Review by Fiona Duncan, published 8th June 2008.
The address is Chelsea. The street, of tall, redbrick houses, lies just behind Peter Jones. Well-heeled London at its most British, you might think, but step inside 29 Draycott Place and you’ll find yourself firmly in well-heeled Italy. We’re talking old-school excess – gilt and silk, urns and cherubs: the glossy Italian equivalent of the English country-house look at its most florid.
The drawing room is filled with Italian antiques: a chest of drawers sprinkled with ormolu; a shiny walnut tallboy; Empire-style clocks and vases; and sofas that could, somehow, only be Italian. The adjoining reception room houses a classically styled display cabinet filled with carefully arranged objets, from military medals to beaded evening bags.
The staff complete the look. The smooth young man in Armani glasses who checked us in could only be Italian, as indeed could the hotel’s owner and creator, Marisa Melpignano, who speaks little English but who is a force to be reckoned with. She spends part of her time in Puglia, at her family’s well-known hotel, Masseria San Domenico, but here in London she has taken over the former Sloane Hotel and the house next door to create 15 bedrooms and a suntrap of a secret roof terrace where you can sip drinks and eat light (Italian) dishes.
Each bedroom is different, each astonishing, including six splendid “gallery rooms” with mezzanine sitting areas that look down on a silk-canopied bed. There was, however, a musky, perfumed scent in the air that I could have done without: Signora Melpignano’s own creation, apparently. The bathrooms in the newly acquired building are large, by the way; those that belonged to the old Sloane Hotel are smaller and rather passé.
Unfortunately, I liked my room least of all those I saw, though it would have helped if someone had turned on the lamps (and the towel rail) before we were shown in, because the dark purple curtains, wallpaper and carpet were oppressive.
“What do you think?” I asked Marit, our favourite au pair who had returned to London after a 22-year absence. She paused for thought. “I’d get straight into bed, turn off the light and wait for a new day to come.” She always was to the point.
While the older rooms mix Signora Melpignano’s singular style with antiques and pictures inherited from the Sloane Hotel, the newer rooms, each different, are pure Italianate, as is the pretty breakfast room, with its gold chair cushions, lace tablecloths and paintings of flowers and fruit on patterned wallpaper.
Earlier that day, Marit and I had visited our old family home, where she had lived with us. It was unrecognisable, a white minimalist shell from which all memories had been expunged. It made me realise how much houses can change. Right now, 29 Draycott Place is an Italian secret; one day it will be something quite different.
29-31 Draycott Place, London SW3 (020 7581 5757; www.sandomenicohouse.com). Doubles from £255 to £360 per night; breakfast from £14. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.