The old Claridge's, where more than half the crowned heads of Europe had been entertained, consisted of half-a-dozen houses connected with each other by means of doors pierced in the walls. It was swept away by the re-organising hand of progress, and in December, 1893, Lady de Grey laid the foundation stone of the palatial new building, a consummate mingling of magnificence, luxury, comfort and good taste. London has, of late years, seen a number of magnificent hotels arise, but none of them can compete with Claridge's in the vista of great spaces that dazzles the visitor on entering, in the immense size of the rooms and the luxuriousness of furniture and fittings. The smoking room suggests an old baronial hall or a chateau on the Rhone in the time of François I. This is, in fact, the period with which everything in the hotel is in correct relation. Even the door handles are Tudor and Queen Anne in design, and the friezes and carvings are of the same solid, symmetrical and elaborately handsome character.
The royal suite of rooms, shut off from the rest of the hotel and piovided with a private entrance from the street, has already been occupied, and highly approved, by at least one illustrious guest. The "flats" have taken extremely well, and have in some cases been occupied for weeks in succession, while, in others, the visitors spend three or four days a week in London, then leave for a country house or a trip abroad, almost invariably returning to this agreeable and luxurious pied à terre. Among those who have stayed at the hotel since its opening in November, 1898, are the Grand Duke Michael of Russia and the Countess Torby. Prince and Princess Radziwill, the Princess Ourousoff, Prince and Princess Hatzfeldt, Prince Alexis Karageorgevitch, the Hon. Joseph H. Choate, American Ambassador, the Duchess of Marlborough, the Earl and Countess de Grey, Lord and Lady Charles Beresford, the Duke and Duchess de Bojano, Lord and Lady Raincliffe, Comte de Castellane, Baron and Baroness de Stoeckl, Sir Edgar and Lady Helen Vincent, Sir Edward and Lady Sassoon, Mrs. Ogden Goelet and Lady Mary Sackville, Prince and Princess Duleep Singh, Sir Edward and Lady Green, the Countess of Warwick and Lady Marjorie Greville, the Duc de Grammont and Lady Corisande de Grammont, Viscount Viiliers, the Countess of Dunraven and Lady Aileen Wyndham Quin, the Countess of Wilton, Lady Algernon Gordon Lennox, the Earl and Countess of Craven, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin, the United States Ambassador to Russia and Mrs. Charlemagne Tower, Lord Trevor, Mr. and Mrs. Ephrussi, etc., etc. The new Claridge's has made an excellent start, and there is little doubt of its retaining its exalted pre-eminence.
At the Reception and the Concert given at Claridge's Hotel by the Committee of American Ladies in London in aid of the American Hospital Ship Maine, on Saturday, November 18th, 1899, an enormous crowd of distinguished personages and celebrities crushed into the spacious rooms until locomotion was well nigh impossible. The folds of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes met and draped everywhere above the Red Geneva Cross. A contingent of the 2nd Life Guards in full uniform and a detachment of the Scots Guards in bearskins, with the drummers and pipers of the regiment, lined the Hall and filled the staircase as a Guard of Honour. Amongst the Ladies' Committee were Lady Randolph Churchill, Mrs. Ronalds, Mrs. Blow, the Countess of Essex, Madame von Andre, Mrs. Van Duzer, Mrs. Brown-Potter, Mrs. Arthur Paget, Mrs. Bradley-Martin, Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain, Mrs. Earle, Mrs. Feild, Mrs. Haldeman, Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Ralph Vivian, Mrs. Leslie, Mrs. H. R. Griffin, Mrs. Morton Frewen, and the Duchess of Marlborough. The entertainments were organised by Mrs. Brown-Potter, and the waiting in the tea-room was done by the pretty Miss Edna May, and a crowd of American girls from the "Belle of New York " and the "El Capitan" Companies. All the singers and performers, everything, in fact, were American, not forgetting an American bar. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales allowed it to be announced beforehand that he would honour the Hotel with his presence, and arrived in good time and stayed late. The Prince took tea in the public restaurant, having at his table the Duchess of Marlborough, Mrs. Arthur Paget, and Mrs. Brown-Potter; and they were waited on by Miss Edna May. Other tables had been sold in advance for large sums, those nearest the table reserved for His Royal Highness fetching the highest prices. Her Royal Highness the Princess Christian and the Princess Aribert of Anhalt and Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein were at another table; while H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge occupied another with Miss Keyser, Mr. Charles Wyndham, and Miss Mary Moore.Homes of the Passing Show, "A Historicat Hotel"., By Mrs. Humphry, "Madge" of Truth., 1900.
Note. -- This article has previously appeared in the Pall Mall Magazine, and is reproduced by kind permission of the Editor and of Mr. and Mrs. Penneli. The article signed W.C.K.W. has also previously appeared; but all the other articles have been specially written for this little book. W.C.K.W., William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852-1899). Oscar Wilde's brother.
