Twas a Sunday morning when the whole world was sleeping, a young girl adventured forth and made her way into the big city,the sun already high in the sky. Purple and white polka dots, a flash of tanned leg, she waltzed into Green Park with a spring in her step. The others were waiting for her outside the Sheraton Grand Park Lane Hotel, but she took a wrong turn, the long way round that drew her into an opulent world of art deco interiors, where the ‘roaring 20’s’ danced into present day. She scuttled through the main foyer and found the right entrance at last,where the group came together as one, for an adventure in London that they would never forget. They would wander among the vibrant mosaic elephants at Brown Hart Gardens and weave in and out of hotels in Mayfair, enshrouded in majestic glory, blooming flowers intertwined with red brickwork. They would spot the old Down Street tube station, open to the public for a fee, and be regaled tales of what life was like in the art deco era, when opulence and wealth came into play once more. The tour guy arrived with his ‘knowledge hat’ at the ready, drawing the group into his magical weave of art deco narratives; from the scandalous Mitford Sisters whose affiliation with communism, anti-Semitic ideology and marital affairs made Downtown Abbey seem like a ‘child’s tale’ in contrast, to learning how Charles II’s dalliance with the ladies in Green Park, resulted in his Portuguese wife Catherine of Braganza pulling up the ‘flowers’ as her own version of revenge. The group looked on with awe and wonder as they too were taken back into a time where history and art collided in a magical game of cat and mouse
Past lush green shrubs and floral trellises we galloped by, a crowd lost in the magic of the big city, where the sun had been forgiving for once and blazed upon us with all its force and might. We were high on the sun’s beaming rays, coaxed into a state of relaxation, as we soaked up the knowledge that our tour guide gave us like sponges. There was Down Street Station opened in 1907 by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway in Mayfair and abandoned since 1932, a transport relic with a brief time capsule into the past. What was once Churchill’s secret bunker during ‘The Blitz’ became a tribute to a world underground, where during the art deco era of the 30’s Down Street was a train station chugging through, with barely a passenger on board, its residents nearby were too wealthy you see. The station itself was not ‘art deco’ per say but the enthusiasts were mollified never the less, paying £70 to go into the ‘train station of many years past’ where the flappers danced over the ghost trains that flashed before your very own eyes. It almost felt so real. But it was the Mitford sisters that captured our imaginations, sensationalist tales of siblings caught in a crossfire of tumultuous passion; there were six sisters, all dead and gone, ash and bones underground, but what they shared in blood, they differed in ideologies.
It was Unity who fascinated me the most, a woman dead at 33, from meningitis caused from a bullet that remained in her brain, when she tried to commit suicide following the declaration of World War II. She was a beautiful woman some may say, curls tamed into 40’s tendrils that framed her face, but her angelic expression did little to conceal her links to Fascism and Nazism. An outspoken devotee to Hitler, her childhood room was enshrined with swastika’s and pictures of ‘Adolf Hitler’ who she saw as her own personal role model. And while Unity was certainly the most notorious sister, it was the youngest Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire who outlived them all, dying aged 94 in 2014. Six sisters serialized in history, but what was their relevance to art deco I hear you ask? Despite the sisters connections to ‘questionable political and social ideologies’, they were united by their love for Mayfair, a hotspot in the ‘Jazz age’ era where all the bright young things (including Coco Chanel) would live, work, party and play in an art deco playground catered especially to grownups. The sophisticated glamour and severe functionality of 1920s and 1930s design was a welcome respite from a war torn country, whose desire to forget the war and ‘play in the moment’ sparked the careers of many fine musicians, artists and designers like Coco Chanel.
Speaking of Coco Chanel, Mayfair might have been home to notorious siblings like the Mitford sisters, but for Chanel it proved a welcome escape from reality where she could caress her lover, ‘The Duke Of Westminster’ outside of the public eye. Despite being married at the time to his second wife Violet Mary Nelson, he was madly in love with Coco Chanel, an illustrious clothes designer with a devious twinkle in her eye. They would frequent Bourdon House, a Queen Anne gem which still stands on Davies Street in Mayfair, with passionate desire in their hearts, shutting out the world around them. A splendid example of art deco architecture. this grade II building might have been a ‘love den once’, but is now a ‘shopping store’ curated by the late entrepreneur Alfred Dunhill, whose selection of luxury goods for the ‘wealthy market’ still exists to this day. But while Dunhill’s mark has been left on Bourdon House, Coco Chanel’s connection to the’London Network’ is far more prolific, with double Cs embossed upon the old lampposts in Mayfair, an emblem of the Duke Of Westminster’s love for Coco Chanel and a silent mark of their union. Not to mention Coco’s countless boutiques in and out of Mayfair, all with that roguish art deco flourish.
