If Miss Hav­isham went to Frieze…

The naked truth is that this un­stuffy high-end ho­tel is a place of beau­ti­fully eclec­tic taste

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

First things first. The Whitby, de­spite its name, is not ac­tu­ally in Whitby, North York­shire. The Whitby is a swanky ho­tel in up­per mid­town Man­hat­tan two blocks from Cen­tral Park. This is con­fus­ing for a lit­eral-minded per­son such as me, who rather ex­pected to find greasy fish-and-chip wrap­pers lit­ter­ing the en­trance and caw­ing seag­ulls cir­cling the lobby as soon as I ar­rived. But it turns out The Whitby has very lit­tle to do with its Bri­tish name­sake, at least in terms of aes­thetic. You see, The Whitby is very arty.

I can tell this be­cause the lobby ceil­ing is criss-crossed with gi­ant rain­bow-coloured threads, as if I’m about to be cap­tured in a brightly de­signed net. This is what arty types call “an in­stal­la­tion”. To one side, there’s a spooky grand­fa­ther clock that fea­tures a ghostly Fa­ther Time rub­bing out and re­draw­ing the hands as each minute passes. The din­ing room wall is smat­tered with ce­ramic plates in Per­spex boxes. Sev­eral wo­ven bas­kets hang per­ilously above the bar, as if bought in a job lot by a gas­tropub chain that serves thrice­fried chips and limp Cae­sar sal­ads and wishes to give the im­pres­sion of his­toric, ru­ral charm de­spite be­ing sit­u­ated in Clapham and be­ing booked out mostly for hen-dos. There is a lamp con­structed from bits of drift­wood and a dis­em­bod­ied male stone torso emerg­ing un­ex­pect­edly from the pat­terned wall­pa­per.

It is all ut­terly bats, as if Miss Hav­isham had gone to Frieze and then kit­ted out a ho­tel. But al­though The Whitby’s de­sign is noisy, the phys­i­cal space is bless­edly quiet. In my bed­room, which con­tin­ues the eclec­tic mix of fur­nish­ings (cur­tains that mis­match the rug, which in turn cheer­fully mis­matches both the arm­chair up­hol­stery and the sofa cush­ions), the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows blot out all the traf­fic sounds. The room smells de­li­cious: a mix­ture of eu­ca­lyp­tus and jas­mine, and I have thought­fully been left a scented can­dle in case my pro­longed pres­ence up­sets the bal­ance of this del­i­cate flo­ral fra­grance. There is an old-fash­ioned gramo­phone and a col­lec­tion of records in­clud­ing Bil­lie Hol­i­day and the Break­fast At Tif­fany’s sound­track.

The bath­room is quite sim­ply one of the most beau­ti­ful I have ever en­coun­tered. The lower walls and floor are greyveined mar­ble, so that be­ing in it feels glo­ri­ously as if I am en­cir­cled by odour­less Stil­ton. There are two basins, a walk-in shower and good-qual­ity sham­poo and con­di­tioner served up in gen­er­ously sized bot­tles – not those teeny-tiny tubes of di­luted shower gel that keep slip­ping out of your hands as you try to squeeze them dry.

The tub is just big enough that I can stretch out com­fort­ably and rest my head on the curved lip. There is a tele­vi­sion at one end, with a wa­ter­proof re­mote control, and al­though one shouldn’t ap­prove of such things, al­though any ho­tel re­viewer worth her Hi­malayan pink sea salt would dis­dain the pres­ence of a screen in the bath­room as ter­ri­bly in­fra dig, I draw a bub­ble bath and watch an episode of Keep­ing Up with the Kar­dashi­ans and, quite frankly, it is bliss.

The in-room din­ing menu com­prises four pages of food and 17 of al­co­hol, which is a ra­tio I ap­prove of. It speaks, per­haps, of The Whitby’s Bri­tish her­itage – this is the lat­est ho­tel from the Fir­m­dale group, a home-grown com­pany run by hus­band-and­wife team, Tim and Kit Kemp, which in­cludes The Soho and Ham Yard ho­tels in Lon­don. It is Kit who is re­spon­si­ble for the in­te­ri­ors. My room comes with a glossy cof­fee ta­ble book out­lin­ing her aes­thetic prin­ci­ples.

“One of my key de­sign mantras has al­ways been ‘never use a fab­ric you would not sit on in the nude’,” she writes breezily. It makes me look at the sofa rather dif­fer­ently. I won­der how many other guests have read this and been tempted to press their naked but­tocks against the up­hol­stery. I do not try it out my­self.

Kemp’s unique de­sign eye is never at the cost of com­fort. My room feels cosy yet gen­er­ous and The Whitby as a whole has an at­mos­phere that is lux­u­ri­ous yet un­stuffy. It is a rare qual­ity in mod­ern ho­tels, most of which stick to pal­ettes of whites and icy neu­trals, as if min­i­mal­ism is the hall­mark of money well spent. The Whitby has a dif­fer­ent way of do­ing things, and the more time I spend sur­rounded by its ec­cen­tric­ity, the more I am charmed by it.

ROOMS FROM 18W 56th Street, New York (001 212 586 5656; tele­graph.co.uk/ tt-the­whitby)

This has a lot to do with the staff. Ev­ery­one I meet who works here in­tro­duces them­selves in a way that is both dis­creet and friendly. None of it feels pushy or in­ter­fer­ing. The events man­ager is one of the best-look­ing peo­ple I have ever laid eyes on in the flesh: a man who looks like one of those mod­els you get in photo-frames, advertising not only the frame it­self but a bet­ter way of life. The bar­tender is de­light­ful when she mixes me a cock­tail, al­though sadly the cock­tail it­self tastes of cran­ber­rysoaked dish­wa­ter, which is a rare duff note in a place of such ex­quis­ite taste. Later, the waiter brings me a pot of jas­mine tea dur­ing din­ner with­out mur­mur.

“Sorry it’s such a weird drink or­der,” I say, as the per­fectly grilled sal­mon ar­rives. I’m jet-lagged, I ex­plain, and if I don’t have a cup of tea I will prob­a­bly nod off. “No, no,” the waiter replies with a smile. “You must drink what­ever you want.”

And this, I think, is the essence of The Whitby: I can do what­ever I want here. Should the mood take me, I could even sit on a sofa in the nude.

A TER­RACE WITH A VIEWThe ho­tel’s out­door space, main; Elizabeth at the bar

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