Award-winning interior designer, architect and ex-Bond Girl Anouska Hempel offers The Resident a rare glimpse inside her non-stop world and her love for Notting Hill Gate and Portobello Road
Words: Bethan Andrews
Within the first five minutes of our meeting, Anouska Hempel chooses to neglect the fact that soon after moving from Australia to London she became a high-society social figure, designed clothes for Princess Diana, stores for Louis Vuitton and restaurants for people such as Tom Aitkens. For someone who has achieved her accolades – which, if you didn’t already know, the lengthy list also includes playing a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – she is abruptly modest.
‘I wish everybody would stop this actress business,’ says Hempel – now also known as Lady Weinberg after her marriage to financier Sir Mark Weinberg. ‘The actress thing just happened along the middle of the path, in a funny kind of way, but as an “actress”? No, it’s quite hard to link me to it really,’ she continues.
There’s still, also worth observing, no mention of being listed in Architectural Digest’s Top 100 Interior Designers and Architects. ‘Oh, they were just very sweet to me,’ she replies to my mention of this. At least they clearly realise that, above her successes elsewhere, she has ‘been designing most of her life’ and in a very perfect fashion at that.
‘Through childhood I was constantly rearranging things,’ she says with a smile. ‘I just reorganised everyone’s lives all of the time so I was a pain in the neck. I think I was probably unbearable.’
Today, she runs – still in an as hands-on manner as when she created the infamous Blakes in 1978 – Anouska Hempel Design, a hugely successful international design company based in a beautiful little mews building in Notting Hill. Her passion for the area is infectiously evident: ‘How about Notting Hill Gate and Portobello Road? That’s what I really like to talk about,’ smiles Hempel. And with that, she earnestly talks me through how she started out in Notting Hill, her love for the shabby nature of the postcode, and why she hasn’t left.
‘It started down in the little Red Lion on Portobello Road with my two very small children at the time, buying and selling silver. We used to go up to the top of the road and buy lots of things, clean them up, smile a little bit and then sell them at the bottom of the road. That was a wonderful life in Notting Hill Gate for me,’ she says. ‘Notting Hill Gate is important to me so I went on and did The Hempel in Bayswater.’
The Hempel is a project that she is particularly proud of, and it’s not hard to see why with its beautiful private Zen Garden and a simplicity taken from the Orient. ‘You have to look out of your window and see something beautiful, and then you have to see something beautiful when you’re looking inside,’ she explains.
The garden and the house really should be done together from the start
‘So every sort of axis of where you are has got to have beauty at either end of it. That means you’ve got a harmonious string, like a double happiness.’ She goes onto explain that this Chinese way of working, a process that the Dutch do particularly well, is something that people in England don’t practice so well. ‘It’s a load of rubbish – the garden and the house really should be done together from the start,’ she adds. This is something that Hempel practices with all her designs.
With 10 major projects underway at the moment and, in her own words, Hempel Design being ‘flat out’, she still shows no signs of taking a step back. ‘No, not at all – I have no intention of slowing down,’ she remarks.
Hempel’s design ethos doesn’t follow one central theme throughout her different projects all around the world. ‘No theme, all totally different depending on where I am,’ she says. ‘But for me, it’s just got to have a little bit of magic about it.’
Despite passionately telling me that Notting Hill is preserving itself wonderfully and that everyone should leave it alone, Hempel does acknowledge that elements of the area can be enhanced from the inside and the outside, so long as you don’t start thinking about big changes. ‘Notting Hill has almost everything anyone could want. It’s got wonderful crossovers, from elegance to rickety,’ she says.
So from Hempel in the future? ‘I think a lot of people’s work is looking very similar to mine at the moment, but I’ve got a new idea so just you wait.’ And that’s exactly what we’ve done, with baited breath for the next little bit of magic which will arrive in July 2016 in the shape of the Franklin Hotel, an intimate Knightsbridge hotel overlooking Egerton Gardens.