Over the course of multiple visits – breakfasts and brunches, dates and dinners, walks and weekends – Lavender’s Blue cover and discover and rediscover London’s best Eighties development. Back in the day, Astrid Bray was Director of Sales and Marketing at the Conrad London (as Chelsea Harbour Hotel was originally named). She recalls various Chelsea Harbour restaurants, “There was Ken Lo’s Memories of China and Viscount Linley’s Deals. Marco Pierre White’s The Canteen was owned by Michael Caine, a great friend of ours. Deals was opposite The Canteen on the same side as Ken Lo’s. There was a pool table bar called Fisher’s. We would bring pop groups like Westlife through the loading bay to get to the bar!” A shortage of celebrities was never an issue. “Robbie Williams bought an apartment in The Belvedere opposite the hotel. Take That and Tina Turner stayed in the Conrad. We had a lot of fun there. One night I sat on the grand piano in the bar while Lionel Richie played and sang! There’s nothing in life that isn’t slightly mad!”
Chelsea Harbour, all seven hectares of it, is a defining development of late 20th century London. Despite its Thameside location, the former industrial site had been poorly connected and blighted by infrastructure proposals. Architect Ray Moxley of Moxley + Jenner won a competition organised by landowner British Railways Property Board to design a mixed use scheme. “It seemed obvious to excavate the old harbour, rebuild the lock, repair the walls and form a new yacht harbour,” Ray remembered. “Harbours are always pleasant to watch and enjoy and property values are higher on the waterfront.” Honfleur provided inspiration. That town in northern France has houses and shops and bars and studios grouped around a lock on the mouth of the River Seine.
The triple level penthouse of The Belvedere merited its own brochure in the original marketing of Chelsea Harbour. Designed by Mary Fox Linton, the “interior of contrasts” included Seguso urns in the entrance hall and Hurel furniture in the reception room. “Fine views of the Thames on one side and upstream towards Richmond on the other” were rightfully recorded. The kitchen was fitted out by Bulthaup and the “warm intimate” guest bedroom had an Alvar Aalto table and 18th century chairs. Apropos to a flagship scheme, Ms Linton’s rejected chintz for eclectic minimalism.
Grouping is key to Chelsea Harbour’s aura of containment. The marina is tightly ringed by the hotel, Chelsea Harbour Design Centre and apartment blocks. Ray’s genius was to create a sense of place. The tallest apartment block, the 20 storey Belvedere, next to where the marina flows into the river, is topped by a whimsical witch’s hat roof. A maquette version of this roof tops the security pagoda entrance to Chelsea Harbour. Ray excelled at roofscapes sculpting a cornucopia of pyramids, swan necked pediments and mansards.
The architect was also adept at architectural playfulness, from reinterpreted Trafalgar balconies to oversized industrial metal window frames. The Design Centre is lit by tall glazed domes, ogee roofed conservatories and outsized neo Georgian windows topped by fanlights. Chunky columns and bulky balustrades add to the sense of gargantuan scale. Ray Moxley died in 2014 aged 91. Architectural practice APT is now encasing more of the original mall in glass to form an internal street. Lead architect Robin Partington enthuses, “We have the best jobs in the world. It’s all about curating, whether designing the interiors of an office development or masterplanning a scheme.”
Chelsea Harbour Hotel is shaped like half a butterfly, with two wings hugging the marina in an architectural embrace. The top of the tips of the wings culminate in oriels in the sky. Undulating waves of balconies swirl and curl their way across the elevations. The hotel looks like a grounded ocean liner. Earl Snowdon’s eatery Deals, which he launched in 1988 with his cousin Lord Lichfield, may have long gone but there’s always Chelsea Riverside Brasserie on the raised ground floor of the hotel. And yes, the view lives up to its name. The Canteen is also confined to history and memory. Its à la carte menu for October 1997 priced starters (featuring frivolity of smoked salmon and caviar) from £6.95 to £8.50 and mains (such as escalope of salmon with stir fried Asian greens, ginger and soya dressing) were all £12.95. These days, Chelsea Harbour Hotel room suite service caters for midnight munchies. Hand dived scallop ceviche at 2am? Yes please. Chelsea Harbour Hotel is the only all suite five star hotel in London.
The cruise ship inspiration wasn’t just confined to the exterior: it flowed indoors too. “David Hicks designed the hotel interiors in 1993,” explains Astrid. “It was all about a ship. He believed, ‘Themes are always intriguing.’ The mezzanine stairs were modelled on a cruise liner. The ground floor meeting room was called The Compass Rose. There were lots of blues and light ash wood in the interiors.” It was a real era catcher. One of David’s best known earlier works was his colourful revamp of Baronscourt, the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn’s seat in County Tyrone. Wallpaper by his designer son Ashley Hicks is for sale in Chelsea Harbour Design Centre.
Chelsea Harbour is the private members’ club of the marina world with a record breaking six year minimum waiting list. The luckily berthed include: Achill Sound; Ariadne; Christanian II: Ella Rose; Esperance; Honey Rider; and (guess which actor’s?) The Italian Job. A four bedroom Lamoure yacht is currently for sale at £249,000. Back on dry land, the range of properties on the 2020 market include: a two bedroom duplex penthouse (92 square metres) in Carlyle Court for £1,000,000 | a two bedroom third floor apartment (90 square metres) in King’s Quay for £1,200,000 | a two bedroom duplex penthouse (112 square metres) in Carlyle Court for £1,250,000 | a three bedroom 14th floor apartment (194 square metres) in The Belvedere for £3,200,000 | a four bedroom ninth floor apartment (186 square metres) in The Belvedere for £3,300,000. Splashing the cash is one sure way to make a visit permanent.