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London's Metropole has Re-Opened as the Corinthia Following a 475 million USD Renovation and it's Fabulous
April 7, 2012 Warren Singh-Bartlett

May I begin by saying something patronising? I feel sorry for you. I don’t mean to be insulting and I don’t feel sorry for all of you. Just those who were born with a silver spoon. Let me explain. You likely take it for granted that your life will be one of luxury. You travel first class, eat in the best restaurants, stay in the nicest hotels. I’m not saying you don’t enjoy these experiences, I’m just saying they’re not extraordinary.

Now, I can’t claim my life has been a scrabble but I tend to travel cattle class, pass by more Michelin-starred restaurants than I sample and have stayed in enough ‘budget’ accommodation to appreciate the immense good fortune, for example, of being invited by the Corinthia Hotel to try out one of their recently-opened penthouse suites in the heart of London.

ABOVE: The Northall at the Corinthia Hotel offers a daily breakfast buffet. The atmosphere is chic, the food is really good.

You see, as I walked through the suite’s front door – and this being a two-storey penthouse with its own lift, panelled staircase, balconies and rooftop terrace, it felt more front door than room door – I suddenly got brief taste of what it means to be, say, George Clooney. Or for that matter, Middle Eastern royalty.

Though it could have been the result of the champagne I found chilling in the downstairs library lounge and swiftly dispatched, I’m afraid to say my good fortune went straight to my head. How else to explain the aura of smugness I was radiating the following morning?

Surveying my fellow fast breakers between mouthfuls of organic sausage, gourmet black pudding and rich, creamy eggs in the Northall, the Corinthia’s regional British cuisine restaurant run by multi-Michelin-starred chef Garry Hollihead, I was seized by the reprehensible (but unshakeable) notion that my room was better than anyone else’s there. And that included the scarred, Armani-clad Russian businessman with very expensive shoes who sat with his calculator-punching accountant and strapping personal ‘assistant’ at the table next to me, looking gloriously oblivious. In terms of smug self-satisfaction, this kind of realisation is similar to discovering on a flight that the passenger beside you has paid much more for his seat.

Before you go thinking that either the Corinthia Hotel or its staff in any way encouraged my lack of charity, I take sole responsibility and in my defence, I am happy to report that my small-mindedness passed almost as swiftly as it occurred.

But back to that penthouse. The first question friends asked when I posted photos online was whether anyone needs so much space. I can’t speak for them but if I had choice again (one lives in hope), I would say yes, for one simple reason. A suite, however opulent, still feels like a hotel room. A penthouse suite – this one, anyway – doesn’t feel like a hotel at all. Yes, there are the plates of fruit, the floral arrangements, the bedtime chocolate on the pillow, turndown and 24-hour butler service but until you step into the corridor, you can almost believe you’re at home.

ABOVE LEFT: The entrance lobby at the hotel, which originally opened in 1885 but was left vacant between 2004 and 2011. By the way, the 1,001-Baccarat crystal chandelier here was designed by Algerian designer Chafik Gasmi and came at a cost of 1.6 million USD! ABOVE RIGHT: Located near Trafalgar Square in London’s West End, the Victorian structure now boasts seven penthouse suites, Harrods’ first-ever hotel boutique and a four-storey spa.

Does that matter? Possibly not, especially for people who appreciate the escapism and possibility hotels engender. I have always liked hotel rooms, much as I have always liked being airborne, for exactly those reasons. Getting away is exciting but I may now have been spoiled for life. Despite looking nothing like my own home, my penthouse – the Writer’s Penthouse – felt so instantly familiar (the 1,000-odd books and double-bed sized desk helped), that I was tempted to have the locks changed and move in.

Mine wasn’t the largest of the Corinthia’s penthouses (that would be the Royal) nor did it have the best terrace views (the Hamilton looks Lord Nelson over on Trafalgar Square right in the eye) nor was it the most modern (the Actor’s Penthouse is classic Bel Air chic) but I loved it instantly – although I was also rather taken with the Musician’s Penthouse, which comes with a Steinway (a grand, naturally) and views of Big Ben and St. Pauls.

There are seven in all, each located in one of the turrets lining the hotel’s roof. Some have fireplaces others, kitchens or multiple bedrooms. All come with bathrooms the size of football fields. Décor varies, meaning that between them, there’s a penthouse for every taste but the overall feel is that of being in a gentleman’s club. “We call it Grand Contemporary British,” explained Edward Davies, Associate at GA International, the practice responsible for most of the interiors, as we took tea in the lobby. “It’s like a country house but in the city, a mixture of different styles and periods.”

ABOVE: The two-floor Writer’s Penthouse – with its bookcases and furnishings evocative of a Victorian reading room – has over a thousand books, a double height sitting room, a secret library door, and (naturally) a two-metre-long writing table with nickel metalwork details underneath and high-quality leather inlay on top.

Seated under Chafik Gasmi’s Full Moon, a massive spherical chandelier composed of 1001 LED-lit Baccarat crystal bubbles, a swarm of electric jellyfish rising in formation, it was plain to see what Davies meant. Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern and Contemporary elements all combined to give the impression of a space that has grown organically over time, the accretion of repeated refurbishments, and though undeniably of today, a place that has always been there.

It hasn’t. The building began life as hotel – opening in 1885 as the Metropole – but was a Ministry of Defence office for most of its life. During this time, the vaulting ceilings were lowered, decorative elements were hidden and the interior was partitioned, turned into a warren of cubicles. Purchased by the hotel group in 2008, it took two and a half years of restoration and redesign to bring the Corinthia back to life.

“As a practice,” Davies continued, “we love clean, hard lines but when it came to working with an historic space like this, we had to soften our approach.” Well, mostly. The spa, a joint venture with ESPA is bold, almost futuristic and radically different to the rest of the hotel. It is reached via a tall, narrow corridor done out in white and champagne-coloured scored resin panels that resemble silky smooth crocodile skin. Much like the processional ways that lead into old barrow mounds, it winds gently, shutting out the world and seems to narrow slightly before opening abruptly onto the dramatic reception area.

It’s a primal experience, focussing your mind on what lies ahead. Or in this case, beneath. Four floors in all, the spa gets lower-lit and more atmospheric as you descend, the light panels gradually giving way to dark. By the time you reach the thermal pool on the lowest level, the light has become crepuscular, mostly coming from the pool itself, which is lit from beneath. Float here alone as ripples of light play across the glossy ceiling, contemplating your suite in the turrets above, and you may feel like you have just been admitted to heaven.

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