SL GOLD Meets… Anouska Hempel
SL GOLD Meets… Anouska Hempel

SL GOLD Meets… Anouska Hempel

Anouska Hempel is the New Zealand-born Bond actress who has become one of our best-known interior designers – working on some of the UK’s most luxurious hotels, including Blakes and the Hempel. Now 80, she has just won the industry’s prestigious Andrew Martin Lifetime Achievement Award. She sat down with us to talk acting, design philosophy and what the award means to her…


I was born on a boat travelling from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand. I grew up in Wellington until the age of five or six, when my family moved to Forbes in Australia to live on a sheep farm. The Australian countryside was a wonderful place to grow up in. My sister and I had a marvellous childhood and we were very involved in raising the livestock. We had to do everything – plucking, cleaning, packing and freezing our chickens. Looking back, I think it made us incredibly resourceful and creative young women, which I believe set me up for everything I’ve gone on to do. 

My very first acting appearance was in a Cadbury Flake commercial. The film industry was extremely exciting and no day was ever the same. I loved telling stories through the camera as an actress, but I also wanted to produce and direct, and to be a costume and set designer… I wanted to do it all! I’ll always cherish making Time & Again for the BBC with Simon MacCorkindale, which we won an award for. Shot in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast, it was such an exciting filming process. To this day, it remains very close to my heart.

It was always my ultimate aspiration to create a beautiful hotel and my time making films inspired this, acting as a fantastic steppingstone for me to achieve my design dreams. I’ve always been a designer. I don’t remember a moment in my life where I wasn’t fascinated with the beauty of it. At the age of five, I was moving things around, organising my family’s home and making things as stylish as they could be. My imagination has always been my strength, and I knew that I had the flair and the energy it would take to become a designer. So, I did. 

I started out in the little Red Lion on Portobello Road. It was there that I bought and sold silver – with two very small children in tow at the time – and 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. You could say I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit and it’s certainly served me well throughout my career.

My hotel career really happened by chance. I met wonderful people within the film industry and realised that there was absolutely nowhere beautiful to stay. Blakes London grew out of the inspiration I found on my own travels. I brought everything I had seen around the world back to London with me, including two budgerigars! I’ve also always had a passion for service and hospitality, so I wanted to create a hotel where guests could step through the doors and discover a place of unconventional, welcoming luxury. 


Blakes is its own world within a hotel. It's a place that exudes fine living with a sense of drama. My vision was and is for Blakes to be a home away from home, that strikes the right the balance between design-driven theatrical excess and warm hospitality. At the time of its creation, I was going through some personally difficult times. I knew I had to persist, though, so I channelled my energy into creating the kind of oasis that I wanted to live in. Formed around inspirational design, sophisticated allure and impeccable service, Blakes has exuded happiness and cosiness since the day it opened.

I always say there’s a TIME and a PLACE for something – and that extends to MY THOUGHTS ABOUT DESIGN.

Designing the Hempel Hotel was drastically different to the process with Blakes. In terms of the style, it was contemporary in a way beyond that which the world had ever seen before. The ultimate in minimalism – which is as relevant now as it was then – you could still tell it was my hand, but inspired by the principles of zen Buddhist philosophy. It was a space ultimately inspired by the importance of experientialism over materialism.

Being on the first ever cover of The World of Interiors magazine was an indescribable feeling. The best thing I can compare it to is the feeling I had when I saw the hoarding on Cromwell Road. I remember being in complete shock that I was looking at something that I had created, knowing it would be shared with the world. I felt humbled, but also extremely proud and excited.

If I have a LIFE MOTTO I live by, it’s ‘KEEP GOING’.

My design process today is all about the story behind a project. I begin by writing a story of how I see the design of a new concept come together. I research historical references, craftsmanship references and look for small, obscure design details that will bring the concept to life. My style is probably best described as elusive and distinctive. From sumptuous Elizabethan style that employs a deep colour palette and plush fabrics to serene minimalism in constant white, you will still always know that I was there. Everywhere I go I try to leave behind a bit of a statement, some magic and a hint of nonsense.

The secret to a beautifully put together room is imagination. Just don’t overdo it – make sure you have amazing lighting, too, and collect things en masse to make it into a showstopper feature. So often I see people trying too hard in their own homes. It is very easy to go too far with an idea, whether it’s a style, colour or pattern. Throughout any project, you always have to take the time to step back and refine what’s going on.  

I always say there’s a time and a place for something – and that extends to my thoughts about design. It’s a particularly relevant ethos when it comes to using pattern and colour to good effect, which is a question I get asked a lot. I use colour and texture when I see fit, but it never dominates my designs. It’s all about creating a balance between light and dark, hard and soft. That way you can effectively set the stage for any space you work on.

There are some colours I don’t like to work with. For instance, I’m not a fan of pale pink or apricot. Otherwise, very few things are off limits. I am a fan of all styles, too – for me, it matters more what you pick from the different styles that exist out there. Being a good designer ultimately comes down to good selection and editing.

Another common question I’m asked is whether there’s such a thing as an Anouska Hempel signature. It’s hard to pinpoint one particular style, piece of fabric or even furniture… I think I simply leave ‘my mark’. I’ve always said you can spot one of my spaces from a mile away. It probably comes down to the fact that my style is so broad – it makes it hard to define in one, two or even three words.

It's so humbling to be awarded the Andrew Martin Lifetime Achievement Award. But honestly, I’m just so grateful to still be working as much as I always have. At my age, it’s unexpected and thrilling to be acknowledged in this way. When I look back over my life and career, it’s the people I’ve met along the way and their spirit that really sticks in my mind. I’ve loved being part of their journeys and taking on the lessons they’ve passed on. It’s given me so much inspiration over the years.

If I have a life motto I live by, it’s ‘keep going’. And do everything you can to make the world a better, more beautiful place than you found it. It’s my greatest hope that we’re able to leave it a more wonderful place for the young to see and enjoy, because if they can’t, they’ll never know all of the things that are truly possible. 

Anouska Hempel will be awarded the Andrew Martin Lifetime Achievement Award in London on 17th October. Visit for more information on the awards and previous winners. Visit

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