry Ford,
so we have Ford to thank for this.
Well, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by this hotel,
but actually it's fantastic.
Oh, look at that nice detail, the chrome hinge. Ooh, yes.
It puts you in a very "up" mood and I'm sure that was the purpose.
It was light, enjoyable, frivolous, kind of modern rococo,
and it just makes you
want to do something illegal.
'Just as I'm settling into the suite,
'the hotel surprises me with yet another luxury.'
Good afternoon, butlers.
-Good afternoon, Mr Heathcote.
-How are you? I'm Ian, one of the butler team.
I wasn't expecting a butler.
Well, I know what you do in a hotel room, but what does a butler do in a hotel room?
Well, for example, at Claridge's, I see you've got your there bag there,
we would take that through to the bedroom for you and offer to unpack it for you.
We coordinate the whole visit for you, so once you meet us
we should then take care of the rest of your stay, whether it be an aspect
of concierge, booking a dinner reservation,
organising a party within the suite, any food, beverage,
basically, anything that you require for your visit to make it the most comfortable stay that you can get.
That's wonderful. Well, yes, I'd love it unpacking and I think I've got
-a dressing gown that's a bit crumpled and two shirts that need an iron.
-OK, well, I can organise that.
What time would you like them back by?
I don't think I need the shirts till tomorrow,
but I might need the dressing gown this evening.
-We'll make sure they're pressed and hung up in your wardrobe.
I love this bedroom.
-Would you like me to hang that up for you, sir?
-Oh, yes, yes. Thanks.
Did you have a long journey today, sir?
Oh, no, not far, really.
-I live in the South, so it's OK.
I think they need destroying.
Do you have any preferences with regards to your shirts?
Do you like them hung or folded?
-Folded I think, yes.
It's a very strange experience having your baggage unpacked for you,
There are moments when you feel ashamed of your own luggage.
I think my wife folded that one,
-and the previous one was one of my own efforts.
What's the largest number of items of luggage you've had to deal with?
The largest ever was approximately 60.
Some people, like, for example, within the hotel we actually have
some guests that we hold about 20 to 30 trunks downstairs,
which is very similar to back in the '30s or '40s.
'What about bringing your own servants?'
You look at the 1930s and then look at say the current day,
so what was a servant in those days is your make-up artist these days,
the stylist, the PA.
So, it's just a new way and a new style in terms of...
I see, yes. I understand, yes.
-So, they've continued with the tradition, but it's just evolved in terms of...
-And the staff.
And do they have rooms nearby the suites or are they in a...
Again, we're very fortunate in Claridge's in that with all
the corridors you can actually extend ten rooms one way and four rooms...
-So, in total you can actually have 14 rooms connected,
whereby you actually have an internal corridor.
And you could do that with this suite?
-This suite, as well.
Claridge's was originally a Victorian hotel
owned by the legendary D'Oyly Carte family
who, when they weren't staging Gilbert and Sullivan musicals,
were taking their cue for hotel modernisation from Paris,
the birthplace of Art Deco in the 1920s.
What you can really clearly see here is that
basically the building's from the late 19th century,
but the very entrance, this was the first bit they made Art Deco.
What's interesting about it is these urns with pastel painted
flowers over the top are very much in this early French Art Deco style.
Soft colours, big exaggerated flowers.
Very, very kind of gay, in an old-fashioned sense.
Silver windows instead of white windows, metallic, shiny, very Deco.
But if you look further along the street down here...
and the building above it are pure early 1930s.
This was the second phase of the Art Deco work at Claridge's
and it's a rather strict building,
but around the door there are the details you need.
This is one of the features of Art Deco buildings,
that the only made them Art Deco where it was needed.
It wasn't an all over style,
it was a decorative surface style predominantly.
you don't get a sense of the whole building. This is the other thing
about Art Deco, it really is about entrances and interiors,
not so much about exteriors.
The thing about this door, is there's no paparazzi, no people can get in and out.
You can see the building as it's supposed to be seen,
and just polishing the steel makes the thing look modern.
This very simple classical device
when repeated endlessly in a vertical way,
and the fact that the doors fold back
and you've got these lovely, very polished marble entrance mouldings,
gives the whole thing a contemporary look,
which you just wouldn't get in earlier buildings,
which, if you look across the street, are all white stone and red brick.
