LONDON- Blakes Hotel is like a cabinet of curiosities, crammed with art, objects and textiles from every corner of the globe. The Hempel, meanwhile, is an exercise in strict minimalist elegance, with clean white interiors, platform beds and a Japanese inspired garden. Although the two London hotels represent opposing aesthetic styles, both are the product of the same creative force and bear her unmistakable touch. Anouska Hempel – designer of interiors and gardens and a former movie actress – has moved through international style circles since the 1960s. She practically introduced the concept of the boutique hotel with Blakes, and has created flagship retail locations in Paris for Louis Vuitton and Van Cleef & Arpels. Raised in New Zealand and Australia, Hempel (now also known as Lady Weinberg) moved to London at age seventeen and launched an acting career that included a role as a Bond girl. She also scoured the antiques stalls on Portobello Road and honed her taste during her extensive world travels. Brook Mason checked in with the uncompromising London-based designer as Rizzoli prepares to publish a monograph of her most significant projects, including Cole Park, her own magnificently restored English country house.

Anouska_Hempel_RSAnouska Hempel. © Peter Simpkin.

You began as an actress, appearing in the James Bond film on her majesty’s secret service. What led you to interior design? 

Early on I went to Thailand and when I saw the hues of pale sea greens and dusky pinks, I was mesmerised. Arriving in London, I searched out period silver and other antiques on Portobello Road. From there, creating interiors was a natural next step.

You have described your projects as gesamtkunstwerks. How so?

They are first grounded in architecture with strict geometry, essential whether it is a Salzburg chalet or an apartment in the Pierre Hotel, so visually there is cohesiveness. I always densely layer tone on tone, texture on texture, pattern on pattern, light on shadow. And reflecting the high points of artistic endeavours throughout history is critical for me. Chinese cinnabar six-panel screens, 19th-century gilt mirrors, Dutch marquetry commodes and Piranesi engravings of Roman victory columns are integral to my vocabulary. Tablescapes like a clutch of tortoiseshell boxes, which are a favourite of mine, complete the look.

Can you detail how your interiors speak to the rich cultural heritage of their locations?

In my first London hotel venture, 18th-century English country-house prints were the norm, to root guests in Britain. At Blakes Amsterdam, I had in mind the Dutch East India Company and a time when trade with the East was paramount, so I used saffron and cinnamon-brown colours to reference the spice route. The japanned highboys along with blue and white Chinese porcelain also spoke of that time in history.

The Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah in Istanbul is another project where I turned to the indigenous style. Of course, a key attraction is Room 101, a museum space where personal items belonging to the pivotal Turkish leader Atatürk are exhibited. Elsewhere, I highlighted Ottoman textiles. For a vast house in Singapore, I will juxtapose the decorative arts from Imperial China, including jade, lacquer and cloisonné.

anouska-hempel-blakes-hotelThe exotic basement bar of Blakes Hotel, London. © Adrian Houston

Where do you source art and antiques? 

Literally everywhere. I’ve snapped up wonderful ikats in souks. At Sotheby’s London, I plucked up a fabulous Elizabethan portrait.

How should one collect?

Delve deeply into a particular culture, and medium, whether it is armourial plates or tortoiseshell boxes and acquire them en masse.

You travel frequently. Are there any museum exhibitions this season that you plan to see? 

Already pencilled is Bejeweled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. I will be finishing a Greenwich Village town house in New York this spring, so I’ll pop into the Metropolitan Museum show 
Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy.  I’m anxious to see how artists then used gold and lapis lazuli as pigments.

Can you give some tips for sharpening one’s eye for art and antiques?

Travel, travel, travel. Hit Doha, Hong Kong and Beijing. And always haunt the auction houses.


Brook S. Mason is US correspondent for The Art Newspaper.