First broadcast in January, BBC documentary The Mayfair Hotel Megabuild recorded both the excavation of Claridge’s five-storey basement and the construction of a new ninth-floor, four-bedroom penthouse that covers the entire roof, an area of 1,500 sq metres.
It was compelling television, notably the thrilling sequence in which a tower crane operator called Lindsey White winches in a 10-metre-wide window to frame the view from the penthouse’s vast “grand salon”. Weighing almost 1.5 tonnes, that sheet of anti-reflective glass alone cost £30,000. The tiniest miscalculation would have shattered it. But with extraordinary sangfroid, she lifts it to the limit of the crane’s 40-metre reach and lowers it gently into its frame. It was nail-biting stuff.
Six years in the making, that penthouse is finally open. I wasn’t quite the first to stay there; Leonardo DiCaprio had checked in the week before. But here I am, gazing through that window, across what they’re calling the “water garden”, a 200 sq metre glass-bottomed pool that stretches like a lid over the Victorian hotel’s original lightwell, towards a grove of potted citrus trees and, more prosaically, an artificial lawn. I take in the sweeping views of London’s rooftops and marvel at the outlandish extravagance of it all.
For this is London’s most expensive hotel suite. While pricing is on a “case by case basis”, and there can be seasonal fluctuations, a hotel spokesperson says the penthouse is currently selling for about £60,000 per night. Its designer, Rémi Tessier, is a specialist in superyacht interiors, among them those on James Dyson’s 91-metre “Nahlin” — which perhaps explains why even here, some of the furniture is fixed to the floor.
Take the pedestal dining table, a circle of polished amboyna (the rare burl wood of a pterocarpus tree) inset with a disc of malachite, the height of which can be raised or lowered by means of a remote control. Or the immense crescent-shaped, cushion-strewn bouclé sofa in one of three sitting rooms, which rests on discreet rails etched into the silken carpet so that it can be rotated to face the giant onyx fireplace, the 100-inch TV screen or the terrace. There are also six “lighting scenarios” to improve on nature, ensuring rosy dawn or amber sunset, whatever the weather or time of day.
The most sophisticated engineering, however, is to be found in the way the oculus (one of the apartment’s nine huge skylights) above one of the bedrooms opens and closes at the press of a button, like the blades of a camera aperture’s iris diaphragm, a near silent, mesmerisingly beautiful feat of engineering.
Tessier, now 59, began his career as an apprentice cabinetmaker with Les Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France, an organisation dedicated to training craftsmen in the skills needed to restore and maintain the country’s medieval cathedrals. Despite a 21st-century aesthetic he remains a traditionalist when it comes to methods and finishes. All the penthouse’s ziricote wood panelling and cabinetry, the marquetry bedheads, and wenge and cedar floors were oiled by hand, rather than varnished, which he decries as a “plastic finish”. Oil, in contrast, “keeps it alive, develops a beautiful patina and is the best finish,” even if it’s “much more work”.
Deliberately eschewing what he calls “in-your-face luxury”, Tessier designed all the furniture, lamps, fabrics and rugs, everything bar a Hans Wegner Kennedy chair and Gio Ponti desk that furnish an afterthought study at the end of the corridor leading to the master bedroom. He also curated all the art: a painting by Wes Lang by the private lift that ascends from a discreet VIP entrance on Davies Street and 75 works by Damien Hirst. The latter are on a three-year loan from the artist, whose London apartment Tessier also designed.
“When I showed him this space, he said, ‘Rémi, you can take any art you want, as many as you like’,” Tessier tells me. All of which adds to the illusion that you’ve been entrusted with the key to the house of a collector.
The most prominent paintings on display are Hirst’s exuberant, impasto-heavy paintings of blossom, along with a spot painting and a spin one. Aside from some beetles in a collage, I spotted no dead animals.
But there are challenging works, nevertheless, many of them drawn from Hirst’s 2017 Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable exhibition in Venice. Make use of the Peloton, treadmill or abundant weights in the suite’s gym, and you’ll be sweating alongside a fantastical battle between Hydra, the many-headed monster of Greek myth, and Kali, the multi-armed knife-wielding Hindu goddess of death and destruction, a giant version of which can be found by the Thames on Greenwich Peninsula.
Meanwhile, on the coffee table where my morning tea was poured, there was a horrifying golden sculpture of a flayed St Bartholomew, scissors and a blade in his hands, familiar from the larger statue Hirst made for the church of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London. The gilded drawing of gorgons that hung above the bed I slept in was also more the stuff of nightmares than an image to encourage restful sleep.