Russel Sage2015

The Goring Hotel, London

A joyful, allegorical custom scenic in a traditional bucolic guise, designed in collaboration with Russel Sage. 

If you’ve been lucky enough to spend time in London’s Belgravia, you may be familiar with The Goring: a very luxurious, very English hotel on beautiful Beeston Place.

It is, in fact, London’s last remaining five-star hotel to be family-owned, having been built by its current owner Jeremy Goring’s great-grandfather, and it counts the Queen amongst its loyal customers.

2015 would see The Goring closing its doors for the first time in its 105-year history. The marble floor needed redoing – a task impossible with a constant stream of discerning guests. And so, Jeremy decided to capitalise on this rare opportunity and update the lobby.

He decided, very wisely, that interior designer Russell Sage was the man for the job. And being a longtime friend and collaborator of Fromental, Russell asked Tim, our co-founder, if he’d be happy to join him for an informal chat with Jeremy and his managing director, at the hotel. “You don’t need to prepare anything,” Russell insisted.

In the cab on the way to the meeting, Russell asked Tim if he’d ever seen the famous Parisian hotel menu from the time of the Franco-Prussian War. “A siege had cut off all food shipments,” explained Russell, “so the menu featured nearly every animal in Paris: ragout of cat, fricassee of rats. Keep it in mind for today.” Slightly offbeat, perhaps, but not totally out of character for Russell (one of the reasons we love him so dearly).

At the meeting, after introductions, Russell announced, “OK, it’s over to Tim to present our ideas.” This was news to Tim, but he was happy to oblige, suggesting the idea of a charming scenic on a gilded background. “Great. But we really want to push things here,” said Jeremy. Tim remembered the taxi conversation. “And maybe we have animals escaping from the zoo.” This was enough to spark off a plethora of suggestions, each more outrageous and bizarre than the last. The ladies are running away! We must have pigs at a banquet! A gorilla in a barristers wig! And a walrus! The ideas were bonkers and brilliant and right up the respective streets of Russell and Tim.

The question was: how on earth would we make this work in a historic hotel with an extremely loyal clientele?

The Goring is nothing sort of an institution. How would we make sure this didn’t feel like a fun but somewhat silly cartoon? After several debates and no little head-scratching, it became clear to Russell and Tim that the design needed to work on two very different levels. It had to feel at a glance like an effortlessly elegant interior, a fitting backdrop to the refined people who move through the hotel. But it should also work as a witty, joyful pictorial journey, one that rewards close inspection.

The answer to this rather tricky brief lay in both composition and colour palette. Taking Fromental’s much-loved Bucolic design as a starting point, the team worked to find clever ways to incorporate the various animal motifs suggested with such gusto at their meeting. Sensitivity and subtlety would be required, so Russell and Tim decided to disguise many of the animals, integrating them into the backdrop in witty ways: bears hidden in clouds, an elephant appearing as a swan’s reflection.

Colour would play as vital a role as composition. Strong hues would have made the design overbearing, so Russell and Tim developed a palette of soft greys with just a touch of mauve – the theory being that such unrestrained content would need to be tempered by quite a restrained colour scheme.

“We wanted a sense of elegance, grace, grandeur and dignity. It needed to work in 100 years’ time,” says Tim. “The colour palette and the technique of hiding the animals were the keys that unlocked that. And it led to a design whose extreme eccentricity is only fully apparent after a second look.”

Our wall covering for The Goring was hand-painted directly onto silver leaf, the iridescence coming through with striking effect on the sky and water. It took four artists almost eight weeks to create.

At particularly historic openings or reopenings, it’s customary for a member of the royal family to cut a ribbon. When The Goring opened its doors once more, the occasion was marked by a loyal customer of the hotel, the Duchess of Cambridge, who completed the mural by adding a final daube of paint to the eye of a unicorn.

“With The Goring, there was an absolute need to deliver,” says Russell. “The lobby had to work as a backdrop to royals from all over the world but also represent the Goring family. I was absolutely thrilled with the results. In fact, I’ve never not been blown away with what Fromental have come up with. It’s always brilliant.”

A last word from Tim: “The Goring lobby was such a fun project to be involved with. Russell was a joy, as always, and it’s so refreshing when a client really wants to push the boundaries. What more could you ask for?”

In this article:

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Bucolic in Saxe

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