HKS recently completed South Kensington Club in London SW7. Previously the Harrington Club founded by Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood, the new club is clearly designed for a different type of experience with interiors that are comfortably eclectic and packed with opportunities for body and soul to recuperate and revitalize as well as for members to socialize and work. Above all, the domestic scale of most of the rooms together with the vintage chic of a lot of the furniture and fittings make for a very homely atmosphere. This is a club for all ages and the many nationalities who live and work in South Kensington.
South Kensington Club's main building was originally constructed as the Georgian-era Queens Gate Music Hall in the late 1800s and is a listed property while, to the rear, it extends into a mews building which was the first studio of artist Francis Bacon. Guests are thereby offered two entrances, either the discreet option from the mews with direct access to the gym and wellness facilities or the more public main entrance on Harrington Road. Here, the interior design features which recur through the club are immediately evident: a passion for things Italian - the current owner is DB Hospitality established by the Sicilian property and hospitality entrepreneur, Luca Del Bono - and the narrative of exploration and travel. The reception desk is three tonnes worth of volcanic lava block cut from the slopes of Mount Etna and walls are clad in white travertine, elegantly contrasting with the original staircase, which has been restored, and the reclaimed oak flooring. Rounding the stairs, large original windows look onto a delightful outdoor terrace with simple Mediterranean-style furniture, there is a profusion of greenery in huge Sicilian pots and a collection of panamas are arranged on wall hooks.
For HKS, the biggest challenge was re-configuring the interior spaces within their heritage protected envelope, involving several major architectural interventions. The kitchen needed to be relocated from the ground floor to the basement, creating an area for the lively Mediterranean restaurant, the lift had to be moved, many of the spaces had to be opened up, transforming them from dark nightclub rooms into light all-day venues, and the spa experience needed to be enhanced emphasising the wellness component. Additionally, HKS introduced an all-new services infrastructure and co-ordinated the refurbishment of listed parts.
In keeping with the club's manifesto that "wellness should be a central focus of daily life", the bath house stages several cultural bathing traditions. There are Russian banyas, two of which can be hired for private use, a Turkish Hamman and, emanating from Asia via California, a Watsu aquatic therapy pool. Accommodated within the part of the building which was Francis Bacon's studio, the bath house also includes relaxation areas and a tea library. Natural materials abound, such as stone, wood and copper; the rustic chic of the banyas is in harmony with the serene colonial quality of the tea lounge with its bamboo rocking chairs, soft lighting and traditional dresser displaying speciality teas.
The architecture of the pool area is monastic in its simplicity - pure white plastered walls, an Italianate colonnade with cushioned benches and a vaulted ceiling enclose the space, while mirrored walls at each end of the space create a magical experience of infinity. The dark lava stone tiles of the pool make it as deeply mysterious as any natural rock pool and the warm water is seawater brought all the way from the shores of Sicily.
While the gymnasium offers the latest in equipment, its interior design is altogether of a far cosier note. Occupying the entire top floor of the main building and with a magnificent restored skylight extending much of its length and windows at regular intervals, the gym is an uplifting, light-filled space with leather upholstered furnishings, a large fireplace and a richly toned walnut floor. To one end, an original stained glass window also provides striking contrast to the state-of-art TechnoGym kit, while, in the evenings, free-standing floor lamps cast comfortable pools of illumination.
The design of the club's first floor Sitting Room suggests 1970s Palm Springs with its combination of mid-century furniture and sporty accents. Its cosy residential ambiance features brazilian Percival Lafer chairs and an eclectic collection of side tables. The design of the bar, alluding to an old bar at the Grand Hotel et des Palmes in Palermo, feels more like a comfortable home kitchen island. Beyond the Sitting Room is the 'Voyager Club Room' where the excitement of exploration is embodied in numerous details from fascinating antique cameras and old maps to collections of National Geographic and a Peter Beard lead painting entitled Edge of the World. Plantation style shutters to the windows allow light to filter through - an inspiring backdrop to the lectures on travel and exploration which are held here.
"The South Kensington Club is truly a one-off, reflecting the passions of the client and effortlessly ranging through different cultures," commented Luciano Mazza, lead designer for the project and Principal of HKS Hospitality Group. "The experience is a home-from-home for the multi-cultural communities of South Kensington but the club also looks outwards, inviting members to journey in their minds to far-away places and far-off times."
Photography: Will Pryce