Editorial director Alice Lawlor shares a look inside the recently renovated Cliveden House Hotel.
As a Brit living in Canada, I’m always on the hunt for English decorating inspiration when I’m back in my homeland. Cliveden House Hotel — a historic property that just got a multimillion-dollar makeover for its 350th birthday — more than fit the bill. Set in 376 acres of National Trust land, the country retreat is only 40 minutes from London. Originally built in 1666, the house has hosted countless celebrities, royals and politicians, from Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II, Churchill and Roosevelt to Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and The Beatles.
It’s a place that has managed to capture the zeitgeist of each subsequent era, through both its spirit and style. Preserving that legacy was the job of British interior designers Mario Nicolaou and Sylvie Le Maitre, who spent three years working on this most recent reno. They trawled fabric and design archives in Paris to find authentic patterns and colors, but it wasn’t just about looking back — Mario was determined to give Cliveden House “a new atmosphere — a little bit of fabulousness.” Click through to see my favorite features.
There’s nothing quite as “wow” as a vista like this one. It’s the only way to approach the property, and check-in happens at old-school desks through the grand entrance in the center. “Cliveden is like no other country house on earth,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. You can see his point.
You could spend a week here just exploring all the nooks and crannies of the property. This flower-strewn entranceway takes you into the walled garden, home of the perfectly preserved outdoor pool.
In 1961, this very pool was the scene of a scandal that helped bring down the British government. John Profumo, Secretary Of State For War, spied Christine Keeler frolicking topless in the pool… and began an affair with her that had all sorts of implications for national security. Today the pool is much as it was in those days, with the addition of two heavenly hot tubs.
The ultimate place for quiet relaxation, with luxurious loungers and a jacuzzi tub.
The crowning glory of this renovation is the revamped spa. The new version is sleek and modern, and almost any treatment you can think of is on offer. Custom fragrances were created to pay homage to two of Cliveden’s most famous residents: Anna-Maria, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham’s mistress for whom Cliveden was built, and Nancy Astor, first female member of parliament.
The new spa includes a cute little cafe for healthy snacks and lunches by the pool, including smoothies and a British favorite: the baked potato.
Mario and Sylvie designed each of the 47 bedrooms to have a unique personality. The Chinese Bedroom is sumptuously decorated in rich golds and soft greys, with lots of silk and delicate patterns.
In the Shrewsbury suite, there’s a four-poster bed with swooping millwork and romantic closable drapes. The design scheme is unapologetically feminine, with elegant purple tones that are picked up by the accents, carpeting and wallpaper.
Speaking of wallpaper, if you’re a fan of this British decorating staple, the bedrooms at Cliveden will make you happy. In the Princess Augusta room, a botanical design takes pride of place.
In 1906, Waldorf Astor and his wife, Nancy, were gifted Cliveden by his father, William — the man behind the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. A formidable woman who was ahead of her time, Nancy followed her husband into politics and became the first female M.P. in the House of Commons. Fittingly, the Lady Astor suite is one of the hotel’s most opulent, with beautiful panelling, velvet upholstery and an ornately carved antique headboard.
Like the rooms, each bathroom is slightly different. In the Blakney ensuite, there’s a handsome soaker tub for lingering baths.
When Hugh Jackman was filming
Les Miserables at nearby Pinewood Studios, he rented the hotel’s three-bedroom riverside property, Spring Cottage. Rumor has it that Russell Crowe dropped by for a beer, too.
The cottage has all the amenities you’d expect — comfy sofas, an office area, a walk-in shower etc. — and yet many of the original features are in tact, from the beautiful arched windows…
…to the unusual architecture, ornate moldings and simple fireplace.
Preparing food using an Aga range — the beloved stove of English country cooks — is an experience in itself. Spring Cottage’s fully equipped kitchen comes complete with an Aga, plus everything you might need to make a picnic lunch or gourmet dinner.
There’s nothing sweeter than a renovation that speaks to a room’s history, while working perfectly in its new guise. The Astor Grill is exactly that — diners sit in what were once horse stalls, bolstered by equestrian-themed pillows, while bar stools are topped with leather saddles.
The more fancy of the two eateries, the Andre Garrett Restaurant serves British cuisine that’s local and seasonal. Try the eight-course tasting menu, or the famous Afternoon Tea, served in the Great Hall.
The gilded panels in this private dining room were all part of one room in the Chateaux d’Asnieres near Paris. In 1897, the first Lord Astor visited the chateau and fell in love with them. So each panel was dismantled, shipped to England and reinstalled at Cliveden.
Cliveden takes after-dinner drinks very seriously. Retire to the cozy library for a Profumo champagne cocktail (with rose Tattinger) or the gold leaf-infused Cliveden ’66.
Full disclosure: I didn’t know what a parterre was before Cliveden (it’s a formal garden with elaborate pathways). This one is very Jane Austen-esque, and there’s nothing quite like seeing it from above — request a window seat in the restaurant to do just that.
Author: Alice Lawlor
Courtesy of Cliveden House