Once owned by Henry Austen — and where his sister Jane wrote parts of Sense and Sensibility — Henry’s Townhouse in Marylebone proffers Georgian splendour and a real home-from-home in the heart of the capital, says Paula Lester.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, as Jane Austen didn’t quite say, that staying in London overnight can be a rather hit and miss affair. I suspect this is especially true for those of us who live in the midst of the countryside and find it hard to get a decent night’s kip, as our bustling and perennially noisy city never quite sleeps.
However, as soon as I approached Henry’s Townhouse, at 24, Upper Berkeley Street, then traversed the spotless stone steps and pressed the doorbell, I knew this was going to be one of those times when the country really enjoys going to town.
This was further confirmed when Ann Grimes, the assiduous house manager, opened the gleaming black painted front door and immediately took my coat and hung it on a peg in the hallway. Knowing that I had had an early start from Dorset and a disrupted train journey, she whisked me into the drawing room and, within minutes, I was relaxing with a lovely cup of Earl Grey, from a pot and poured into a bone china cup and saucer, plus a reviving glass of English champagne.
Also, as I was on my own and not keen on going out to eat solo, Ann kindly ordered an Indian takeaway, which I ate in Monsieur Olivant’s cosy basement pantry (above, complete with a white Aga), as we both agreed that it would be a terrible if I got turmeric on the pristine white sheets in my room. And, goodness me, what a room it was. Each of the six bedrooms, including two suites, is named after a member of the Austen family. I was in Cassandra (below, Jane’s beloved elder sister) — a delightful confection of powder blue walls, a glistening chandelier, the biggest bed (with a generous topper and the softest linen sheets, which made it seem like sleeping on a cloud) and a host of carefully chosen 18th century antique pieces of furniture.
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Then, if that was not enough, I opened a set of white double doors to find a dressing table on one side and a floor-to-ceiling cupboard on the other, containing a free mini bar, a Nespresso coffee machine and a Dyson hairdryer. The centrepiece, however, was a huge rainfall shower above an elegant roll top bath, surrounded by an extravagant, circular cream shower curtain. I also appreciated the marble-topped washstand, which afforded plenty of space to spread out the copious contents of my wash bag that there’s not usually enough room for in hotel bathrooms.
Best of all, though, was that — like everywhere in this impeccably restored four-storey Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse — it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. And so, in the morning, after a restful sleep and an ample breakfast (a glorious full English, plus a ‘Golden Glow’ Press smoothie and a delicious Fire & Flow latte) at the expansive refectory table in the pantry, I took the leisurely 20-minute walk to the office and arrived feeling as relaxed and refreshed as I would have done if I had stayed in a friend’s home.
Living the literary high life at Henry’s Townhouse
- Lovingly restored by Steven and Jane Collins — who also run Temple Guiting Manor in the Cotswolds, the townhouse was in a sorry, dilapidated state when the couple bought it. However, they worked with designer, Russell Sage (The Goring and Dishoom) and architects Feix&Merlin, to remodel it as an opulent Regency-style bolthole — rescuing wood-panelling, joinery, secret jib doors and cornicing—before it opened in 2020
- As well as beautifully appointed reception spaces — Henry’s drawing room is all dark wood, striped sofas and rich burgundy-red velvet swagged curtains, in contrast to Jane’s equivalent in muted shades of pistachio, pink and lilac — there’s a terrace, a rarity in London, that’s ideal for pre-supper cocktails or catching some rays
- Each room has its own distinctive style: James’s studio-style suite, has an impressive four poster and a chess board and Phylly, possibly the longest mattress in London at 7ft. However, my favourite is Eliza (named for Jane’s sister-in-law), with exquisite mother of pearl and period tiles (above) sourced by the owner, Jane, which rise up behind a bath enveloped in pale blush and violet striped silk canvas tented en-suite
- Fully indulge in the house’s literary connections by settling down in the quirky snug on the first floor landing — designed to look like a vintage railway carriage — to read one of the many first-edition Austens. Or immerse yourself in Arthur Conan Doyle’s world by visiting Sherlock Holmes’ ‘residence’ at nearby 221B, Baker Street.
- Thoughtful little details lie everywhere you look, from the miniature portraits on room keys to the townhouse’s range of six ceramic-bisque, cameo-embellished scented candles, which are designed to evoke life in Regency London