Take one luxury hotel, measure in a team of skilled designers and top with one of the world’s most sought after mixologists and what do you get? The answer is a bar so seductive you won’t ever want to leave.
Much like the sophisticated cocktails that world renowned drinks expert Salvatore Calabrese, aka ‘The Maestro’ so skilfully mixes, Velvet at Corinthia London is all about proportion and balance. A masterful blend of luxury materials, engaging art and beguiling lighting, the bar, newly redesigned by David Collins Studio, is as carefully crafted as one of Calabrese’s iconic beverages. ‘Velvet was created to bring back the true theatre of a cocktail bar and what I like to call ‘the music of the shake,’ says Calabrese. ‘From the velvet upholstery to the seductive lighting, everything has been designed to create a feeling of magic and intimacy. The soul of a bar comes from two things - the people and the design - and if the design is perfect, half the job is done already.’
In contrast to the vast, impressive spaces that Corinthia London is so well known for, Velvet has an intimate vibe that comfortably embraces guests looking for a leisurely after-dinner drink or a relaxed nightcap. ‘Something we worked really hard to perfect is the whole journey into the bar’ says Rawlings. ‘I really wanted to build in a sense of escapism, not just from lively London, but from the hustle and bustle of what is essentially a crazy busy hotel. We created a transition zone at the entrance, with a series of curtains that really changes the pace so you're not going straight from light to dark. Your eyes adjust as you walk into the space, so you really appreciate its beauty. It’s only a matter of steps but it makes a big difference.’
Inside the bar, over 600 meters of velvet were used on curvaceous upholstery as well as the sumptuous curtains. The atmospheric, low-level lighting had a direct influence on the specific shade of red that the team worked hard to get right. ‘We wanted it to be familiar and nostalgic, but ultimately it is in a space with no daylight, typical theatrical rouge feels quite dark so in fact it’s much brighter,’ says Rawlings. ‘The curtain swags are really decadent, double sided and triple layered. We went overboard.’ Occasional flashes of blue come in the form of yet more rich velvet and a red and ultraviolet brocade satin that appears almost luminous.
Complimenting the enveloping heavy drapery are a run of beaded curtains that take their cue from the historic Four Seasons restaurant in New York, which until 2019 was housed in the Seagram Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Adding movement and depth, the strings of golden beads shimmer alongside glass tabletops in gold and royal blue. ‘I always admired those beaded curtains and have wanted to create something similar my whole career,’ says Rawlings. ‘They fit so well with the Twenties references, and different coloured metals add to the three-dimensional quality. The same is true of the mirrored tabletops. They’re spot lit, and mixed with candlelight, they create a kind of shadow play on the ceiling as people interact with their drinks.’ Fringed, black and white shades top majestic floor lamps that also take inspiration from 1920s flapper dresses. Designed specifically to sit at cheek height, they cast a flattering, sideways glow. The Studio worked with dpa Lighting consultants to update the lighting at Velvet.
A gallery of contemporary artwork by London-based illustrator Robson Stannard is also key to the space. ‘I stumbled across Robson's work and was really taken with its organic simplicity,’ explains Rawlings. ‘He paints flowers, then collages them onto coloured backgrounds so they have a sumptuousness of colour.’ Alongside these pieces, which hang on the nickel framed, celadon panelled walls and flank the handsome marble fireplace are a series of convex mirrors that also punctuate the plaster relief ceiling. ‘Mirrors do wonderful things, but convex mirrors in particular create a distorted reality that never fails to amaze,’ says Rawlings. ‘The beauty is you get the effect of mirror without a true reflection, so you avoid looking directly at yourself. Instead, they almost see around corners, which is brilliantly otherworldly.’
All of these elements come together to create a multi-layered, jewel-like hideaway that although nostalgic in many ways, still feels completely modern. And like all David Collins Studio projects, it’s guaranteed to stand the test of time. ‘It’s a very sexy space and you can’t help but feel good the moment you walk in,’ says Rawlings. ‘Guests can sip the finest cocktails and enjoy live music, which when brought together at Velvet creates a truly unforgettable experience.’
For me, Velvet will capture the essence of a mood - the spirit of intimacy, extravagance, and secluded indulgence. It's about a feeling, the discreet excitement through the pleasure of music and cocktails.