Monday, 30 November -0001

Restoration drama

Home to many celebrity guests, the Savoy has been a London landmark for more than a century – Siobhán Doran’s new book chronicles its extravagant facelift

Written by Clare Russell

Famous for many things (including the D’Oyly Carte operas and the fact that its driveway forms the only roadway in Britain that requires you to drive on the right), The Savoy hotel opened on 6 August 1889. It was the first luxury hotel to be built in London and certainly the first to have electric lifts (known as ‘ascending rooms’). Guest bedrooms were handily connected to the American bar by speaking tube and Savoy bathrooms were rumoured to be the last word in ablution chic.

House-July6-02-590From left: before the refit: Marilyn Monroe in the basement; The Thames Foyer; a work in progress

By 1904, the Savoy had become so sought after as a place to stay, that two blocks, designed by Thomas Collcutt, who had also built the Wigmore Hall, were added on the Strand. The courtyard was remodelled in art deco style in the 1930s, using stainless steel, a substance that had not long been invented. And thus the hotel has remained – a London landmark, beloved by American tourists, the backdrop to many films and home to a succession of celebrity guests, including most of the world’s royal families.

House-July6-03-590The Beaufort Bar

The original Savoy remained until 2007, when its new owner, Saudi Prince Alwaleed, decided to close it for a refit. This massive undertaking involved not only the stabilisation of the river frontage, but also a reworking of the front hall, a redesign of the River Restaurant (once the domain of Escoffier) and a brand-new Royal Suite, whose eight rooms on the fifth floor stretch the length of the building, offering the lucky inhabitants the views famously painted by Monet.

House-July6-04-590From left: plaster of parrot: a line-up of birds in the Lancaster Ballroom; The River Restaurant

The refurbishment is chronicled in a new book that dwells, not as you might expect on the finished product, but on the work involved. It’s fascinating, if slightly disconcerting, to see the bones, chipped plaster, rusting pipes, torn wallpaper and brickwork of this august building revealed for all to view. Beneath a bagged chandelier, a flat-pack bed waits to be assembled in the River View suite; a stepladder rests in the American bar and a row of dustbins is lined up in the Thames Foyer. And then, from the last pages in the book, the finished product bursts forth, like an exotic butterfly, from its shabby chrysalis.

House-July6-05-590From left: The Savoy's famous Grill; pictures wait to be hung in the Royal Suite sitting room

Savoy: The Restoration by Siobhán Doran (Dewi Lewis Publishing, £40).

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