The scandals had melted into the past and we entered a new realm where mosaic elephants-cobalt and red- stood watch over Brown Hart Gardens. Located off Duke Street, Mayfair and South of Oxford Street, Brown Hart Gardens was a beautiful labyrinth of cacti, succulents and floral blooms, re-opened to the public in 2007, after being closed for twenty years due to refurbishments. While it briefly re-opened again in 2013 and despite its recent addition of a modern glass building at the Western end, housing The Garden Cafe, Brown Hart Gardens and nearby Duke Street is easily the most symbolic of the art deco architecture era. The mosaic elephants (which you might have also seen in Bond Street’ are emblazoned in geometric mosaic shapes and feature intense colour schemes – all features of art deco design, while the nearby Beaumont Hotel demonstrates Italian futurism fused with cubism -a common artistic style of emulation in the art deco era- represented through Antony Gormley’s ‘hotel room’ now erected as a public sculpture. The grade II listed building might have started out as a garage but it’s position as a prolific art deco must see remains evident to this day.
The tour was over and we bathed in the sun, cold water on parched lips, it felt like a cleansing. London was quiet for a Sunday, but our adventure was not over just yet, oh no. For we were to have Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester, where tea and scones were waiting, hot, don’t burn your mouth. At last we arrived and were welcomed into the Dorchester fold, a haunt of numerous writers and artists such as poet Cecil Day-Lewis, novelist Somerset Maugham, and the painter Sir Alfred Munnings, who had many a literary meeting in its glorious 5 star surroundings. It was the hotel of dreams, history, culture, politics and emotions rolled into one delicious interior fantasy. The toliet narrated quirky tales to us while we went around our bathroom business while a glamazon in a black sequin maxi dress tinkled Disney songs on the piano as we raucously joined in, caught up in the musicality of the moment, where the whole world seemed to fade out around us. It was glorious, but nothing could have prepared us for the treats that would be cast our way, vegan and vegetarian options a-plenty so have no fear. There was creamy cheese and tomato with relish that melted in the mouth, while the egg and cress was a personal favourite, as we chomped, chomped chomped, and slurped on high tea. But first the champagne for a celebratory toast and an obligatory boomerang, as we clinked glasses together in excitement and swilled magnificent Laurent-Perrier in our mouths-it tasted like honey.
We were plied with rounds and rounds of mouthwatering sandwiches, allergies and dietary requirements taken into consideration, down the hatch they went… 1,2,3. There were cucumbers dancing between slices of white bread and cheese and tomatoes rolling around in a game of ‘eat me, eat me’ and while the desserts were on their way, it was the tropical tea infusion that stole my heart, a glorious liquid that slipped down my throat like velvet honey. Quaint china teapots added to the subtle amalgam of interior styles that The Dorchester showed, a testament to the designers who had curated the Dorchester aesthetic over the years. There was William Curtis Green, Oliver Ford, Alberto Pinto and Oliver Messel who were the trusted designers, meticulously crafting that five star ‘movie fantasy experience’ that they knew would appeal to the masses . Lavish chandeliers hanging from ornate ceilings, while restaurants were visible at every corner, a new culinary experience waiting to be explored. But despite our ornate surroundings, our attention quickly turned to the desserts that had made their way to our table.
The scones were hot and flaky, scattered with raisins, with tubs of homemade jam and clotted cream waiting to enter our mouths. It was a gastronomic foodgasm, the flavours exploded in our mouths, and there was even a seasonal Rhubarb and basil jam for the more adventurous food enthusiasts. The scones were certainly a highlight but nevertheless there were more desserts waiting to be sampled, a orange sponge with a chocolate base, a cheesecake with a tartlet structure and a charming toliet shaped cake that might have been a subtle reference to the toilets narrating stories beyond the afternoon tea lounge. Birthdays were celebrated and friends came together, but while our afternoon drew to a close, I couldn’t help thinking, what would it be like to live here?
Have You Ever Been On An Art Deco Tour Or Gone For Afternoon Tea?
Please note this is a collaborative post but all thoughts and opinions are my own.