Tall, dark and hand­some

Nina Camp­bell re­calls cre­at­ing the in­ti­mate in­te­ri­ors of Annabel’s and we re­veal how to get the look

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

My first visit to Annabel’s was for a friend’s com­ing-out party when I was still in my teens. It was ex­tremely cool and a far cry from what we were used to at Clar­idge’s. The ar­chi­tect Philip Jebb had con­jured the space out of what was for­merly the wine cel­lars and kitchen serv­ing the house above. His stroke of ge­nius was to make fea­tures of the vaulted ceil­ings.

He also cov­ered the sup­port­ing pil­lars in an an­tiqued brass that ar­tic­u­lated the space mar­vel­lously and cre­ated plenty of semi-pri­vate places to sit. You could just about see re­flec­tions in the brass, but you weren’t quite sure who was buried in another al­cove—it was mys­te­ri­ous and highly at­mo­spheric.

By the time I met the founder Mark Bir­ley at a din­ner party in 1965, I was work­ing as an as­sis­tant to the dec­o­ra­tor John Fowler, who had been re­spon­si­ble for restor­ing the Wil­liam Kent-de­signed in­te­ri­ors of the Cler­mont Club up­stairs. The won­der­ful bar­man, Ge­orge, lent the club its char­ac­ter. Ei­ther side of his bar were two vit­rines that dis­played items for sale—white, stamped plas­tic from what I re­mem­ber. It was just too tacky, so, when I met Mark, em­bold­ened by the brav­ery of youth, I told him that they were aw­fully ugly. He didn’t hes­i­tate be­fore re­spond­ing: ‘If you think you’re so clever, why don’t you do them your­self?’

I was al­ready plan­ning to set up on my own, so I jumped at the op­por­tu­nity and went about lin­ing the vit­rines in a vi­brant Chi­nese red silk with a blue-and-red fan-edged bor­der. On the shelves, I placed some pieces of Imari porce­lain, again in blue and red. He liked them and I got my feet un­der the ta­ble—we went from there.

Not only was Mark vo­ra­cious in his at­ten­tion to de­tail, but he was also ex­tremely artis­tic and very par-

tic­u­lar about hang­ing pic­tures, some of which he’d in­her­ited from his fa­ther [the So­ci­ety por­trait painter Oswald Bir­ley] and the others he’d col­lected. I don’t think he un­der­stood a day with­out shop­ping. On one trip, he came back from a visit to Bar­ling of Mount Street with a Bud­dha that was the most peace­ful crea­ture and which be­came the cen­tre­piece of the Bud­dha Room we had painted in a fab­u­lous red lac­quer.

The room also be­came home to some Tche­litchew wa­ter­colours Mark had bought at a sale as well as his Bal­lets Russes paint­ings (he was fas­ci­nated with Rus­sian dancers at the time). I had some Chi­nese tem­ple stools up­hol­stered in a red fab­ric as ex­tra seat­ing.

I was also re­spon­si­ble for the wall­pa­per that cov­ered the long cor­ri­dor in the club. I came across an orig­i­nal 18th-cen­tury doc­u­ment in the back of John Fowler’s cup­board. It was a pretty blue flo­ral print on a dirty-white back­ground that he’d dis­cov­ered un­der lay­ers of other wall­pa­pers when he was dec­o­rat­ing the Cler­mont. I felt very strongly that this should be put back and per­suaded Mark to re-cre­ate it and it later be­came a Cole­fax & Fowler de­sign.

The pri­vate din­ing room at Annabel’s was es­tab­lished in 1970 af­ter Mark bought the mews be­hind the club. The food was im­pec­ca­ble—a com­plete con­trast to other night­clubs at the time. Mark didn’t like fussy menus and hated what he called ‘cloche lift­ing’; he much pre­ferred things such as shep­herd’s pie, chicken hash or de­li­cious lamb cut­lets. El­iz­a­beth David’s cook­ery was, to him, the acme of English food. The tra­di­tion of serv­ing lemons el­e­gantly wrapped in pieces of muslin was another of his in­no­va­tions that’s be­come main­stream.

At the time, I was liv­ing with a friend who owned two par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful things: one was a Wil­liam IV gasolier, which I bought and hung in the din­ing room, and the other was a pair of nar­row, up­hol­stered chairs that we had copied for the res­tau­rant.

On three sides of the din­ing room were floor-to-ceil­ing wine racks, which gave a won­der­ful am­bi­ence. The walls were painted red and, on the floor, was a con­tin­u­a­tion of the car­pet in the res­tau­rant—what we called a ‘Turkey car­pet’ and some­thing you’d typ­i­cally find used as a run­ner on the stairs of coun­try houses. The space, which was per­fect for 20, but a crush at 22, was ex­tremely suc­cess­ful.

David Tang, who was very in­flu­enced by Mark, said it felt as if you were en­ter­ing Aladdin’s cave when you came through the door of the club—it was some­where you never wanted to leave. The light­ing, which some have de­scribed as sepul­chral, made ev­ery­one look good and, of course, a great many mar­riage pro­pos­als were made in Annabel’s— in­clud­ing to me.

Annabel’s was smart, but never stuffy. There has al­ways been the dress code, which, on one oc­ca­sion, Mark was per­suaded to re­lax. It lasted about three months be­cause he was ap­palled by how the English dressed when left to their own de­vices. There’s no doubt that his high stan­dards were cen­tral to the magic of the place.

Above: Annabel’s founder Mark Bir­ley and Nina Camp­bell, with whom he col­lab­o­rated on the club’s de­sign. Right: The main din­ing room

The pri­vate din­ing room: its walls were lined, floor to ceil­ing, with wine racks

Nina Camp­bell’s first job was to re­design the vit­rines at the bar that dis­played items for sale

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.