Mary's Blog - In memory of Hendrix
I have always relished a challenge, something that takes you into new places and gives you a stretch. When I heard about the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death and the plans the Guoman Hotels had to honour him at the Cumberland Hotel with a Jimi Hendrix Suite, I applied automatically, although I knew it was a competitive ‘pitch’ against seven other designers. I hadn’t previously realised that the rock legend had stayed at the Cumberland just two days before he died on 18 September 1970.
When the news came through that I had won the design commission for the one bedroom suite, I was elated. I had already done extensive research in order to make my presentation to the Guoman Hotels, but now I could really start the process. The first stage for me is always the research. My passion is period design (I have a degree in art history) and of course the 60s decade is now officially ‘period’.
I chose Cynthia Garcia as my senior associate on this project, not only for the superb quality of her work but because she is a rock fan herself. In fact her son J is a member of the rock band Reaping Havoc and Cynthia regularly supports him.
We made the decision that we would not slavishly follow 60s design but rather take elements of it, and add in some fun. Hendrix was renowned for his sense of humour and flamboyance. Even so, one of my first ports of call was Geraldine Ramphal, the specialist in 20th century design at Sotheby’s. She was extremely helpful and pointed us in the right direction for sourcing fabrics. We then headed for the vintage fabric fairs that attract dealers from all over the world. There were also the specialist collectors of fabrics and costume, Junnaa and Thomi, who threw open their treasure trove of fabrics for us in their Mayfair home. They even gave us a pair of multi patterned slimline 60s trousers – a size 6 if ever I saw one – as a present.
We scoured London for the right kinds of furniture and decorative pieces. At the furniture and fabric house, Andrew Martin, we soon spotted a white hand-stitched leather sofa that screamed to be in our Jimi Hendrix Suite. It is a limited edition: only six were ever made. The desk chair and bed cover also came from this same house.
The gorgeous floor-to-ceiling fibre optic light fitting in the suite’s lounge area came from Vos Led. It was created by Roseline de Thélin, a young French designer now living in Ibiza, whose light sculptures adorn public spaces and private homes all over the world.
We also discovered an extraordinary hand-printed fabric panel, designed in the 60s by Maija Isola for the company Marimekko. Mark Lee at Picture This on the Kings Road guided us to the heavy white frame that enhances the panel and turns it into a great feature on the north wall.
In the meantime, Andie Aifix found us a genuine and rare ‘Flying V’ guitar, which he has customised to look like the one Jimi decorated himself. Keith Altham, Jimi’s interviewer, has loaned a number of NME (New Musical Express) articles and covers. We have had them reproduced and framed for the far end wall of the room.
At the same time, I was concerned that the room should have a focal point, one in which Hendrix would be depicted. I approached and, seeing that his excitement matched my own, commissioned Andie Airfix of Satori who has been the graphic designer for many of the world’s great rock bands. Even now he is starting work on a project for Metallica. He followed our colour criteria and presented a wild and exciting mural design that sits behind the bed.
The other dramatic feature is a swirl of stripes that races up one wall, across the ceiling and down the other side of the room. The design and selection of colours took us time to perfect, but we knew that this would be a major contribution to the atmosphere of the whole suite. The stripes had to be hand-painted by specialists and we were fortunate in having the marvellous Alex Smith and Paul Potts perform their magic for us.
It was then we discovered we all had royal connections.
How I made new friends – and our Royal connections!
The suppliers of the fabrics and furniture we finally chose have been amazing. I have made new allies through this project. It is a truism that if you mention Hendrix, some people just light up! We have been delighted to meet one person who knew Hendrix well, Keith Altham, who interviewed him at the Cumberland on 16 September 1970. Keith has assured us that Jimi would have loved the suite we have created – and we are entirely gratified with this accolade.
Jimi Hendrix really was the royalty of rock. And here’s the rub: we are used to dealing at this level! Alex and Paul, who painted our stripes, have been together for more than 25 years of specialist decoration and their backgrounds are in illustration and conservation. Amongst the many prestigious properties they have worked on were several stately homes and royal palaces and, not least, Brighton Pavilion. My associate, Cynthia, project managed work at the Royal Lodge, Windsor – and me? I designed the Master Armourer’s apartment at the Tower of London. It was a job I was keen to get right, rather than have the axe fall . . .
I am touched that the project has the approval and support of the Jimi Hendrix Foundation, and more, that the Guoman Hotels will donate £10 from the cost of every night stay in the suite to the foundation, which supports young people.
Contact Mary Gannon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Andie Airfix at email@example.com