The luxury of space lies not just in the eyes of the beholder but also in the experience of its user. Hotel suites qualify as one of the most hedonistic such space you can inhabit. I’ve done my bit of peripatetic wandering, checking into the presidential suite of a Delhi hotel a week after it had been occupied by Hillary Clinton (where she may have lounged in its posh bathroom) or trying out a resort at a stone’s throw from the Taj Mahal a day before former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf arrived in Agra. Rooms and suites with swimming pools and well-stocked libraries in the en suite studies, pantries large enough to cater for parties, infinity pools with jacuzzis at the edge of the scarp, massage chairs by the bed, spa treatments on call: in luxury hotels, every decadent pleasure is usually anticipated and provided for, but rarely has space been used with as much joy and playfulness as in the Cinema Suite at the Taj Hotel at 51 Buckingham Gate, London.
Designed by Sabyasachi, the couturist whose clothes are eponymous with Indian shaadis, it is an explosion of colour and sensibility and an assault on your senses, so much so that you may need a moment or two to catch your breath before you proceed further. Completed last year, the suite’s genesis was in a simple request the hotel’s general manager made to the designer while the latter was staying there. Would Sabyasachi consider designing some cushions, a tablecloth, perhaps a bedcover for the suite? “I said I wanted to have a look at the suite,” Sabyasachi recounts of the commission. He did, and then asked for the impossible: a restructuring of the bathroom, the plumbing and so on, despite the £7,500 renovation the hotel had just undertaken.
The overall brief was to have a suite sensibility aligned to Indian — not just Bollywood — cinema. As he began to take charge, Sabyasachi slowly “arm-twisted” the general manager into agreeing to more changes — the floors, walls, baths, even changing the size of the rooms — to develop his own version of “beautiful clutter”. To his clients that should come as no surprise since his stores, too, are echoes of that sensibility: “the home of a well-travelled person”.
“It reflects,” he says, “my personality in many ways. Not in the sense of being a relic or a dinosaur but as vintage with relevance to the modern.”
Open the door to the suite and you will be bombarded by old-fashioned luxury of the sort of room your grandfather might have kept had he been a zamindar with a passion for collecting eclectic articles. No wonder then that the rooms are filled with wonderful neo-classical furniture — Chesterfields, four-poster beds, winged chairs, partner’s desks, church furniture as well as wallpapers, paintings, cupboards, armoires, piles and piles of beautiful books everywhere, stuffed animal heads, chintzy prints and wall plates — kitsch walking hand-in-hand with high art. “We overshot the budget,” Sabyasachi giggles, “so we went to Portobello Road’s second-hand shops and I found Baccarat crystal at a throwaway price.”
If the idea was to enjoy great liquor, great music and great movies (the last on a huge TV), Sabyasachi has managed it just fine. “Many people say that it’s my visiting card in London.” They might add that it is a larger than life home away from home.
—The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator