As a Londoner with a keen appreciation for both the traditional and cutting-edge, Richard Brendon was the perfect go-to for Corinthia Hotel London’s new-look afternoon tea. His Superstripe collection is a bold, modern graphic, made in Stoke-on-Trent with traditional techniques that have been perfected over hundreds of years. Learn more about the indulgent tradition of afternoon tea and get a designer’s take on the city…
How did you end up creating crockery?
It was a fortunate accident really, I was studying product and furniture design at Kingston University when I went into an antique dealer’s shop one day looking for inspiration. There was a big pile of antique saucers but here weren’t any cups, so I got chatting to the antique dealer and he explained that people smash a lot more teacups than saucers. I thought that was a really interesting fact, I’d never thought about that before. So I bought the pile of saucers and started to try and come up with a way to make them useful objects again, and I had the idea for my Reflectcollection. That process taught me about the history of British ceramics, I learned about the best and the worst things we’ve made over the last 300 years. I went to Stoke-on-Trent, I met manufacturers and kind of fell in love with the place, it’s had a rough time over the last 50 years. I became particularly inspired to do something more contemporary with the wonderful skills and craftsmanship they have there.
Being set up in London, does the city itself influence you?
Absolutely, I think London is a phenomenally inspiring place to be, it’s right at the forefront and the cutting edge of creativity. There are amazing things happening all around you which is inspiring in itself, but we’ve also got incredible museums. For a lot of what I do, I seek inspiration from the past, and actually just the fabric of the city from the road layouts and beautiful old maps and architecture is an inspiration.
Speaking of museums, which are your favourites?
I have lots of favourites! Sir John Soane’s Museum is an incredible place, and last weekend I was fortunate enough to discover the courtyard at the Wallace collection, bizarrely I’d never been, and that was a really lovely hidden gem. The V&A is my absolute favourite though, they’ve even let me walk up and down the middle of the cases a few times so you can see things you can’t see from the front.
How do you approach a brief for something like afternoon tea?
Afternoon tea should be fun, it’s a special occasion, and not something most people do every day. So I think you can have bold pattern for afternoon tea to really elevate the whole experience – it’s not just about the food, it’s about the whole experience.
How did you settle on a design for Corinthia?
The Superstripe Collection is a collaboration with a great company called Patternity. Back in 2013 they held an exhibition called Pattern Power Superstripe, and I had this idea of repositioning British Bone China so it was the perfect combination. We created something that was very contemporary but still timeless, and we’ve now adapted it for Corinthia Hotel London. The grey pieces tie into the interior of the hotel, while the red is obviously a refence to the beautiful Baccarat chandelier that hangs in the Crystal Moon Lounge.
Why do you think the tradition of afternoon tea has endured so long?
Because it’s great! Who doesn’t love afternoon tea? There aren’t many other occasions where it’s acceptable to eat as much as you can and drink Champagne and tea in the middle of the afternoon, I just think it’s a lovely thing to do.
How do you bridge that gap between the traditional and the modern?
I’m always trying to create timeless designs, I’ve got lots of objects in my office and at home which are 300 years old and look totally contemporary today. To do that and to design in that way you need a really good understanding of what’s come before, because otherwise you’re just being led by fashion and trend rather. I always do a lot of research try to identify beautiful elements from the past, and then find a way of putting a twist on it or refining it to make it more relevant to today.
What are your first memories of afternoon tea?
My very first memory of afternoon tea is down in Dartmouth in Devon, I was probably about nine and not really into tea, but the exciting part was discovering clotted cream and finding out you could smother scones in it.
Jam first or cream first?
Cream first absolutely. I find jam first very strange – you wouldn’t put jam on first then butter!
What’s your perfect day in London?
This is such a difficult question because there are so many perfect days in London, so I’ll go with one I do quite a lot. The first point to mention is that it’s midsummer, a beautiful long day. I tend to wake up quite early on a Saturday and I love walking down Portobello road before anyone’s arrived yet, other than the antique dealers who are setting up, and just having a coffee. There’s a great place called coffee plant that I go to every day, they’ve got tables outside and you can just sit and watch the world go by.
Then I would escape Portobello before it gets really busy, maybe head over to Westbourne grove, or Goldbourne road, and have brunch at Daylesford, Granger & Co or the Electric. I love walking, so afterwards I’d head up to Kensington Gardens, walk through the park to the Serpentine and go to the pavilion if Fortnum & Mason or someone is there, and have a glass of Pimms on a nice sunny day! To continue the walk I would head down through St James’ Park towards Southbank, and probably have a light lunch somewhere along the river. In the early evening I would head into the West End and see something at the theatre, and then have dinner at one of the great restaurants round there; Café Murano or maybe Temper in Soho, and then I’d finish off at Bar Termini.
Where’s the first place you take newcomers?
Walking and the river are my go-tos, it’s amazing how much of London you can cover by foot and you discover all sorts of things. Southbank is a great place to walk but also the Thames Path in general, the bridges by Hammersmith and Putney are lovely, and I love the river ferry! You can pay by Oyster card, it doesn’t cost a lot, there’s a café on board and you can just watch London go by.
What’s London’s best-kept secret?
At the moment my office is in north Kensington so I walk down Regent’s Canal to Regent’s Park and Little Venice; it’s probably not somewhere a lot of tourists discover. Also, the restaurants in Clahpam right now are wonderful; there’s one place in particular called Counter Culture which is tiny, I think they can seat about 10 people. You all sit around the counter and it’s just you, the chef and one waiter. The menu changes daily and the food is amazing.