“I had never worked on a hotel,” says Despont, who specializes in fine residential work for clients such as Hubert de Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Spyros Niarchos, and Bill Gates. “But I saw that Claridge’s already had a strong residential feeling.” The French-born, New York-based Despont’s only major source of hesitation was the fear of being dismissed by the British as a foreigner. For this reason, he says, “I thought it very important to understand the history and culture of Claridge’s and spend hours absorbing the atmosphere before deciding how to proceed.” And how did Despont react to the restrictions imposed by English Heritage? “Some people think they are policemen, but I have only praise for their dedication.”
Archives in a dusty, remote corner of Claridge’s as well as at the Victoria and Albert Museum provided extensive pictorial references, leading the designer to showcase the hotel’s unique deco features. He restored Oswald Milne’s brushed-silver stag lamps, which grace the lobby, and Basil Ionides’s etched-glass panels in the restaurant. Because Marion Dorn’s original carpets are copyrighted, Despont created new ones inspired by samples at the V&A and vintage photos of the hotel interior. Meanwhile, he commissioned adaptations of an exquisite ecru-shaded silver-plated lamp, found elsewhere, to adorn tables in the reading room and foyer.