Destination: England: London
Dorset Square Hotel
Vibe: Relaxed, dapper, residential.
At a glance: Those who would trade full-service grandeur for a charming pied-à-terre in an urbane residential neighborhood will feel right at home in this gracious Marylebone townhouse updated by chic London hoteliers.
For Tim and Kit Kemp, the reopening of the Dorset Square Hotel was a kind of homecoming. Back in 1985, the hotel was the couple’s first joint venture, and though they eventually let it go, it was the collaboration that led to the birth of a very stylish empire. Nearly thirty years later, the Kemps reacquired Dorset Square, and in June of 2012, saw it reincarnated as their company’s seventh contribution to the London hotel scene. With only 38 rooms, the handsome Marylebone townhouse is the most intimate property in the Firmdale portfolio.
Dorset Square has long been a haven from London’s tourist bustle, and the hotel, like the neighborhood, keeps a relatively low profile. In this sense it offers a clear counterpoint to bolder siblings like the sceney Soho and the fast-paced Haymarket. Its low-key facade blends harmoniously with the residential streetscape and foreshadows an equally low-key interior. There are no fitness, screening or treatment rooms – just a sensible drawing room and a friendly English-style brasserie.
Accommodations, while lovely, are generally on the small side, and travelers who tend to spread out should consider booking the Marylebone Room or the Dorset Square Room. The hotel’s two signature rooms have the same price-tag but different features; while the former, located on the ground level, has a proper sitting area encompassed by charming built-in bookshelves packed with colorful volumes, the latter has the advantage of privileged second-floor views of the leafy square.
Firmdale fanatics will be pleased to find that the hotel’s refreshing simplicity was achieved at no cost to the whimsical aesthetic with which the brand has become synonymous. Its hallways and stairwells are outfitted in custom wallpapers printed with horticultural diagrams from a vintage biology textbook, and a playful cricket motif pays tribute to the square’s legacy as birthplace of the venerable Marylebone Cricket Club, founded at Dorset Fields in 1787. If anything, Dorset Square is yet another (slightly more concise) expression of the incredible versatility of Kit Kemp’s unique design-language.
- The refined yet cozy feeling of the property
- Proximity to Marylebone High Street’s independent shops and cafés
- Afternoon tea at “The Potting Shed,” the hotel’s serene brasserie
The venerable Home House, which opened in 1998 and pioneered the members-only-club concept (pre-Soho House), has showed that blending old-world and cutting-edge design can be done in style. Housed in a historical building that dates from 1776, with sumptuous drawing rooms and Neo-Classical interiors, the hotel most recently openend the 21 Wing. Adjacent to Home House, the new wing was in part designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Zaha Hadid, and includes a futurama-esque bar, whose opening was buzzed about in the international press. “Was it a racy bar or a racing car?,” wrote Suzy Menkes in the International Herald Tribune about Hadid’s sleek extravaganza, which is topped with stainless steel plates and silvered leather.
The 21 Wing addition also opened up the membership for the first time in years. The four new bedrooms in the 21 Wing, too, are designed with a contemporary, boutique-y feel and includes mod details like bamboo fiber bathrobes. Fans of the original Home House may, of course, still opt to stay in the opulent guest rooms and just drop in next door for a glass of Champagne at the new-age bar, just like travelers staying in the new Wing still have access to Home House’s social events, like fencing lessons. The best of both worlds indeed.
Indagare Access Members get special access to Home House, including member rates on overnight stays. Contact 212-988-2611 for more information and to book.
Those who prefer a quiet, residential neighborhood should stay at the Pelham, just steps from the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History museum, in South Kensington. While the hotel’s fifty-two rooms have antiques scattered around (formerly a Firmdale property, it has the Kit Kemp creative stamp), there’s a pleasing mix of color, patterns and objects to make it interesting but not overwhelming. The restaurant has an attractive pewter bar and a changing array of original artwork by such British fashion designers as Philip Treacy, Lulu Guinness and Zandra Rhodes. Solo travelers should check out Room 401; it has a pretty William Yeoward upholstered headboard and a treetop view of the Brompton Oratory, but it’s a little snug for two. I also liked Rooms 304 and 408, large spaces decorated in a soothing jade green. The well-dressed man should book Room 104, which Kemp designed with Anna Zegna of Emenegildo Zegna—the walls are upholstered in grey wool. Rooms from $350.
Says Steven Schapera, CEO of the Australian makeup company BECCA: “Without any doubt my favorite “business hotel” is a small boutique hotel called the Pelham in South Kensington. It is one of those amazing hotels where everything comes together and you want for nothing. I learned a long time ago not to count the stars – for instance a 5-star hotel MUST have a swimming pool and 24-hour room service. That’s hardly important to me in London. The Pelham doesn’t have those but I can’t sing its praises highly enough. And if it’s full, its sister property the Knightsbridge Hotel is my other favorite.”
Read a member Rave on the Pelham Hotel
York & Albany
London’s star chef has unveiled his first hotel project, with a restaurant that has been booked solid since it opened. But don’t imagine that Ramsay is trying to channel the glamour of Claridge’s where his three-star flagship is housed. This is the opposite extreme in many ways. First, of all he has forsaken the posh area of Mayfair for a scruffy street in Camden. And while the building is historic, there’s nothing grand about it. Rather, Ramsay has taken a former coaching inn on the edge of Regent’s Park and transformed it into a cozy refuge with a bustling bar and restaurant and ten guest rooms.
Forget a marble lobby, here there’s just a polished wood reception desk next to a narrow stairway. On the opposite side of the bar sits a quaint deli area, where stacks of crates from Spitfals market testify to the home-grown ethics of the enterprise. The best rooms are the Regency Suite, which overlooks Regent’s Park and features a fireplace and seating area and Suite #4 or the Stable Suite, which is reached via a separate entrance and stairwell so it feels almost like a private flat. All of the rooms have been outfitted with hearty Old English goods such as oak tables, brass lamps, British linens, even top-of-the-line mattresses from Buckinghamshire. (The designer has sworn that everything was sourced in the United Kingdom). The name comes from one of Prince Frederick’s titles, Duke of York and Albany. Rooms from $287.
Read about the York & Albany restaurant.
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