A Study in Hotel Decoration
It has often struck me that one of the most difficult problems that can be set a decorative designer, is that of treating successfully the interior of a large hotel. The chief aim of the decorator must be to attract and satisfy these who shall be brought into contact with his work, and, by the very condition of things to thus represent, roughly speaking, every taste and every fancy. If, on the one hand, the lines followed are consistent with the principles of that new school of applied art of which England as a nation has every right to be peculiarly proud, the ordinary commonplace Philistine guest declares at once that his surroundings are dull and even ugly, so difficult is it to convince the average man that decoration does not naturally imply ornamentation; if, on the other hand, by glare and glitter the taste of the Philistine is satisfied, then people of more refinement are distressed and worried by what they term the vulgarity surrounding them. There is another factor in the problem, too, which has to be taken into consideration. To strike the right note of the nineteenth century so far as regards hotel life, the idea of luxury, and to a certain extent of sheer expense, must of necessity be struck. To do this, and, on the one hand, to avoid pretentiousness and a too insistent gorgeousness, without, on the other, relying on the technical perfection of the individual craftsman, which is as "Caviare to the general," is a task of no mean difficulty. It was, therefore, with peculiar interest that I accepted the invitation to visit Claridge's and the Savoy Hotel, and to jot down the general impression the interior treatment of these two great establishments made upon me.
It was Claridge's to which my attention was first directed, and here it struck me that the artist, Mr. Ernest George, had recognised the very difficulties I have mentioned above, and that he had most successfully grappled with them. He was fortunate in this, that the Hotel appeals only to a certain clientele, and that clientele one whose taste and sense of fitness might fairly be relied upon within certain broad limits. There was no question here of catering for the artistic appetite of those for whom the modern Pullman car forms the ideal of tasteful and effective decoration, but rather of working for the cultured taste of those who are accustomed in their own home to the last word of modern decorative art. Thus it is that the distinguishing virtue of Claridge's interior treatment might be entitled "good taste." From the rich grandeur of the restaurant to the quiet simplicity of the smallest bedroom, there is nothing to jar on one's sense of fitness. Starting on the assumption that a building of this character must be "stylistic" and speak in a language that all can understand, rather than "individualistic," and so confined to the comparative few, it was an exceedingly happy thought of the designer to adopt the so-called "Adams" style as the basis of his work; for he was thus enabled on the one hand to branch off with no marked break to the richer, and, perhaps, more Rococo styles of the late French Renaissance, and, on the other, to descend to absolute plainness and non-architectural treatment.
To come to particulars, I was struck with the drawing-room, which if somewhat freely treated, yet cleverly avoids any tendency to the Rococo; but suggests, with its silk wall hangings, matching the furniture in colour and design, the idea of dainty luxury properly characteristic of the purpose for which the room is to be used.
More architectural, as it were, but equally applicable and effective is the treatment of the restaurant, with high oak panelling, relieved of heaviness by the well-designed inlay of lighter hued wood, and the picturesque arrangement of alcoves formed by the white arches in delicate plaster relief.
A more sombre, but perhaps richer note is struck by the smoking and billiard rooms; in the former, the high oak dado relieved by carved panels, the coffered ceiling led up to from the oak by a blue frieze, effectively stencilled in silver; in the billiard room, the warm embossed leather paper and most interesting frieze of plaster, the curiously original plaster capitals to the square oak pillars which support the heavy beam of the ceiling, and the green leather of the lounges and chairs, forming a striking colour scheme.
But it is the suites of rooms, bedrooms and private sitting rooms, which strike the descriptive note of Claridge's. One feeling runs through them all, though there is an infinite variety of colour and detail. The majority are treated in the Adams style, relying not a little for their effect upon the delicacy of the plaster ornamentation upon the ceilings. Some of them have the walls panelled by white plaster mouldings, but in every case the wall hangings are of a striped material, whether paper or silk, to harmonise with the upholstery of the particular room. The door architraves and other permanent fittings are in most cases of pitch pine. In the Royal suite of rooms the wood has been chosen with such exceeding care that the full effect of the beautifully grained wood is shown to noticeable advantage. This Royal suite however is entitled to something more than a mere mention. Claridge's of course is known as the favourite abiding place of visiting Royalties and therefore these Royal apartments are of more than ordinary importance. It is not therefore unnatural that more pains should evidently have been spent upon their decoration than has perhaps been the case with the more ordinary apartments. The quietness and simplicity which is a characteristic of the entire hotel is here, if anything, intensified. The bedrooms with pink striped wall hangings are delightfully gay and fresh, but by no means elaborate or overdone. The principal bedroom has a most dignified character, the silk hangings to the walls forming the most charming colour combination when taken in conjunction with the rich tones of the mahogany furniture. This in itself is noteworthy, for without any servile copying it seems to have absorbed the spirit and virtues of the best work of Chippendale and his contemporaries, the bed, with its well draped canopy and richly carved mahogany framework, being especially successful. Directly over the Royal suite is a set of rooms which are somewhat more elaborately treated; but which, though likely to appeal to the general public by more florid treatment of white plaster work, richly carved marble chimney-pieces, and French gilt furniture upholstered in flowered silk of French design, impressed me by no means so favourably as the more simply treated rooms below. The general impression afforded by these living rooms of the hotel, is that they are the bedrooms and minor sitting rooms of a well-arranged town house - belonging to a rich and artistically-minded owner. That they would appeal to everyone in equal degree may perhaps be doubted, for there are some people who cannot be satisfied without show and glitter. But then these are the very sort of people who are not likely to take up their abode at Claridge's. As I have endeavoured to point out, this same reticent spirit pervades the public reception rooms in equal degree; and yet I cannot say that there is any suggestion of severity or bareness, the necessary feeling of luxury and opulence is quite sufficiently pervasive.Homes of the Passing Show, Article By Horace Townsend, of the "Studio" Magazine.