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LUXURY HOTELS: Sanderson, London, uk
Style: Dali meets Lewis Carroll
Scene: Fitzrovia in the heart of London
Seen in the lobby: The well-heeled and stylish, trend-setters have moved on
 
The first thing that confronts you is a giant, Angelina Jolie-sized, set of plump red lips, provocatively placed in the foyer as a gesture of welcome.
Then, against the stark white decor, you spot a male model-type dressed head to toe in black surfing his wireless laptop on one of those low slunk yellow reclining chairs so favoured in design museums. He looks like a carefully placed extra in a movie.
The concierge sits in the middle of the room behind an oversized Louis XV armoire flanked by marble stools while the receptionist with her film star looks beckons from behind an elegant illuminated bench framed by the theatrical folds of a rich brown curtain.
 
sanderson facade
sanderson facade
billiard room
sanderson lobby
sanderson courtyard
sanderson penthouse
sanderson long bar
 
Welcome to Sanderson hotel, ten years after opening it is still one of London's hippest boutique hotels. Not easy in a part of the hotel market where people often chase the newest and trendiest opening. It helps that the hotel is home to the Long Bar, beloved by such visiting five star 'celebrities' as Mariah Carey and Paris Hilton who have both been photographed leaving the premises in the wee hours.
Compared to Luxury hotels such as   The Ritz, The Dorchester or the Savoy of course, Sanderson is a Johnny come lately. It opened in 2000, just a block north of Oxford Street in the area now known as Fitzrovia, in a 1958 listed building which used to be the showroom and headquarters of the Sanderson furnishing fabric empire (hence the name).
New York style guru Ian Schrager, who helped create Studio 54 nightclub in the 1970s, recognised the building's great potential and location  and the boutique hotel became one of the offerings in his Morgan group. Schrager has since moved on to newer pastures but the luxury hotels he created with his first group are still  trendsetters. His first hotel, Morgans, was opened in Manhattan in 1984. Others include Miami's Delano hotel, Hollywood's Mondrian hotel, the Hudson in New York, the Clift inSan Francisco and St. Martins Lane hotel in London.
Philippe Starck and Denton Corker Marshall were commissioned to reinvent the Sanderson - and the result is one of the most startling hotel lobbies you will ever see: an eclectic mix of over-the-top kitsch and minimalist discretion that has been likened (by the hotel's publicists) to a playful Jean Cocteau theatre set (that giant red lip sofa, for example is one of Salvador Dali's more practical pieces of surrealism).
 
...the glass panels make it seem like you are stepping into a darkened 3D universe with planets and stars in every direction (only the carefully selected piped music confirms you are still here on Earth).
Take the lift. Stepping into it is like no experience I've ever had in any other hotel. Its glass panels make it seem like you are stepping into a darkened 3D universe with planets and stars in every direction (only the carefully selected piped music confirms you are still here on Earth).
That sense of unreality is reinforced when the lift deposits you on your accommodation floor: the lighting is subdued, almost nightclub subtlety, with each room number illuminated on the floor. Then comes the room itself - a dream-like confection of various shades of white. Ours was a superior queen room: "a unique open plan space infused with a frank sensuality", according to the hotel blurb.
What this actually means is that the room can be subdivided by an electronic silk screen. One part contains the bed and a couple of pieces of smart minimalist furniture, while the other contains the functional services - washbasin, wardrobes, shower and loo, the latter two screened behind frosted glass.
Whether the lack of privacy this entails adds or subtracts from the romantic atmosphere is a matter of taste. Judging from comments on the online visitor's book, most guests don't particularly relish watching their partners perform their daily ablutions.
This, of course, is a general complaint against hotels which adhere to principles of fashionable design. Is comfort sacrificed for style? Sanderson's guest rooms illustrate this perfectly. They look great. Take the beautifully crafted hand weights, for example: they could be modern sculptures. And what about that painting jauntily mounted at an angle on the ceiling over the bed? How chic!
But if you want to make yourself a cup of early morning tea or coffee, think again: there is no kettle, let alone coffee plunger or tea pot. Need to press that shirt? Forget it, there's no iron. Naturally the mini bar is well-stocked with every fashionable brand of spirit. But for most services that the average guest would do for themselves you have to summon room service - at an inflated cost. To be fair this is true of many European hotels.
The same is true for in-house movies. While the flat screen TV shows the expected array of news channels, if you want to watch a film, you have to order a specific title from the hotel's DVD library which is then delivered to your room.
However what the Sanderson really prides itself on is the spectacle and theatre of its public rooms. The Agua Bathhouse offers a broad array of hydrotherapy, yoga and massage treatments. But it is the ground floor bars and restaurant that draw most attention.
Even if you are not staying at the Sanderson, it's worth having a drink at the Long Bar - an eight foot long onyx rectangle that sparkles with sophistication - just to look at the beautiful people picking each other up. My wife and I felt distinctly conspicuous in our non-designer clothes.
There's also a pool table bar (that is just about as far removed from the normal place where pool is played as you can imagine), while the residents-only Purple Bar apparently sells 150 types of vodka on its cocktail list.
Suka, the hotel's restaurant, was opened two years ago and serves a mixture of Malaysian and European dishes. But be warned: like the rest of the Sanderson experience, it is not cheap.
But then you can't put a price on style, can you?
 
 
Check in: Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, London W1. Tel: + 44(0) 20 7300 1400
Ultimate Luxury: The Penthouse - we love the old master woven into the carpet and those divine Starck swan chairs.
Most Indulgent Moment: Playing pool on the purple and fringed pool table - now there's a pocket to pot.
Insider Secrets: A fternoon tea here ain't like The Ritz, called The Mad Hatter's Tea Party you're invited to "tumble down the rabbit hole". Go - it's fun!
The Little Things: We love style with humour, in every corner there's some little touch to smile about.
Junior Luxies: No really, not a good idea.
Dress code: You can't compete with the decor. Forget Pucci, stick to designer mono-colour.
Perfect luggage:  A piece of Samsonite by Starck is the perfect homage. Otherwise, something in shiny silver to match Sanderson's metallic edge.
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Hotels Link: www.sandersonlondon.com

Steve Meacham 2/4/10

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