Most of London’s grand Georgian houses are brimming with history, but very few can claim a contemporary story that’s just as rich and as significant as their past. Today, Savile Row is shorthand for so much more than just a street, although when the elegant sweep of ‘First Rate’ façades were laid out at the start of the 18th century it was essentially an upper class barracks, providing homes for distinguished military officers. Number 14, overseen by the Burlington Estate’s architect, Henry Flitcroft, was initially occupied by one Robert Coke, before being taken over by the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1813.
Sheridan’s life was beset by incident and adventure, including duels, bankruptcy, a stint as an MP, owning and managing the Drury Lane Theatre and writing some of the most memorable stage plays of the era, notably The Rivals and The School for Scandal. It was said that the internal layout of No. 14 provided him with a discrete perch from which to spy on callers. Perpetually harassed by his debtors, Sheridan would lurk behind the internal oriel window located above the main staircase, ready to make a quick getaway.
Sheridan died in the house on 7 July 1816, the house stripped of furniture and described by a contemporary as being in a state of ‘filth and stench’. Worse was to follow. During the Blitz, the street suffered extensive damage and No. 14 was particularly badly hit. By this point, Savile Row had become synonymous with men’s tailoring and luxury goods, with many houses converted into workshops and offering fitting rooms and showrooms.
In 1945, Hardy Amies took possession of No. 14, a purchase funded by one of his first clients, the American actress Virginia Cherrill, later Countess of Jersey. It was a bold move, one that placed Amies at the heart of the British Establishment, giving him a milieu in which to establish his society credentials. One of the most original houses on the street, No. 14 never succumbed to the extensive alterations visited on its neighbours by their new tailoring tenants. Amies established his workshops in the basement and the attics, with the grand first floor salon acting as a fitting room and a place for presentations and receptions. The house was effectively returned to its original social structure, with tradesmen and seamstresses entering at the basement level and the imposing ground floor entrance, flanked by twin stone obelisks, reserved for clients.
Less than a year after these humble beginnings, in January 1946, Amies put on a grand opening show in the salon. Hardy Amies Ltd had arrived. Behind the scenes, the rigorous presentation standards of the man and his product were contrasted with the ad hoc restoration that took place, piece by piece, around them. Amies never filled No. 14 with great Georgian pieces, preferring to mix old and new. His main advisor was William Haines, a former matinee idol who became one of the early stars of interior design. Haines brought an Eastern influence, and this Chinoiserie has survived into the modern era.
The House, as it became known, was Amies’ personal fiefdom, a place to entertain as well as work. Serving his signature martinis – with a twist of orange, rather than lemon – he would welcome his select group of famous clients for fittings and events. Gregory Peck, David Hockney, even the Queen (who visited once or twice but preferred ‘home’ visits), would all come by, enjoying the grand sweeping staircase, the elaborate panelling and plasterwork and the unwavering attentions of Amies himself. The House endures, its heritage, warmth and character continuing to serve as the perfect backdrop for Hardy Amies Ltd.
Jonathan Bell is architecture editor for Wallpaper*