Henry’s Townhouse perfectly combines nostalgia, class and comfort and will be a perfect place to gather friends and family once the UK gets out of lockdown. And of course, a place to play out your own Bridgerton story.
There may be a modern buzz-in entry system, but beyond the door of number 24 Upper Berkeley Street, it’s like you’ve entered a time machine. I almost expected a character from Bridgerton to come swishing along the entry corridor in a corset and bustle once inside, so faithful is the glorious restoration of this Marylebone townhouse.
A former London home of none other than Jane Austen’s (said to be favourite) brother Henry, it’s now an exclusive-use bolthole just off Marble Arch, and is the hard work of owners Steven and Jane Collins. With their collectors’ eye and love of period furniture and design combined with the exquisite taste of interiors maestro Russell Sage, this genuinely makes for a brilliant step back in time, but thankfully with all the mod cons. Not only did the Collins gather more than 100 pieces over three years to pepper into their labour of love, they have overseen a massive top-to-toe restructuring from the bones out of this building.
Developer Steven obviously relishes “a project”, as he was the driving force behind the creation of the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, which is now home to 120 showrooms, while Jane is behind the popular Sixty 6 boutique nearby. The pair also own Temple Guiting Manor & Barns, a 14.5-acre estate in the Cotswolds that sleeps 34 adults, so they have a good track record of creating a covetable hospitality space.
Former banker and clergyman Henry Austen and his family lived here from 1800 to 1805, but when the Collins found it, it was – in their words – a “scruffy” B&B. However, there had only been a couple of owners after Henry, so you can imagine a lot of his spirit might still be locked in for anyone wanting to tease it out – it just took the passion and deep pockets of the Collins to do so.
The house consists of seven bedrooms; a street-level lounge, providing an elegant spot to gather for drinks or afternoon tea; a sumptuous little ‘snug’ room on the first floor with an honesty bar; and below ground, the “pantry” dining space, where the team can whip up anything from a lunch spread, to a sumptuous dinner for 14 seated on the long table.
A cosy Aga creates a warm, family feel – but don’t be fooled, there is also a giant concealed screen so this could be turned into a boardroom at the flip of a few buttons, or a small unique event space. They’ve even managed to fit in a little terrace so a few people can gather with a cocktail and admire the London skyline.
Each of the unique bedrooms is named after members of the Austen family, and I was honoured to stay in ‘Eliza’ (after Henry’s wife), which had a romantic four-poster bed and a sumptuous boudoir feel, with a very special bathroom.
Mother of pearl and art nouveau tiles sparkled over a freestanding tub, while other lovely details included the sink built into an old chest of drawers, and the divine-smelling L:A Bruket organic bathroom amenities, as well as a fresh sprig of flowers.
Also worth noting (and eating) are the well-sourced ‘Best of British’ snacks and drinks in the complimentary mini-bar, and a powerful Dyson hairdryer tucked away in the big wardrobe. Also hidden away is a TV, lest it spoil the authentic Regency style. In some of the rooms, the TV is revealed – and concealed – at the touch of a button from inside a chest at the end of the bed.
Pieces from the Regency era fit the house perfectly of course, while Campaign furniture, including some very impressive beds, also seems a particular favourite of Steven’s, as does art, with an eclectic sprinkling of art pieces and portraits around the place.
Other treasures sourced include an original edition of The Loiterer, the humorous weekly periodical founded and largely written by Henry and another of Jane’s brothers James while studying at Oxford.
The Collins have brought it back to life in the guise of a little news and info sheet for guests, penned in the “voice of Henry” – in it, he quotes his sister Jane as saying: “there is nothing like staying at home for true comfort”. And while that’s a mantra we have all had no choice but to abide by of late, Jane had a point, and the secret of any good hotel (or exclusive-use townhouse) is to make guests feel like they are “at home”. I think Henry and Eliza would approve of what Steven and Jane have achieved.
Creating a hotel in the pandemic is hugely challenging where progress is inevitably restricted – but it’s also a reprieve, a chance to fine-tune and tweak during enforced lockdowns, which served the Collins well in their finesse of the final result. While it’s awful not to be able to get guests in for now, last year did however cement their thinking that it would work best as an exclusive-use – rather than by-the-room – option.
Once the gates to freedom open again, this will be an ideal suggestion for families, groups of friends or small corporate bookings looking for luxury and privacy in a central location, even perhaps an immersive themed experience. At the very least, a ridiculously fabulous bed to sleep in which you don’t have to make yourself. What a rare treat that has become.
How to book it: The house is available on an exclusive-use basis from £4,950 per night for up to 14 people, including breakfast, mini bar, evening aperitifs and “tea and treats” every afternoon, henrystownhouse.co.uk