My favourite room
Alexandra Shulman

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 53, Winter 2017

Page 10

Alexandra Shulman watches the world from Claridge's lobby

I have the writer Kay Thompson's creation, Eloise, to thank for my love of hotels. Certainly it is nothing to do with my personal earliest experience of staying in a gloomy place in Westgate-on-Sea, where I used to be sent as a small child for summer holidays.

Eloise lived on the top floor of the Plaza Hotel in New York, with her dog Weenie and turtle Skipperdee, and had a glorious time calling room service from the bath, causing chaos in the elevators and generally being "a nuisance in the lobby". I have always thought that Claridge's was similar to the Plaza – and that Eloise would have loved it.

Built in the closing years of the 19th century, the lobby at Claridge's is a candidate for the most glamorous transit lounge in the world. It is a place that you pass through on your way to another activity: beyond lies the glistening foyer for tea or cocktails, the restaurants, the Ballroom, the darkened Fumoir, the cossetting Ladies Room. On the floors above it are bedrooms and suites with a constantly changing cast of inhabitants and their many stories.

But the Claridge's lobby is also a place to linger as an end in itself. How often I have sat in the leather chairs beside the blazing fire on a dark winter afternoon and wished that I could simply stay there, watching the activity, rather than meeting one of the many fashion designers who love to stay in the hotel.

The varied proceedings taking place on the black-and-white chequered marble floor are presided over by a 19th-century painting of Marianne Claridge, who in a black lace dress and with her matriarchal gaze, is both commanding and knowing. She has seen Winston Churchill, a former resident of the hotel, enter though the revolving glass-and-metalwork doors. She has watched Mick Jagger, who, like Churchill, had a suite, hover by the softly lit alcoves with their displays of orchids and amaryllis. She no doubt disapproves of the 21st-century businessmen, busy with their iPhones as they slump in the comfortable armchairs, and I hope she enjoys listening to the head concierge advising guests on which West End play they should see while in town.

But these guests would do far better to stay in and hang out in the lobby. With the flickering candles, Lalique glass, wide sweeping staircase and decorative mirrors, there could be no more glittering stage on which to watch the life and times of the hotel and its visitors play out in dramatic elegance.

Alexandra Shulman is the former editor of Vogue. Her book, Inside Vogue, a diary of the magazine's centenary year is published by Fig Tree.

Claridge's, Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1. +44 (0) 20 7629 8860,
claridges.co.uk

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