If Miss Havisham went to Frieze…
The naked truth is that this unstuffy high-end hotel is a place of beautifully eclectic taste
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