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“Everything I do is over the top,” says Tessa Kennedy. The celebrated interior designer has been going over the top since she was a teenager in the Fifties, eloping with a society painter who was nearly 10 years older than her.
Tessa Kennedy is an international award-winning interior designer who for the last 50 years has discreetly created interiors with a sense of grandeur and a hint of theatre for an impressive list of elite clients. These include Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, George Harrison, Sam Spiegel, Michael Winner, Pierce Brosnan,
the Saudi Royal family and HM King Hussein of Jordan, as well as significant commercial commissions for De Beers and world-renowned hotels such as Claridges and The Berkeley. She is perhaps best known by the public for designing the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz Hotel which was re-instated in 2001 and for which she was awarded Designer of the Year. In acknowledgment of her work she was made a Fellow of the International Interior Design Association.
“I don’t do minimalism,” she tells me over lunch at the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz hotel, a room she designed herself. “That style has become ubiquitous, but it’s just so boring.”
Kennedy is the first to admit that interior design was not a career she would have imagined herself pursuing as a young debutante in 1957, despite an artistic ability and an early love of Brighton Pavilion. It was a time when women were not expected to have careers and due to her considerably privileged background as the daughter of Geoffrey Kennedy and Daska Ivanovic, niece to the shipping magnate Vane Ivanovic, Tessa was expected to marry well and bring up a family, so she was sent to finishing school in Switzerland.
Her first accolade was the winning of a competition to design Grovesnor House Hotel while still with Mlinaric in 1968, which gave her the boost she needed to establish her own studio Tessa Kennedy Design with her Mlinaric colleague Michael Sumner. Together they went on to win many other commissions including the design for the Equestrian Club in Riyadh, which resulted in Tessa Kennedy being the first woman to work for her own company in Saudi Arabia.
Naturally the design principles she applies in her work are evident in her own homes. Many of her sumptuous interiors have been featured by House & Garden,World of Interiors, Vogue and Tatler. What these articles and the collection offered here capture is how much of her remarkable life is reflected in the pieces that act as catalysts for anecdotes about amusing or poignant events with her friends and the process of collecting as a whole.
Tessa Kennedy certainly practises what she preaches at her own home in Knightsbridge, which has to be one of the most theatrical properties in the capital, with its red velvet wallpaper, exuberantly hung bed and curtains that were once owned by Rudolf Nureyev.
Tessa Kenedy has left her distinctive signature all over Mayfair, redesigning 100 rooms at Claridge’s and undertaking commissions at private members’ clubs such as Aspinalls and the Playboy Club.
Wherever you see rich men having fun in Mayfair, there is a fair chance they will be doing it in surroundings designed by Tessa Kennedy. The Ritz’s Rivoli Bar is done up in an art deco style – about 30 per cent of her designs are art deco – with bold representations of Leda and the Swan at either end of the room.