A New England

20th July 2008 (Last Updated July 20th, 2008 18:30)

Legendary Mayfair hotel the Connaught has cordially opened its doors after a £70m restoration. Interior designers David Collins, India Mahdavi and Guy Oliver reveal the philosophy behind their designs to Christopher Kanal.

A New England

A century before Marc Jacobs made Mount Street Mayfair’s most fashionable address, the Connaught was attracting aristocrats and actors to the area. Fast forward to summer 2008 and the hotel has reopened after a £70m overhaul, central to which was the interior design work by some of the most respected designers around: David Collins (The London West Hollywood, Claridge’s Bar, Blue Bar at The Berkeley) and India Mahdavi (On Rivington New York, Townhouse Miami) have redesigned its two bars while Guy Oliver (Claridge’s Hotel) worked on the guestrooms and suites.

The new restaurant, ‘Hélène Darroze at The Connaught’, was also designed by Mahdavi. “The key thing with the closure of the Connaught was to ensure we didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The £70m that has come in has been very cleverly invested. We retained the spirit of the hotel itself but brought it very much into the 21st century,” says Anthony Lee, GM of the Connaught.

India Mahdavi, The Coburg Bar

“Mount Street has all the original facades and is one of the most intact streets in London. It is what Americans call a ‘nexus of cool’.”

“In the hotel business, it does not get any better than the Connaught. The Coburg Bar is a bit of a classic, while David Collins’ bar is more contemporary. I want previous guests to come back and not feel upset, but also a younger crowd to come in and say: ‘This is cool’.

“The time frame was short − just two and a half months − so the design was more a spontaneous response. We kept some of the old furniture and gave it a modern twist with a graphic look. I knew if we had enough of the big chairs it would look cool. I wanted a selection of English artists who created Victorian portraits in a modern way so I brought in artwork by Julian Opie.

“I always imagine myself as the customer − where I’d like to sit, what I want to look at and how I’d like to have the light fall. You project yourself, you go with that theme and you tell a story. That is what I try to do: find the story behind the feeling. It was an interesting exercise because my work was confined to one room.

“I wanted the bar to look good at night, to be warm and inviting, and to have that cosiness that you only find in English homes.’

Guy Oliver, Guestrooms and Suites

“The Connaught is the one that says Englishness. Claridge’s might be where people go to be seen, but the Connaught is where people go for discretion. We wanted to maintain the idea that it is a special place. It’s like a home-away-from-home in London.

“The Connaught is not only unique to London, it is unique to Mayfair. Mount Street has all the original facades and is one of the most intact streets in London. It is what Americans call a “nexus of cool”.

“We found old banisters in the attic, which were all numbered, and used them.”

“The architecture is the unifying factor: you can’t rip out the panelling and you can’t take down the ceilings. We found old banisters in the attic, which were all numbered, and used them.

“We used wonderful carvers MacNichols from Ireland and Houghton from York who made new pediments and banisters. We recreated the original hardwood doors, which had been removed in the 1960s.

“I’m involved with the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which was set up by the Prince of Wales in Afghanistan. Local artisans are carving panelling for suite 518. Suite 105 is lovely, it is Jack Nicholson’s favourite. When he comes back he’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

David Collins, The Connaught Bar

“The hotel’s owners wanted to reinvent and reinvigorate The Connaught Bar yet retain its quintessential Englishness. The old American Bar was a bit of a lost corner at the Connaught. It has the street entrance so it was a good opportunity to make a presence on Mount Street, with all its designer stores.

“It was important to ensure that The Connaught Bar did not look generic or was a variation on a theme. Each bar I’ve designed is defined by the architecture of the building they are in. The Connaught is a masculine hotel and has more of a 19th century gentlemen’s club feel. The new owners were interested in using art within the hotel, so we reinterpreted the panelling as an art piece.

“I was inspired by English cubist and Irish 1920s art, and mixed it in with the earlier Edwardian architecture of the room. Everything about the Connaught as a brand is here to stay; it has got longevity. It is not a new hotel and the bar is not a new concept plonked down, which could have gone disastrously wrong.”

The Connaught Bar opens in July 2008