Anouska Hempel: The high priestess of carefully considered eclecticism

Anouska Hempel, London hotelier and interior designer, receives one of the great awards in the world of interior design this week. Giles Kime pays his tribute.

The closest that the interior-design industry gets to the Grammys is the Andrew Martin Awards that, for more than 25 years, have been an annual celebration of the industry’s finest. Although its reach is global, a sizeable British contingent tends to feature on the shortlist and, over the years, winners have included homegrown luminaries such as Rose Uniacke, Kit Kemp and Nicky Haslam. Meanwhile, the overseas designers featured offer an interesting insight into what’s going on beyond these shores, particularly in the Far East.

The great benefit of any awards is that they tend to winkle out the overlooked and the Andrew Martin Awards have a tradition of doing that brilliantly. Although the winner of this year’s prize won’t be crowned until Wednesday 19 October — at the V&A Museum no less — it has already been announced that the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award will be London hotelier and interior designer Anouska Hempel.

She is an inspired choice who would also have been a worthy winner of an unsung-hero award, of which the industry has more than its fair share. Among these is Roger Banks-Pye, a decorating maestro at Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler who decorated the London home of Valentino and died in 1996, aged only 48. Another is Michael Inchbald, who, despite living to 92 and boasting a bulging portfolio that included Claridge’s, The Savoy and the QE2, fell out with the editor of House & Garden and so rarely got the limelight enjoyed by his peers.

Despite the fact that the abilities of Lady Weinberg — she is married to Sir Mark Weinberg — were first highlighted in November 1981, when she was featured on the first-ever issue of The World of Interiors, she’s another designer who has never enjoyed the celebrity in the way of Nina Campbell, John Fowler or David Hicks.

Three years earlier, when she opened the doors of Blakes in South Kensington, the world’s first boutique hotel, she also dreamt up her own brand of coherent eclecticism that was truly distinctive. Eclecticism is a term that covers a multitude of decorating styles, not always desirable, but in her disciplined hands it magically marries styles from different periods that will completely transform a room far beyond the here and the now. It is the intimate and exotic feel the designer conjures that has long made Blakes the Sloane Ranger’s favoured venue for illicit entanglements.

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45 years on, it’s hard to imagine in this jolly world of Ham Yard and Soho Farmhouse how enervating hotel design could be — until the arrival of Lady Weinberg, who shook it up with bravura justly recognised by her award.