The Strand Palace Hotel is famous for many different reasons, from its iconic exterior and innovations such as opening London’s first hotel Carvery, to its rich and vibrant history. But perhaps it was the magnificent Art Deco renovation in 1929, designed by well-travelled architect and designer, Oliver P. Bernard that really put the Strand Palace Hotel well and truly on the map.

Born in Camberwell, south London on the 8th April 1881, Oliver Bernard was the son of Charles Bernard, a theatre manager, and his wife Annie Allen, an actress. Having spent an unhappy childhood in London, he left for Manchester following the death of his father in 1894 to take a job as a stagehand in a theatre. He educated himself by reading John Locke, John Ruskin and other such enlightened philosophers and thinkers of the time.

The next job Oliver took was cabin-boy on a Norwegian barque. He sailed twice to Montreal before finally settling in London once again to begin his apprenticeship as a Scenic Painter’s Apprentice, training under renowned Scenic Artist, Walter Hann. Then in 1905, he travelled to New York, where he worked with Klaw & Erlanger Theatre Production Company, climbing his way up through the ranks to become Principal Scenic Artist, before returning to London in 1912, to become Scenic Director of the Quinlan Opera Company. His extensive experience in theatrical set design paid off when in 1914, Oliver was commissioned to carry out design work at the Royal Opera House in London’s Convent Garden.

In 1916 Bernard enlisted into the Royal Engineers, serving for three years in war torn France and Belgium during World War I and earning himself both a Military Cross and an OBE. Following the end of World War I, Oliver realised that his passion was still very much in the field of design and as he began taking an interest in industrial design and trade, he left the drama of the theatrical world and started consulting for the Board of Overseas Trade and the British Government. It was during this time that Oliver got the opportunity that he had long been waiting for, when he successfully procured a position as consultant artistic director to catering company, J. Lyons & Co., defining much of their later house style and designing interiors for their Oxford Street, Coventry Street and Strand ‘Corner Houses’.

Meanwhile 20th century Britain was going through some huge changes in fashion, architecture and film and soon the Art Deco movement was influencing world-renowned hotels such as the Savoy, Claridges and the Sheraton on Park Lane. Inspired by both Art Nouveau and Futurism, the straight edge shapes and block colours became hugely popular in the 20’s and 30’s. It was a machine age style, which utilised the innovations of the times such as plastics, chrome and aluminium. At a time of economic depression and the approach of war there was a desire for escapism.
But few Art Deco buildings could match Oliver P. Bernard’s spectacular design that established the Strand Palace Hotel as one of the most powerful examples of the Art Deco movement and one of the most celebrated hotel interiors in London.

Greatly influenced by his background in theatre and his experiences abroad, Oliver designed and built a stunning foyer using traditional and new materials making innovative use of glass and lighting. The walls were clad with pale pink marble and the floor with limestone, which accentuated the kaleidoscope of light reflecting from the surrounding balustrades and columns. The balustrades, columns and door surrounds were made of translucent moulded glass, chromed steel and mirrored glass that teased the light to create a futuristic feel with the use of basic diamond shapes.

The design was so uniquely brilliant that when the foyer was refurbished in 1969, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London rescued what was discarded, including the incredible revolving doors that had put both Oliver P. Bernard and the Strand Palace Hotel on the map. When he died in 1939, aged 58, the Strand Palace remained his greatest achievement.

Although the famous revolving doors and hotel foyer have disappeared, you can still view the wonderful skill and talent of Oliver P. Bernard if you are visiting the hotel today. As you descend into the lower ground floor of the hotel to the conference rooms, you will be stunned by the magnificent Art Deco staircase and its surrounding details including the unique English Heritage listed rest rooms.

If you enjoyed this particular story, you are bound to love our next blog on the Strand Palace Hotel during the war. So do pop back next week for more news on our fabulous history!

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