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By Bonnie Davidson | Photo: Courtesy of The Berkeley | October 19, 2016
A vast glass canopy bestows The Berkeley with major curb appeal, doubles the size of its beloved Blue Bar and ushers the legendary London hotel into the 21st century.
Fifty-two panes of thick, triple-laminated glass and 16 fin-shape beams made of carbon fiber—a superlightweight, superstrong material most often used in the aerospace industry and the construction of Formula One race cars—now grace the front of The Berkeley, one of London’s most prestigious hotels. Drama, rather than shelter, is the primary function of this 98-foot-long, 30-foot-deep entryway canopy designed by London-based architecture firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and engineered by Arup. Viewed from the leafy street, it’s the first indication that, following a recent renovation, the grande dame of Knightsbridge since 1972 remains on the cutting edge of chic.
“Rather than follow the lightweight, high-tech, add-on entrance canopy cliché that has pervaded our cities since Lloyd’s of London, at The Berkeley we conceived the entrance as a completely new building—a contemporary lean-to,” says architect Ivan Harbour, a partner with the firm also responsible for the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the forthcoming International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Here, on a street lined with fine Georgian townhouses just a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, the charcoal-gray carbon fiber beams that support 30 weighty roof panels “bring a lightness and elegance to the glass structure, creating an open, transparent and welcoming point of arrival,” adds architect Richard Rogers.
Beyond the stunning new frontage, an updated lobby boasts elegant eucalyptus paneling, white Italian marble floors, alabaster wall lights and nickel inlay details. Flanking it are two greenhouse-like glass pavilions, which house extensions to the Blue Bar on one side and the Collins Room (formerly the Caramel Room) on the other; the glazed ceilings and walls are inlayed with delicate aluminum honeycomb, allowing for an atmospheric interplay of light and shadow on the interior surfaces. Both gathering places have been refurbished by Robert Angell, protégé of the rooms’ original designer, the late David Collins.
“I was particularly mindful of respecting David’s design legacy” while trying to add “a touch of my own aesthetic,” says Angell, referring to his vision for the Blue Bar. Still intact is the signature paneling in Lutyens blue (named for British architect Sir Edwin Lutyen), as well as red silk lampshades and the Cardinal’s Hat central light fixture. A new onyx-topped blue bar has been added, while midcentury-style furniture, upholstered in fine blue and silver fabric, is the beautiful product of a collaboration between Angell, Irish textile designer Jude Cassidy and custom furniture craftsman Ben Whistler. Comfortably ensconced in this swanky cocktail salon, guests sip libations color-coded according to potency, from the light, low-alcohol green to deep, strong red and blue.
Across the lobby, Angell gave the Collins Room a silvery-gray and lavender art deco makeover. He added oversize white porcelain leaf-motif chandeliers, mirror-topped oval tables and gray silk wallpaper by de Gournay adorned with handpainted Japanese cherry blossoms. Although contemporary, it’s an appropriately proper setting in which to sample classic British cuisine by chef Shaun Whatling and Prêt-à-Portea—the hotel’s legendary afternoon repast featuring a menu of cakes, biscuits and pastries inspired by the season’s haute couture collections.
The final stage of renovation to the five-star property is the recent unveiling of 10 amenity-rich suites by resort architect and interior designer John Heah, including multiple Grand Terrace Suites, each opening onto a large, landscaped perch with a dining table overlooking St. Paul’s Church; the spacious Park Suite with four sets of French windows, Juliet balconies and a sweeping view of Hyde Park; The Gallery, with a rotating art collection; and The Apartment, a palatial 2,500-square-foot two-bedroom pied-à-terre with his-and-hers bathroom, tucked into the quiet southeast corner of the hotel.
Guests in these sumptuous digs are granted complimentary access to The Berkeley Fashion Trunk—an 11-drawer, handcrafted leather steamer trunk filled with designer accessories from the 1950s to the 1990s. Curated by Fanny Moizant, a founder of online luxury boutique Vestiaire Collective, rare items such as a vintage Saint Laurent clutch, Cartier bracelet or Hermès scarf may be borrowed for the evening (or, upon checkout, purchased for life). “Vintage takes us beyond fashion to a timeless entity, which can be endlessly enjoyed throughout generations,” notes Moizant. The same can be said about The Berkeley—contemporary yet timeless, and enjoyed for generations. Rooms from $623, suites from $1,402