IN the autumn of 1931, invitations went out for a housewarming at Claridge’s. It was a mild Tuesday in November and guests arrived at the private entrance on Brook Street in the glittering Mayfair dark. The British Porcelain Ball began fashionably at 10 pm (supper at 11:30 pm; buffet at 12:30 am; carriages at 3:00 am) and it was the inaugural event in the hotel’s newly built Art Deco ballroom. The extension had been beneath a pile of proverbial bricks and dust, overseen by the architect Oswald Milne, for two years. By the time it was finished, the Great Depression had flattened the effervescence of the 1920s, making the antics of the Bright Young Things at parties such as this one—idealized in the past decade—look like so many boondoggles against a backdrop of mass unemployment. But this evening was in aid of the National Birthday Trust Fund and, beneath a silver-leafed ceiling, amid green columns and sharply cut, mirrored walls designed by artist Walter Gilbert, Society ladies spun in a rehearsed ballet, gamely dressed as porcelain figurines.
Claridge’s itself launched the space with a light hand. A press release lingers on the new heating system (‘much superior to the old type of radiator’) and ends with a line about ‘perfect’ ventilation. It calls the now-iconic decoration as ‘interesting and sanely modern’.
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