So, this really spoke about the now.
There were no British gurus of Art Deco,
so the D'Oyly Carte family brought in society designer Basil Ionides,
and Lalique to do the glass.
The man whose responsibility it is to maintain Claridge's look
is interior design expert Guy Oliver.
So, how do you refurbish those amazing metal doors?
Well, initially we looked at re-nickel plating all of them
and we spoke to a firm in Birmingham that had to reopen,
potentially, would have had to reopen to do the work.
And they needed to have these enormous metal baths
to have an electronic process to plate the doors.
The end, the end cost of replacing all the metal in this hotel
was going to come in at almost £4 million,
so that was obviously unacceptable.
So, what's happened recently is that the doors at the front
were leafed in palladium and that'll give
a certain medium-term life to it,
and also renew the effect and give the sort of glamour.
There are no celebs around, so Claridge's has let us into the bar,
created in 1928, and supplied us with some tasty morsels.
In the 1920s after the First World War there was this sort of rush to
have excitement and have some sort of more glamorous life
and Claridge's became a focus for that.
Well, you also get the feeling that
this whole Art Deco section of the building was kind of like
a club for the young people who had stopped, you know, renting houses
-It was more like a social centre for the very rich.
You had this stage where rich people were moving out of their town houses in London and moving into apartments,
so they needed a focus of where they could entertain and play
and Claridge's provided that function.
It's in a great location, the middle of Mayfair, so next to
all those sort of serviced apartments and new buildings that were put up in the 1920s and 1930s,
and the bar became a focal point for society.
Some of the Guy's best finds were found in the Claridge's skip.
I mean, this is just wonderful.
I mean, it's in fantastic condition.
Well, it was found in a box in the skip at the back of the hotel.
So, they just junk stuff?
I think the reason why this was thrown away was because it's actually a vulture,
and I don't think it's sort of something that guests would like to look at
in their bathroom or bedroom, so it's not very romantic. It looks very Deco.
It's got fantastic detailing on it, but it's not a particularly nice thing to have in your room.
Yet, it's a real pleasure meeting him because you feel that this is an ongoing craft.
I like to think that I'm part of the building.
It's been something that's been handed to me.
My tutor worked and designed here,
and I'm sure someone will come on after me and take on that mantle.
I'm being escorted up to take a look at the ultra luxe penthouse suite.
-So, your own private stairwell up to your suite.
-Yes, it's very discreet.
You wouldn't know it was up here, would you?
-And then just through to the Brooke Penthouse.
-Mirrored doors, yes.
OK? So, just through this way, Mr Heathcote.
This is the Brooke Penthouse, which is an Art Deco designed suite
by a designer called Veere Grenney.
We can accommodate, at the moment, up to six,
but if you'd like to extend, we can also increase that to 12.
-12, Not bad.
-If you'd like to invite perhaps some friends or family around.
Also, just over there we have a private bar fully stocked,
but again if there's any particular drinks that you have or preferences,
do inform us and we'll make sure that it's put straightaway into...
-Can you have staff to...
-..administer the drinks.
-So, if you like cocktails or anything like that, we'll organise that for you.
OK, if you'd like to just go through.
Oh, this is lovely.
OK, so, south-facing views.
You have the Houses of Parliament directly southwest.
It's like a little toy town down here. It doesn't even look real.
It's like olde worlde Dickensian London down there.
In the 1930s, smoking was so popular,
Claridge's built a room called a fumoir dedicated to it.
'And for the first time the ladies joined in.
'Decorative arts expert Judith Miller filled me in.'
I think we should have a cocktail really to celebrate the room.
Churlish not to.
Well, we certainly have all the smoking accessories here.
Well, I wanted to find out from you all about the way of smoking.
The way of smoking,
this whole etiquette of smoking.
I mean, the great thing is when you think about it, I mean, you know,
the whole war, women's emancipation, women actually starting to
come out and drink and smoke, but very elegantly.
It was part of the whole ethos, that whole fantastic elegant moment
where women could come out and it was. We see photographs
all round here of women being amazingly attractive smoking.
It was sold as, "You're emancipated, you could do what you like."
I mean, this wonderful cigarette holder here, with the Sphinx on it,
very topical in the 1920s, you know, all the Tutankhamun's tomb.
This woman was showing that not only was she sophisticated,
sitting in a wonderful hotel like Claridge's, smoking,
but she knew all about the new discoveries.
That was the exciting thing about Art Deco, all these different things coming in.
I always wondered if the cigarette devices were like replacing the fan as a kind of method of flirtation.
You know, lots of lighting of cigarettes and things like that.
I think that's absolutely right. You can imagine in here, in the darkened cigar room, sitting with
your wonderful cigarette and actually made up, looking very stylish.
These packets, I like the idea that they flipped open and I could
proffer you a cigarette, and you would take one and I would light it.
And even with this, this tabletop thing, I can go one better.
I can offer you 20 cigarettes.
So, over here we've got a smoking stand, which
I don't really understand how to use it, but I understand you have one, so maybe you could tell me.
I do. I have one at home. This is very typical, the chrome and black.
Very classic Art Deco.
There are many of these stands around and it just was because it was so popular, everyone did it.
The whole idea of cigarettes too, it was very important to put your cigarette down,
-and then to pick it up again. It was very much part of the style.
-Oh, right. Yeah.
But, no, I think this would have been a very exciting place to come.
If we'd walked in here and ordered our cocktail in 1925,
I think we would have been, you know, cutting edge,
we would have been right at the showing of this style.
Do you know, there's a particularly sumptuous feature of this bath, which is these two pulls here.
One of them brings the valet and the other brings the maid.
I'm not sure if I dare pull the maid one.
The valet would bring me a drink or a ham sandwich or some other toothsome morsel I might want,
and the idea of just being able to lie in this vast volume of hot water
ordering stuff from the bath is impossibly luxurious.
And, actually, as usual with a book in the bath, it's a total waste
of time because I have not even the slightest interest in reading it.
All I want to do here is nothing.
And so to bed.
I'm up early for a viewing of the famous Art Deco foyer.
I set my alarm for breakfast as I couldn't do it on an empty stomach, could I?
-How are you, sir?
I've been better.
-Where would you like this?
-Just here, that's fine.
-Thank you very much.
Do people often do this, have breakfast in their room?
-Yes, quite often, yes.
-Almost every day.
-Almost every day.
Sir, would you like first the porridge or the...
Porridge, please, yes.
There's the porridge for you, sir.
-Thank you very much. This is the kipper, sir.
-That's lovely. So that's?
-Butter and some lemon in the basket.
-Oh, that's the butter. Wow!
-Thank you very much.
Enjoy breakfast, sir, and have a nice day.
-Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
When I ordered this yesterday, I didn't realise I'd be eating it
very, very early in the morning and I must say that porridge and kippers
is a little challenging before eight, but I'll give it a go.
It's very good porridge. It's all right.
But I can tell you that this bed and this room...
Well, the bed welcomes you into the arms of Morpheus.
You really sleep fantastic in here,
and it's very, very quiet
considering we're right in the centre of London.
You can't hear the air conditioning.
It's what you'd hope you'd get in a very, very expensive room.
Back to the porridge.
It's five o'clock in the morning and it's the only time we can
get in here and have a look round without it being full of people,
and we wouldn't have to interfere with their food, drinks,
social life, whatever.
Upstairs, as you can see from the balcony there,
you've really still got this baroque revival interior.
And there's a lovely bit of plasterwork up there on the ceiling,
which really takes you back into the 17th century.
But down here, it's all Art Deco
and one of the ways they've kind of modulated between
the baroque revival and Deco is by using silver leaf,
which immediately transforms them from being, I don't know, signs of
ancientness to signs of moderness, this silver picked up everywhere.
It's in the steel, it's in the mirrors, it's in the chrome
and it says modern, somehow.
Obviously, an important part of a hotel is the atmosphere as
you come through the door.
And Ionides, who designed this, was very clever because he lightened up
this revolving door very smartly by turning it into a tent,
like a jousting tent, with these concentric metal rings in silver
rising up to this pinnacle in the middle.
