Around the world, grand hotels periodically close down for major bouts of refurbishment. Not so, the Ritz.
Discreetly, with many guests left unaware, a massive programme of improvement and painstaking restoration has been carried out. True, guests may have found an occasional note from the manager warning that from two until four in the morning, the hot water will cease to run. Or observant luncheon visitors might have noticed a screen in the hall or grand gallery, behind which skilled French workers were invisibly restoring the original stone “blocking” on the walls. But the hotel has continued operating smoothly while every carpet and curtain has been replaced.
The restaurant actually closed for a fortnight while its exquisite Norwegian marbles were cleaned. As magnificent meals were served three times a day, not to mention three daily tea sittings in the Palm Court, the entire basement kitchens were rebuilt from end to end, following the exacting specifications of the Maîtré Chef de Cuisines, Giles Thompson. One of the largest tasks of all, refurbishing the Ritz casino, was achieved in just six weeks.
All this work has restored the Ritz London to its original glory, recreating the glamour of the hotel that opened in May 1906. The building was the work of the great French architect Charles Mewès(who also designed the Paris Ritz) and his young English partner Arthur Davis. According to the memoirs of Madame Ritz, Mewès decided that the entire hotel should be in one style: the neo-classical fashion of theFrench King Louis XVI (Louis Seize), who went to the scaffold in 1793followed by his beautiful Queen Marie Antoinette.
Mewès was saying goodbye to the contemporary style known wittily as ‘Tous les Louis’, which combined the baroque opulence of Louis XIV(the Sun King), the rococo gaiety of Louis XV and his mistress MadamePompadour, and the chaste outlook of Louis Seize. A special appeal of the Louis Seize style is that it is as attractive in masculine mode as in feminine, making it equally suitable for grand reception rooms and bedrooms. César Ritz, the great hotelier who gave his name to hotels in Paris, London, Montreal, Boston, Budapest andNew York (these last two, alas, are gone), wanted to create the atmosphere of a grand French nobleman’s private town house.
He demanded that everything was of the highest quality: the furniture, chandeliers, the silver, china and glass, with bathrooms for every apartment.
The new owners have been true to Ritz’s ideals. The carpets have been specially woven on Axminster looms by Ulster Carpet Mills. Old photographs have been scrutinised for authentic detail — when it was found that the Greek key pattern had gone missing from the frieze in the Palm Court, it was promptly replaced.
Yet this has not been a slavish restoration. Where appropriate, new flourishes and comforts have been added. The large, arched windows in the dining room have been hung with magnificent new fringed and tasselled curtains. The coral pink, silk inner curtains glow as the theafternoon sun streams through. Only the Ritz would expose the suchdelicate fabric to strong sunlight, but the effect is ravishing. Surviving accounts of traditional decorating show that the greatest expense and extravagance always lay in upholstery. Every one of theRitz’s bedrooms was refurbished under the guidance of the leading Parisian interior decorator, M. Philippe Beloir. Magnificent new curtains in the finest silks and satins add ravishing colour to every room. The beds give the glorious sensation that no one has slept in them before. Piccadilly is a busy thoroughfare but new triple glazing ensures a night’s sleep undisturbed by traffic. The original system of fresh air ventilation serving every room (advanced for its day) has been replaced by a system of air conditioning that can be adjusted in every room.
The pretty French panelling in the Ritz bedrooms, complete with marble fireplaces and mirrors, were all designed by Davis the architect. He also chose the chandeliers and wall lights, many bearing the stamp of the French maker, Vien. Bedroom after bedroom survives almost unaltered, with the perfect proportions that are the mark of a FrenchBeaux-Arts training. Be alert and you may find an original Ritz bronze coal scuttle or mantle clock.
It is axiomatic that as soon as you turn the tap in a grand hotel like the Ritz, abundant hot water instantly begins to flow. This is achieved by a newly installed system, keeping hot water constantly in circulation at high pressure. In the dining room, new breakfast china echoes the forget-me-not pattern of the original set supplied by Royal Doulton. The grand space beneath the Ritz was originally designed as a grillroom (then the latest fashion from America), with its own separate and very elegant staircase opening off the Piccadilly Arcade. The Ritz Club’ dining room now occupies that space. During the Second World War, the grill room was a fashionable nightspot for officers on leave, dancing the nights away, safe in the knowledge that the massive steel frame of the Ritz was the best protection against German bombs.
The Ritz Club’s gaming room is located in the large vaulted room beneath the hotel’s restaurant, once serving as banqueting room and ballroom. As befits a room designed for the waltz, everything is elegantly curved: the flights of steps, the great apsed end and the surging arches that rise to meet the great ceiling oval. Thanks to a recent refurbishment, the hand of the Ritz’s great architects is apparent everywhere, from the basement to the attics, and the roof complete with splendid copper lions. No grand hotel in London, and very few in the world, has survived so complete, still upholding its traditions and pampering guests during every moment of their stay.