Destination: England: London
Some hotels cater so well to a particular sort of clientele that only a little tinkering is required over the years. Blakes, one of the world’s first boutique hotels and the brainchild and baby of designer Anouska Hempel (now Lady Weinberg) is just such a spot. Tucked away on a quiet residential street in the heart of South Kensington, Blakes got the slightly opulent colonial and indisputably chic recipe right when it first opened in 1987. All that was needed was a little freshening up. And after eight months and a £4 million renovation in 2011, Blakes is looking better than ever.
Guests can choose from two design schemes—moody romantic with warm lacquer reds, black and cream, or the more pristine modern in black-and-white rooms with similarly toned, good-looking bathrooms. I honestly can’t choose between the two. Predictably, Blakes is beloved by the music and fashion worlds (regulars include the Beckhams, Hugh Grant and Jean-Paul Gaultier); it’s a place that anyone craving privacy and style will keep coming back to.
Indagare Tip: A good bargain category are the luxury doubles, especially the room numbers ending with a 4 (i.e. 204, 304 etc) because they have a separate sofa seating area, two Bang & Olufsen televisions and a separate shower and bath. Don’t miss the three new, glass birdcage conservatories in the rear courtyard, perfect for any season.
Wow! Kit Kemp has taken her hotels to another level with this one. Yes, it maybe slightly over-designed, as one Londoner remarked to me, but it’s so fun. The hotel has such buzz, more buzz than any hotel in London. First of all, Kit Kemp is much more confident in her design and color scheme. The hotel is still clearly Firmdale, but quaint and charming have been replaced by va-va-voom. It’s only been open a month but already the Haymarket has a following of guests who can best be described as “grownups with money.” The public spaces have lots of good art, bold colors (hot pink and apple green, brilliant sunny yellow with black, strong hues of blue and red) and fun design details (an oversized circle mirror in the library with a thick cobalt blue rim, lovely sepia toned de Gournay wallpaper in the grand shooting gallery). I felt dizzy when I left the hotel, but couldn’t wait to return for another hit. In my speedy tour, they were shooting a movie in one hotel corridor and preparing for a Christian Dior party that night in the awesome pool/bar. The night before the fantastic-for-events-only bar area with pool, huge metallic painted columns, pewter bar and fiber-optic twinkling ceiling lights was used for another party where glamorous invitees strutted their stuff and then took a dip. Meanhile, Jude Law was center stage at a dinner in the shooting gallery. Posh and Becks have stayed here—coincidentally, in the same wonderful room as wise old Walter Cronkite (No. 100, but not all together!) This 50-room hotel with a charming interconnected townhouse is for people with eyes. A word to the wise: Kemp has gotten so bold with her riot of color scheme that those who prefer gentler tones in their bedrooms (which are all large, even the smallest room, No.110, was fine) should request one of the more subdued schemes. Rooms from $500.
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Hip London members’ club Shoreditch House is adding twenty-six rooms, as well as opening a Cowshed Spa. Owned by the same group behind Soho House, Shoreditch House is for those who like a bit of edge in their neighborhood and who appreciate the arty vibe of Shoreditch (think NY’s Soho in the 1980s). The club/hotel has one of three heated rooftop pools in London, as well as a rooftop restaurant with views across the capital and a large sunbathing terrace (Londoners only need a hint of sun to strip down and pretend they’re in Rio). Just around the corner is Pizza East, a trendy gourmet pizza restaurant with a warehouse feel, recently extolled in Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog as one of her favorite London eateries. Rooms from £85 (about $130) for the “tiny” room category.
Several townhouses have been successfully merged to give this London newcomer a feeling of intimacy not usually found in an 82-room hotel. The Arch, centrally located near Oxford Street, Marylebone High Street and Hyde Park, is a busy hotel in a busy area. Its façade is classic Georgian, but interiors showcase lots of eye-catching art and the latest technology. All the rooms are named after different dialing codes of the 1950s and the HUNter 486 bar and restaurant is named after the prefix used to dial Marylebone. I enjoyed the ‘Press to Refresh’ stainless steel button in the Martini Library and the built-in flat screen TV above the foot of the bathtub.
The rooms and suites are done in a palate of beige, chocolate brown, red, olive green and lots of patterns. I liked rooms no. 116 and 117, both nicely sized deluxe doubles overlooking the street. Junior suite no. 016 on the ground floor has attractive molded ceilings and a huge bathroom. I thought the courtyards too teeny to justify the price of the courtyard suites and the mews view not special enough in the Chancery one bedroom to warrant the £1,500 a night price tag. In terms of style and value, the best of the double rooms cannot be beat.
The Zetter Townhouse
Everyone has an eccentric ancestor and the Zetter Townhouse, a charming Georgian addition across the cobbles from the original Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell, is designed with a whacky, globetrotting aunt in mind. This boutique property, housed in a townhouse on St. John’s Square, is full of antiques, taxidermy and curiosities.
Styled by interior designer Russell Page, the 13 rooms, including several apartments, are each unique and bold with eclectic antiques and whimsical touches, like a peek-a-boo hatch in the bathroom. The mini-bar is stocked with cocktails in miniature bottles such as Fleurs de Mal, a perfumery absinthe and rose concoction or Nettle Gimlet or the omnipotent Twinkle, a mix of vodka, elderflower and Champagne.
Sedate by day, the Zetter Townhouse turns lively at night thanks to the Townhouse’s popular cocktail bar, a collaboration between the Zetter and the creators of the award-winning 69 Colebrooke Row. And while the Townhouse doesn’t have its own restaurant, the talented French chef of Bistro Bruno Loubet (across the courtyard at the original Zetter) prepares mouth-watering snacks (think deep-fried anchovy olives with aioli, octopus in ink sauce) and light suppers.
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