And by turning it into a tent, he was kind of referring to heraldic things,
aristocratic things and I think the clientele of the hotel
would have understood this.
You can use great slabs of mirror to bounce light around,
but also to play about with this idea of electric light,
of brightness, of metallicness, of general shininess,
because reflected in the mirror
is, of course, this wonderful Deco chandelier on the roof.
So, the minute you come into this room you're kind of bathed in light.
So, this interior plays the game of modernity and classicism,
which is what early Deco was so good at.
So, here we are in what is really a 19th century room,
as you can see from these columns. How do you make it Art Deco?
Well, mostly it's detailing.
This banquette, you've got this green leather, a nice Deco colour,
and then you've got these,
apparently, the base of the column, in silver leaf. This makes it Deco.
These little chrome lights,
Decoised, what is really a 19th century piece of furniture.
On these chairs, of course,
the fabric covering the tub chair is a nice jazzy green pattern.
Again, Art Deco. On this cake stand, at the top here,
you've got a little sun burst, makes it Deco.
And then on this sugar container
you've got this little Deco detail, as well.
So, another way you can transform a Victorian space into a Deco space
is simply by covering everything in glass and mirrors and silver.
So, this pilaster, which in a Victorian scheme would be
marble painted, I guess, you plonk on these great mirrors
and then stick an uplighter at the top of it.
And then even this fleur-de-lys, simply by making it silver,
makes it modern.
And when you look at these doorways, you can see they're Victorian.
These arches with the keystone at the top are a really typical Victorian feature, you'll even
see them in every terraced house, but the door underneath it,
now this is really Deco.
Because you've got this smoky glass and in front of it
is silvered steel, and these things, they're only sort of just hung on.
They're really insubstantial.
Just little bits of tin.
But this kind of window dressing transforms the whole space into
a kind of cross between modernity and the Regency.
And this was one of the great criticisms of Deco, that people felt it was kind of flimflam, not really
substantial, but when you're in this room what you don't feel is you're in some stuffy Victorian space.
You feel you're in a very exciting, very 20th century space.
Just by having these simple curves
going this way and curves going this way,
you get the sense that it's a kind of dynamic jazz floor.
It's very, very simple and fantastically effective.
Ballrooms always look fantastic empty,
almost better than with people.
Back in the Thirties, ballrooms like this had replaced the grand houses
of Mayfair as the social centre of London, so anyone who was anyone
would have met in this space at sometime.
But, also, people were quite as capable of being playful and stupid
in here as they had been in houses, and I understand that people actually played cricket in here.
It must have been quite a sight to see.
But even in this ballroom, the roof has been given an Art Deco treatment
by putting this cornicing, which makes the roof seem like it's
floating rather than coming out of the walls.
Through there is the ballroom door
and it just makes sense of this whole space.
It's a grand entrance to this very grand room.
It's like a cross between a palace and a nightclub.
Deco was a style which had no class, no history, no heritage, no culture.
It was an entirely new modern style,
so really it emancipated people who came here,
because to live with Art Deco you didn't need any heritage whatsoever.
You just needed enough money for the rooms.
Hollywood legend Spencer Tracy said "Not that I intend to die,
"but when I do I don't want to go to Heaven, I want to go to Claridge's."
Deco is about making something fashionable and modern.
Using shiny new materials, Art Deco give instant gloss to anything,
even a stuffy Victorian hotel
and it's been luring in the new aristocracy of celebrity ever since.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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The Art Deco movement swept through Britain in the 1930s, bringing a little glamour to everyone's life. In this series, architectural historian David Heathcote explores and enjoys four of the best examples of Art Deco in Britain.
Heathcote checks into Claridge's Hotel in London's Mayfair and explores the Art Deco makeover of the 1930s, which transformed the old Victorian hotel into a fashionable destination for the rich and famous.
He enjoys the glamour of the Deco fumoir which made smoking sexy and glamorous, even for women, and samples the cocktail bar with Guy Oliver, the man whose job it is to renovate and restore the hotel's glamorous 1930s image.
Heathcote then settles into a perfect Art Deco bath complete with glass panels, bubble bath and two bell pulls - one for the maid and the other for the butler.