By Marc Kristal
“It was a bit more twee,” says Stephanie Earnshaw, a designer with the London firm Tara Bernerd & Partners, of the now-defunct Sheraton Belgravia on decorous, late-Georgian Chesham Place, a buttered scone’s throw from Sloane Street, Harrod’s, and the Hyde Park tube stop.
Translation? “Mahogany Paneling, lampshades – the Sheraton take on traditional English design,” explains Tommy Gymnander, Earnshaw’s colleague. So how does an interior design office transform a property that was, ahem, born twee into the new 85-room Belgraves, the first European outpost for the very American, very design-forward Thompson Hotels group?
The brief was a bit schizo: “to keep the Thompson look, but bring it to Belgravia, and not limit the demographic to people who stay in hip hotels,” says Earnshaw. But which Belgravia are we talking about? The uber-posh one, with pampered teenagers drag-racing down Sloane Street in Bentleys with diplomatic plates? Or the Belgravia of Elizabeth Street, where the modish bespoke boutiques, handsome but hardly grand 18th-century architecture, and air of boho chic can remind you of New York’s West Village or the Marais? How to strike the precise decorative balance?
Though the designers were inspired by Annie Leibovitz’s ad for Vuitton, featuring Keith Richards in a formal hotel suite adorned with skull-patterned scarves, the actual Belgraves is a lot less louche (even after a few gobsmacking cocktails at the mezzanine-level Mark’s Bar) . In fact, from the moment you walk in, it’s surprisingly inviting. Known for its trademark layering of materials, Bernerd & Partners installed substantial sandblasted brick walls (a nod to Belgravia’s historically predominant building material) and floors of limed oak in the lobby, then progressively cozied them up with multi-textured overlays of leather and fabric -– an environment equally welcoming to the hip and unhip.
On the two floors of public spaces, the designers went for a salon-style look, mixing vintage midcentury pieces in agreeably beat-up condition with new furnishings created by Bernerd and others, that’s clubby (without being old-school) and contemporary (but not warmed-over Philippe Starck). Best of all are the richly colored and patterned patchwork carpets, stitched together from off-cuts of antique rugs, on the mezzanine: their visual intrigue distracts your eye from the low ceilings.
As for the guest accommodations, they’re even more materially sumptuous, with an abundance of tweeds, checks and pinstripes that, says Earnshaw, “brings in the Britishness.” And Bernerd made smart use, in the largely space-challenged rooms and suites, of the seventy box-shaped window bays spread over seven floors: the designers filled them with desks, banquettes and bathtubs that feel like distinct, pleasantly private zones.
If certain of the North American Thompsons can seem aesthetically thin, Belgraves feels contrastingly authoritative – not least because the walls are hung with first-rate contemporary artworks from the YBA-heavy collection of star chef Mark Hix, whose Hix Belgravia takes up half the lobby level (Mark’s Bar is his as well). Known for his contemporary take on British cuisine, Hix’s Belgraves venue allegedly features a more global perspective. I can only say that my ultra-simple Moyallon pork chop managed to be at once crisp, tender, gamy, and sweet – and like my stay at Belgraves, I was very sorry to see it end.
Belgraves, 20 Chesham Place, London SW1X 8HQ
Marc Kristal is an architecture, design and travel writer. Kristal, a contributing editor of Dwell and a former editor of AIA/J, and has written for The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Wallpaper, Surface, and numerous other publications. In 2003, he curated the exhibition ‘Absence Into Presence: The Art, Architecture and Design of Remembrance’ at Parsons School of Design, and in 2009 he was part of the project team that created the award-winning Greenwich South planning study for the Alliance for Downtown New York. His books include Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors (2010) and Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture (2011), both from The Monacelli Press. Also a screenwriter, Kristal wrote the film Torn Apart. He lives in New York.