The year was 1978, and Anouska Hempel was in the prime of her acting career. A New Zealand-born actress known for her work in controversial, boundary-pushing, occasionally erotic films, she had begun her career at the age of 21 when she moved to London with only £10 to her name.
One year later, she starred in the cult horror drama The Kiss of the Vampire, and went on to appear as an “angel of death” in the sixth instalment of the James Bond series On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Cinephiles and London pop culture historians may know Hempel as the elegant, beautiful star of the silver screen. Today she is known as one of Architectural Digest’s most influential interior designers in the world, and one London boutique hotel in particular, known as the Blakes, has brought her considerable acclaim.
How did Hempel go from doe-eyed damsel in distress to powerful London designer in a matter of decades? Her story is undeniably inspiring, yet it is interspersed with some elements of tragedy.
Her first husband, a property developer named Constantine Hempel, passed away when their two children were still young. However, at the time of his death, her husband was making a considerable impact on the world of architecture, combining his journalistic education with a passion for finery.
In life he had worked both as a writer and as a developer. The legacy he left behind encouraged the widowed Hempel to pursue a secondary dream: interior design. In this realm, she has truly managed to make a long-lasting impact. Which brings us back to 1978, when the Blakes Hotel in London first opened its doors to the public.
The Roland Gardens address speaks of luxury and prestige, and the Blakes itself offers a seductive escape from the chaos of the South Kensington-Chelsea neighbourhoods. It also has the distinction of being one of the most private boutique hotels in London. Indeed, with a variety of amenities available within these four walls, plenty of guests never venture outside of the Blakes for dinner and entertainment.
The Blakes is a secular cathedral, a place of transcendental beauty. Guests frequently speak of the hotel’s timelessness, the way that settling into a room enables them to feel as though they are part of a much larger story.
Blakes employees understand the individualistic, artistic mentality of many of their guests, and allow them to make the space their own. At the Blakes, solitude is not only respected. It is encouraged.
If you are visiting London alone, the Blakes is a particularly wonderful choice. Whether you are only in town for a weekend, taking in the glamour of London Fashion Week, or planning to put down roots, the solo traveler can check in to one of the hotel’s famous single Parisian Rooms, each filled with bespoke luxuries and providing a quiet oasis inspired by timeless French style.
Suites at the Blakes are individually designed and separated into two distinct categories: Luxury and Signature. The Biedermeier Luxury Suite is known for its rich masculine colour scheme and contemporary design, while the Dorian Grey provides a sophisticated step back into time with a muted grey and black colour palette inspired by the literary history of Victorian England.
The Corfu Signature Suite is a fairytale come alive, with a soft feminine ambience that is almost otherworldly. Mother of pearl furniture adds a slight touch of colour to an angelic all-white atmosphere. On the other hand, the dark and moody Library Suite provides a home away from home in the form of a stylized gentlemen’s club; the air of exclusivity is accentuated by the unique pieces of antique furniture.
There is no denying that Anoushka Hempel’s creative vision for the boutique hotel of the future has come alive in the Blakes’ world-famous rooms. However, one of Kensington’s best-kept secrets is the Blakes Below Bar, open to hotel guests and long-term residents — as well as a few A-list clientele. The opulent invite-only bar is known for its Asian fusion cocktails, ever-shifting playlist, and intimate dining experience.
Images via Blakes London.