Visitors are given the friendliest of welcomes. “We’re brothers! Do you know St Peter’s Church Brighton? It is an HTB plant. We’re a church plant of St Peter’s. We’re a plant of a plant! We have a congregation of about 200 people.” HTB is of course Holy Trinity Brompton, the Anglican church in Kensington where the Alpha Course began in 1977. Alpha, a series of interactive sessions exploring the basics of the Christian faith, soon exploded into the worldwide phenomenon it is now.
To be frank, it wasn’t the hardest decision in the world to while away a wintry Saturday afternoon, yes, the perfected world of a Saturday afternoon, wistfully tucked up in a swanky five star Knightsbridge hotel. Add Anouska Hempel (Lady Weinberg to you) to the mix, and it’s a given. The Franklin Hotel, retrieving the definite article, belongs to the family of London terraced houses turned boutique hotels by the New Zealand born designer, from the (very open) maximalist Blakes to the (now closed) minimalist Hempel. From the outside, it’s terribly similar to No.11 Cadogan Gardens. A Pont Street precursor perhaps? All candid brick elevations with canted bay windows. A cute crow stepped gable above a petite portico marks the entrance.
Anouska Hempel waxes lyrical on her latest creation, “The English love the Italians. The romance of Rome and Venice. All combined, opposite the Brompton Oratory, have become The Combination. Dark brooding greys and bright sparkling whites: floors of Carrara marble and slate. Garden windows abound onto a row of umbrella shaped pear trees. The glorious couture tables make the ground garden floor a sensation. I have had these made specifically to follow the floorplate. Venetian wells, piazzas, squares, dark greys with white punctuations. Mysterious.” Such moods, such moods and modulations.
Digging deeper, Loretto alumna Lady Weinberg, fresh from a stay at Abbey Leix, dwells on creation at large, “I hope that I have something more important to give the world than just what you see on the level of where I’m living at the moment. I think my mission is to bring peace and harmony and a sense of enjoyment, and also to bring something special into ordinary everyday life. I really have been very fortunate to have a little talent, and also incredibly fortunate to have had so many great opportunities. But I strongly feel that I am not the source of my own creativity, which must come from somewhere else.” Painterly, scholarly, otherworldly.
Bowing to mannerism, call it architectural etiquette, the palazzo look certainly isn’t by chance. This is the latest addition to Starhotels, an Italian family owned group. The bedlinen in each of the 35 bedrooms may be 400 thread count Italian Frette linen but the wrought iron balustrades of the enfilade were inspired by English conservatories. A mutual attraction | a binational lock-in love-in | a European commission. Anglophile Elisabetta Fabri, President and CEO of Starhotels, tipped off the designer about her passion. Anouska took it to fruition – with rigour. Hers is a symmetrical staging of sculpture: discovered, framed, mounted, foreground, background, grounded, released. Walls fading to trompe l’oeil, a mirage of Venetian eglomisée mirrors in the restaurant reflect the wonders of Alfredo Russo’s culinary capability. The Piedmont born chef snapped up his first Michelin star aged 24. Expect tiptop modern Italian cuisine. Disappointment is not, no never, on the menu. Exhilaration is. There are more highlights than a National Theatre performance of Amadeus.
Bed is a reinvented fourposter rising to a spidery crown, apropos to a rococo reverie or a baroque dream or a contemporary vision. It’s impossible not to be hyperbolic about this parabolic scrawl in the perfumed air. The entry to an arcane deserted world. And so late Saturday afternoon, yes, luscious late Saturday afternoon, descends into an undeclared denouement: a happy convergence of atavism with hymn charms. Shadow puppets at play. Unfurling the hours spent, later, so much later, upon reflection, through a glass, darkly; frankly it’s all about Franklin scents and mirrors.