Anouska Hempel : The Original Kelly Wearstler

I've always liked Anouska Hempel and her extraordinary taste. A friend of mine calls her "The Original Kelly Wearstler" and I can see the link. Both have slightly racy pasts, having showed off their bodies to get ahead in the design world. (Ms Wearstler did a Playboy spread – a tasteful one, mind you – to pay her way through college, while Ms Hempel did a few David Hamilton-style films, which she's since bought the rights to stop distribution.) Both have drive, and ambition. And both have developed their own individual, highly recognisable decorating styles.

Kelly Wearstler was one of the first to celebrate the Hollywood Regency look, and has since developed it into her own high-glam Hollywood style. While Anouska Hempel was one of the first to identify that black was fabulous in interiors, and went onto to make the all-black look famous in places such as her Blakes Hotels in London and Amsterdam, above. (Which has now been sold and renamed The Dylan.)

But of the two, it is perhaps Anouska that I most admire. {Image via FT; see link below.} You have to like a woman whose biography reads like a Colleen McCullough novel.

Born on a boat en route from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand, Anouska Hempel and her family settled in a town called Lower Hutt, then moved to the Outback to find their fortune, and then to Sydney, before Anouska decided to make her way to London with just ten pounds in her pocket. She appeared in a James Bond film, then another couple of dubious movies, before deciding there were better ways to forge a career. Two years later, she married Constantine Hempel, a journalist and property developer who died. There was another marriage, then a divorce, and then, finally, marital bliss (and financial comfort) with financier Sir Mark Weinberg.

The girl from Lower Hutt had finally became a London aristocrat.

Along the way she took a run-down guesthouse in South Kensington that she had purchased and turned it into, as she stated (and she's right) "the world's first boutique hotel". Blakes is now something of a legendary hideaway, especially among the celebrity crowd.

One reviewer wrote: “its beautifully stylish black setting is as dark as eyeliner, and that’s why this intimate South Kensington hotel is an old standby for illicit rendezvous and discreet business meetings."

However, it has been 20 years since Blakes first opened its glamorous doors and so this year, it was given a little decorating nip and tuck. It has just re-opened and the spaces are more beautiful than ever. Room prices have also become more reasonable, so many of us may even be able to afford to stay there now!

But while interior design is Ms Hempel's m├ętier, perhaps her greatest strength is her horticultural prowess. Sure, she creates memorable rooms, but her gardens are truly works of art. The newly revived Blakes features a remarkable conservatory and garden that is reason enough for checking in, but her other gardens, including her own at Cole Park and one she designed for Princess Margaret, are just as sublime on the eye.

Here's a glimpse at the extraordinary design aesthetic of a woman who's certainly come a  long, long way. Oh – and there's another great article from the Wall Street Journal here, and another here from the Financial Times.

{Via Robb Report}

{Via Anouska Hempel Design}

Cole Park, Anouska Hempel's Wiltshire estate. {Images via Daryl Wark}

The Dylan Hotel Amsterdam (formerly Blake's). {Via Blakes/The Dylan}

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