A who’s who of influential hotel designers

We look at the formidable women behind some of our best-loved boutique stays – from Kit Kemp and Kelly Wearstler

Lucy Fennings

BY Lucy Fennings26 September 2019

Most people know good boutique hotel design and when they see it, but not everyone can identify the people behind the polish – the ones who pick the flooring, paper the walls and hang the blinds. Our who’s who of hotel design looks at the most influential ladies and their leading designs…

Blakes London, Mr and mrs Smith


Blakes, London

Style Seductive, stylish
Setting Secluded SW7
What so good about it? A pioneer among luxury boutique hotels, Blakes in Kensington is synonymous with effortless style and attentive service. Its many years of popularity among London’s fashion and film elite is a testament to Anouska Hempel’s rigorous design perfectionism and sense of theatre. Where she led, many have followed, but there’s still nothing to hold a candle to the discreet opulence and drama of this first, most famous of Hempel hotels.
What else has Anouska done? Lady Weinberg has all manner of design triumphs under her belt, from restaurant interiors (Shy in Jakarta) and fashion flagships (Louis Vuitton in Paris) to couture dresses and fountain pens. Dutch hotel The Dylan started out life as Blakes Amsterdam, and Ms Hempel applied the same vivid imagination and ‘don’t take no for an answer’ guts to transform what was a tricky historic site into one of the world’s most fêted boutique hotels. The hotel recently had an incredible refurb by architect-designers FG Stijl (the boys behind the nearby College Hotel), opening up the public spaces and adding a bar so cool even the Dam’s most recalcitrant residents have ditched their beloved cafés to be seen propping it up. Rooms and suites retain Hempel’s signature decorative schemes, though, and the spirit of Anouska past is still very much present. She’s currently working on the much-anticipated WaraPuru resort in Bahia, Brazil.

Viceroy Santa Monica, Mr and Mrs Smith


Viceroy, Santa Monica

Style Elegant urban beach retreat
Setting Sunny Ocean Avenue
What’s so good about it? Interior designer Kelly Wearstler knows a thing or two about how to give a place a bit of style, and she’s worked some rare magic here at the Viceroy Santa Monica: parakeet-green Chesterfields partner dazzling white Modernist occasional tables, deco-style gazebos are decked out with French dining furniture, and fresh-as-a-daisy decor awaits in the light and airy guest rooms. Credited with creating a new Hollywood Regency style – a style she has also successfully transplanted to the canary-yellow-trimmed Viceroy Palm Springs – Kelly is behind many of the most gorgeous boutique hotels in California.
What else has Kelly done? Once the residence of silent-movie starlet Lillian Gish, Maison 140 in Los Angeles is as glamorous and poised as its former owner. Inside the hotel, Far East meets West Coast as bold Oriental prints preside over vintage French furniture and deco pieces put together with a Modernist’s eye. Eye-catchingly attired in black, white and crimson with lacquered panels, the hotel’s bijou Bar Noir is a well-kept secret among in-the-know Beverly Hills residents and another fine example of Ms Wearstler’s laser-sharp attention to detail. And who’d have thunk it: the glorious revival of Avalon Hotel’s iconic mid-century modern style is also down to the queen of polished perfection. This Beverly Hills boutique hotel sports retro-fabulous ’50s furniture (think Charles Eames chairs, George Nelson lamps and tables by Isamu Noguchi), a vintage hourglass-shaped swimming pool, and a very cool, award-winning restaurant.

Luxury Junior Suite at Haymarket Hotel, Mr and Mrs Smith


Haymarket Hotel, London

Style Witty British bolthole
Setting Theatreland thoroughfare
What’s so good about it? Country‑house charm meets London sophistication at this central London boutique hotel right on Piccadilly Circus. Kit Kemp’s quirkily colourful interiors, an eye-popping indoor pool-cum-bar and a made-for-peoplewatching restaurant make the Haymarket a particularly fine example of Kemp’s trademark design style: bold prints plus bright palette, used with clever restraint and English wit.
What else has Kit done? As design director of the Firmdale hotel group she founded with husband Tim, Kit is also the creative brain behind the Soho Hotel and the Covent Garden Hotel, among others – but despite having designed nearly 400 hotel rooms, no two are ever identical.


Hotel Tresanton, Cornwall

Style Breezy beach house
Setting Chocolate-box Cornish village
What’s so good about it? Design doyenne of the Forte family, Olga’s common-sense style and comfort-first approach to decor has seen her hotels win devoted fans and weather the storm of ever-changing hotel trends with ease. We love Tresanton for its unstuffy look and for staying true to its Cornish location; this boutique hotel’s subtle maritime theming (the building was once a yachting club) has a distinct hint of cruising and its beach-house chic puts you in a relaxed, ‘let’s unwind’ frame of mind.
What else has Olga done? Polizzi-style palaces include Brown’s Hotel in London, which she was commissioned to refurbish; and Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, another flag-flier for classic English country chic.

Condesa DF, Mexico City, Mr and Mrs Smith


Condesa DF, Mexico City

Style Floral Mex
Setting Posing by the park
What’s so good about it? Paris-based designer India Mahdavi is behind the crazy-cool-colourful world of Mexico City’s hippest hangout, Condesa DF. Architecturally striking (thanks to Javier Sánchez’s sensitive restoration of the art deco shell), the interiors are a canny mix of vibrant hues and natural textures: it’s Mexico, but not as you know it. Bold floral graphics zing off hardwood panelling, and intense teal blue adds electricity to high-gloss white and frosted glass. Huge doors slide closed to separate bedrooms from pretty lounges decked with flower-emblazoned chairs. Open a window, and birdsong washes in from the leafy park over the road. We love.
What else has India done? Ms Mahdavi also designed New York’s divine Hotel on Rivington; and funky little breakout pad, the Townhouse in Miami, which has one of the coolest rooftop bars in Florida.

Next, skip to this year’s award-winning selection of best-dressed hotels