Within this famous jewel box is Fera, replacing Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant which opened in 2001. This new dining room couldn’t look more different from Ramsay’s sultry purple and gold creation.
Fera’s design is inspired by the approach to food and drink of its award-winning Cumbrian chef, Simon Rogan. This is a man who serves vegetables fresh from his own farm, and crisply modern drinks with fresh herbs.
Designer Guy Oliver, 42, wanted a look that reflected both this green approach to cooking and the hotel’s stylish past. He was in China when he heard he had won the redesign job.
He had just six months to transform both dining room and kitchen, including all the structural work involved, such as raising the ceilings back to their original coffered glory. “No one else would have taken the job, anyway,” he says. “It was a completely crazy idea.”
Fera designer Guy Oliver
Oliver is no stranger to the demands of grand hotels, having worked with Claridge’s for nearly 20 years, redesigning its master suites and great reception rooms.
He also carried out a £70 million makeover at the Connaught — both hotels are owned by Maybourne Hotel Group — and is designing a bookshop for French publisher, Assouline.
He decided on a design that linked the restaurant to its past, which he calls “contextual designing”. He says: “If you start with a historic context, you should use it and enhance it. Ignore history and proportion at your peril.”
After working 14-hour days, Oliver has conjured a Thirties bespoke rabbit out of this well-known hat, all on time, and all for “probably about £4-5 million.”
Oliver kept to a strong Deco theme, with polished walnut, and plenty of in-period mirrors, bronze and steel
LIKE A TWENTIES HATBOX
The restaurant is entered from a corridor. Step through a pretty little walnut door that, Oliver says, used only to lead to a fuse cupboard, into a tiny, red-velvet lined lobby.
This leads into a larger circular lobby, which is like being inside a Twenties hatbox. The walls are vertically fluted, the floor inlaid with wavering circles of marble like a section through a giant root, and light diffuses through a polycarbonate reeded band running round the top. The skirtings are faux marble and the ceiling gilded.
It is pure Noël Coward, and whets the appetite for the dining room beyond, an oasis of calm greens and soft, subtle textures layered together to make a harmonious whole.
Here, as well as raising the ceiling and inserting bespoke stained-glass “lay lights”, Oliver kept to a strong Deco theme, with a palette of soft colours, honey-coloured marble, polished walnut, and plenty of in-period mirrors, bronze and steel.
“I wanted glamour, but also to feel calm and comfortable,” he says. “Today, people love beautiful and glamorous places, but don’t want to feel suffocated. So it isn’t overbearing, and you feel at home.”
Attention to historically apt detail is everywhere, from the curved niches gilded in silvery Palladium leaf, which doesn’t tarnish, to Twenties-style lightboxes that bathe their glow upwards and hide “ugly” marble ledges. He took the carpet design from a 1931 endpaper and had it woven “very fast” by British firm Couristan.
Fera’s design is inspired by the approach to food and drink of its award-winning Cumbrian chef, Simon Rogan
BORN TO DESIGN
Oliver almost exclusively uses English makers. Matt Bridges, in Bristol, made the bespoke Maître d’ stand, and many other pieces of furniture; Ben Whistler of London made the banquettes, and the chairs are based on one by Neil Stephenson at Eltham Palace. Outside, foxgloves and other wild flowers were planted by Tom Stuart-Smith.
Oliver grew up with lighting designer Andrew Webb, of Collier Webb, which made the ceiling lights. He evidently prefers working with people he knows and trusts.
“I grew up in Aberdeenshire,” he says, “and always wanted to be a designer. When I was three, my mother came down and found me painting the kitchen panels.”
In order to see the world he joined the Merchant Navy but his bosses, realising his artistic flair, sent him to study architecture and design history at Edinburgh. From there he went to the Prince’s Foundation before joining Colefax & Fowler, and took over his current firm, Oliver Laws, in 2002.
“The other day Ralph Lauren, who hasn’t eaten here before, came in and saw the room and said, ‘Now I’m going to eat here.”
Oliver’s top tip for style on a budget is: “Layer things, don’t match everything. Don’t do ‘matchy-matchy’. You’ll see that everything doesn’t match here. Layer colour, too, using paint.”
- Visit www.feraatclaridges.co.uk (set lunch from £45).
- Guy Oliver: www.oliverlaws.com
- Faux marble painting: by Mike de Campi (www.decampifineinteriors.co.uk)
- Furniture designer Matt Bridges: www.matthewbridgesdesign.co.uk
- Furniture designer Ben Whistler: www.benwhistler.com
- Carpets: www.couristan.com
- Lighting: www.collierwebb.com
- Garden design: www.tomstuartsmith.co.uk