The Penthouse: Distinctive Design by Rémi Tessier

21 April 2024

Craft Work: Rémi Tessier’s Artistry Behind The Penthouse at Claridge’s

Rémi Tessier is the yacht and private jet specialist behind The Penthouse at Claridge’s. Deyan Sudjic meets him...

Rémi Tessier’s Early Life and Experiences

Rémi Tessier spent five years learning to be a cabinet maker as an apprentice member of the Compagnons du Devoir, the ancient organisation set up to pass on the techniques needed to build the cathedrals of medieval France, which he joined aged just 15. He travelled from workshop to workshop around the country, living an almost monastic existence in communal houses owned by the Compagnons. When he set up his own studio in 1988, he closed his toolbox for good. Workwear these days is a pair of white jeans and an unassuming Loro Piana jacket rather than a carpenter’s overalls. But it is his experience as a maker that has given Tessier an unusual and wide-ranging set of skills. An ability to get difficult things done while making them look easy is perhaps the most important. That, and the charm needed to get along with the demanding but interesting people that he works for.

He has put those skills to work on projects as large as fitting out a Boeing 787 for a private client, and as diminutive as the patisserie on the ground floor of The Berkeley for Cédric Grolet (Tessier took inspiration for the latter from a Formula 1 pit-stop team). He is currently working on 30 projects worldwide, using his 15-strong team in Paris, together with local artisans who specialise in particular fields. He designed Larry Gagosian’s new gallery in Paris, curated Damien Hirst’s summer 2023 exhibition Where the Land Meets the Sea at Phillips in London and has an international reputation as a yacht designer.

I feel so lucky to have had that experience as a cabinet maker. I learned everything there, especially that I really enjoy the execution process. I always want to deliver the promise, I love finding a way through all the difficulties.

The Mastery Behind The Penthouse at Claridge’s

Claridges Penthouse sitting area. A water feature is in the background and a circular wooden table with flowers sits in front of it. A couch and chair sit to the right and left.
Claridges Penthouse outdoor area. A water feature is in the foreground. A glass structure sits behind it and a piano sits inside. A nighttime skyline is in the background.
Claridges Penthouse dining area. A large circular wooden table with a plant and six chairs sit in the right foreground. A fireplace sits behind it and a painting is hung above it.

Few things in his career have been more difficult than the newly completed rooftop villa – luxury penthouse does not do it justice - that he designed that seems to float above Claridge’s. This iconic London penthouse is the product of a six-year building campaign that had to be undertaken without the use of power tools to ensure that guests on the floors below were not disturbed. ‘The whole idea is to bring people up on the roof of this iconic building and discover something they don’t expect.’ Among the many surprises is Andrew Ewing’s large-scale water installation and an unrestricted view of the capital.

In The Penthouse, there’s nobody above you. Skylines make a big difference. They make the space special forever.

Paying respectful tribute to Jean Prouvé, Anish Kapoor and Jean Royère, Tessier set about creating a project that lives up to a hotel he describes as ‘a dream, a legend, an icon’. He designed an epic fireplace using Iranian green onyx. Like a mystery clock, it has a void where you would expect smoke to flow. If it was going to make itself felt in the enormous space, it would have to have a certain scale. ‘They told me, “It’s impossible! Just forget it! It’s too heavy.” But I want to do something which has not been done before. If you want to do something truly exclusive, it doesn’t exist yet.’ He clearly enjoys the fact that guests will be blissfully unaware of the penthouse’s design challenges. ‘When it’s finished, people always say “Rémi! It looks so simple.” Nobody will understand how hard it was. That is the beauty of a secret.’

The result is a refined haven, nine floors up. ‘Putting a penthouse suite like this together is a combination of a lot of detail. But it is also very simple: if you want to feel good and calm, it needs to be easy to live in, not too complex. You have to be able to feel comfortable whoever you are, but to feel in a different world.’ Looking to avoid any stereotypical luxury pieces, the majority of items in the penthouse are specially made – including a circular sofa that rotates – while the rest are sourced from Gio Ponti, Hans Wegner or Tessier’s own collection.

Tessier’s Inspiration For The Penthouse

Tessier doesn’t have a signature: each project is different. ‘Every day I wake up and start a new page. I start from a blank. It can be reassuring to have a kind of frame for your work, but I never like to do the same thing twice. I like to think that I have no style, but that I have style. When you jump into the void, like that famous photograph of the artist Yves Klein leaping out of a window, if you don’t get scared, it’s exciting.’

A shiny silver turtle ornament sits on a rug. A round wooden table leg sits behind it.
A pink, blue, green and brown painting is hung up on a white wall.
A round white marble vase with purple hydrangeas sits on a glass tabletop.

For Tessier, it is not enough for a design to be well made: it needs an idea to underpin it. In the case of the Claridge's project, that idea was to introduce a variety of work from Damien Hirst. The two had been friends long enough for the artist to say yes immediately when Tessier asked to borrow 75 works for the next three years. He chose pieces from every period of Hirst’s career, from pill cabinets to cherry blossom paintings and ecstatic gold classical figures, some sitting on shelves and bedside tables.  ‘Damien told me, “I will be pleased to have artwork as objects that people can touch.” That is very unusual, very casual. The art is there without it ever being too much or in your face.'

I love all Rémi’s designs and he designed my apartment and studio in London, he has the most amazing sensibility of any architect or designer I have worked with and it’s a joy to work with him. I just let him have the artworks he wants and he always places them and makes them look phenomenal. He’s the real deal.

Damien Hirst

Tessier's work takes him all over the world – does he ever get time off?

I am travelling all the time now, and there is a flow and quantity of things to deal with. When I was single at 40, I was much more stressed than I am now with nine kids and work everywhere in the world. I feel much more relaxed. I try to make it fun for everybody.

Claridges Penthouse swimming pool. A swimming pool sits in the foreground and two white sun loungers sit behind it. A tree sits to the left. A white statue sits in the background.
Claridges Penthouse sitting area. A statue sits in the foreground. A grey couch sits to the right and left. A painting is hung on the wall in the background.
Claridges Penthouse sitting area. A window is in the background and a couch sits in front of it. An armchairs sits next to the couch and a round wooden and glass table with a plant sits in front.

For further information see here, and watch 'The Mayfair Megabuild' on BBC iPlayer.

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