In an industry full of famous names and outsized personalities, Anouska Hempel is in a league of her own. She adds another feather in her cap with Six Senses Duxton.
By Terrie V. Gutierrez
For the cinephiles, there’s the Bond connection, of course. She had her turn as a Bond girl in the 60s, appearing in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as well as masses of commercials. However, appearing in the silver screen paled in comparison to what she wanted to do all along: creating interesting spaces. “From the age of five, I was organising everybody’s everything,” she says in Vanity Fair. “If I didn’t like the way it looked, I’d re-arrange it.”
This strong point of view made her leave acting (“I wanted to be the director or producer,” she said) and pursue interior design, something that would allow her to leave her mark — and how.
Architectural Digest named her one of its Top 100 Designers and Architects in the World twice — one in 1990 and in 2002. What makes the honour even more significant is that Hempel, has had no formal training in interior design. All she has is her discerning eye and an innate sense of taste.
Hempel set about making her mark in the design world with Blakes Hotel, her first project that made people sit up and take notice that she was a designer to contend with. Arguably the first boutique hotel that can be called worthy of its name, Blakes — small, individualistic and brimming with personality, the very essence of a boutique hotel — stood out in the late 70s. People then had a choice between high-end establishments or dinky B&Bs. There was nothing in between.
And so, scraping together money from loans and savings from her commercials, Hempel bought two townhouses in South Kensington and refurbished them. It took years to build, but Blakes was an instant hit when it opened. And right from the start, Hempel’s distinctive style — opulent, eclectic, with a hint of bohemian — was apparent. London’s who’s who loved it and soon Blakes had expanded into the neighbouring buildings.
Since then, Hempel or Lady Weinberg as she is more popularly known now (having wed financier Sir Mark Weinberg in 1980) has gone on to design stunning projects that showcase her originality. Some of her projects have been for her and her husband, like their houses in Wiltshire and Knightsbridge. She has also designed several more hotels as well as a stunning Turkish gulet called the Beluga, which has black sails on its two masts, like a pirate ship. One of her most recent designs is Six Senses Duxton, set to open mid-April this year.
A treat for the senses
Six Senses Duxton is her first hotel in Singapore. Originally called the Duxton Club, the hotel was a project with her friends, boutique hotel developers, the Garchas. Harpreet Bedi and Satinder Garcha are fans of her work, having stayed at Blakes whenever they’re in London that they invited her to design their new hotel as well as their home.
“Why not?” she asked, with a shrug of her shoulders when asked about why this hotel. “I like the Garchas very much, I like Singapore very much. I like the food, I like the people, I like the whole atmosphere. Singapore has such an eclectic mix of people.”
Entering the boutique hotel is going into Lady Weinberg’s whimsical-yet-sophisticated version of the Orient. The colour scheme is predominantly yellow, black and gold, with folding Chinese fans, Oriental screens, and calligraphy wallpaper from the Anouska Hempel Collection combining into an elegant whole.
Each of the 49 guestrooms and suites has a unique individuality — no two are exactly the same. Lady Weinberg has given guests an eccentric, elegant surprise. Working with the restrictions of a heritage building and variations in room sizes, Lady Weinberg was nevertheless able to express her vision throughout the hotel. There’s a magnificent Kimono Suite and smaller spaces she refers to as petit grandeur.
The Chinese restaurant on the ground floor will offer a fine dining menu of classic and innovative Chinese cuisine. Dishes will be served in large yellow bowls, black tiffins and bento boxes, with diners using extra-long chopsticks or “wok sticks” as Lady Weinberg calls them. Hanging lamps are deliberately set low on the table, providing illumination on the food but also giving diners intimacy. Adjacent is an antiquarian library themed lobby bar serving up the hotel’s signature house cocktail of hot whiskey, brandy and absinthe, crowned with a yellow chrysanthemum.
When we met up with her, the hotel was not quite finished, but already, the interiors bear her distinctive style of eclectic sophistication with huge dose of whimsy and fun.
After all, this is what she wanted to achieve. “I hope to have wonderful imaginative people to have the best time of their lives when they come here and dance and sing and drink all night and not ever want to go home. That’s what I want to achieve, a lifestyle of pure happiness.”