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CF’s Art Hotel Series: The Hari, Belgravia

In our new series, Millie Walton selects and explores the world’s best art hotels. Next up: The Hari, London.

Londoners might be surprised to discover that The Hari opened its doors in Belgravia – a short stroll from Sloane Square and the busy King’s Road – almost eight years ago.

It’s not that it’s hiding exactly, but tucked away on a quiet residential road, it has a more discreet presence than most of the city’s five-star hotels. It’s the kind of place that locals will pop into for coffee, or to read in the lounge without feeling intimidated by over-attentive staff, and that travellers will choose to return to for the comfort of familiarity. This might all be part of The Hari’s ethos as part of the family-owned hospitality group Harilela (the Hari has a sister hotel in Hong Kong) but it is also achieved through thoughtful design, an exciting exhibition programme and an art prize that supports early-career artists.

The Concept

The Hari has been designed to feel like an elegant townhouse with plenty of warm lighting and cosy corners to sit and relax. While ‘lounge’ areas in hotels often end up being transitional spaces that people move through rather than actually use, The Hari draws guests in through art, with pieces placed all around the hotel, not just on the walls but on the furniture. All of the art on show – aside from in the restaurant and rooms – is part of a six monthly rotational exhibition programme curated by A Space for Art, often in collaboration with local galleries. “It’s not the same as an art gallery because there isn’t a dedicated sales person, but we do get quite a few enquiries,” says Melissa Digby-Bell, Head of Curatorial at A Space for Art. “Because of the environment the work is presented in, I think that people can more easily translate it into their home space.” More importantly, with sales of the works from the art prize, the artist receives 100 per cent of the profits as opposed to 50 per cent, which is the standard commission that a gallery takes. “This was absolutely key for us because the whole point of the prize is to help artists to grow their practices,” Digby-Bell affirms.

Our stay coincided with the last week of the Hari Art Prize 2023 presentation, featuring a broad range of work by shortlisted artists including painting, sculpture, textiles and drawings; before that there had been a show of black and white photography in collaboration with Atlas Gallery and, at the end of the month, the hotel will launch a new exhibition with Air Contemporary comprising ceramics, embroidery, painting and collage. With all of the shows, the focus is on giving guests a glimpse into the kind of art that’s currently being made in the city beyond the big galleries and museums – many of which are on The Hari’s doorstep – and unusually for a hotel, everything you see is for sale.

The Collection

Kialy Tihngang photographed with her work – UNTITLED (LEAN SIX SIGMA), 2023’ – the winner of last year’s Hari Art Prize

Kialy Tihngang photographed with her work – UNTITLED (LEAN SIX SIGMA), 2023’ – the winner of last year’s Hari Art Prize

While some of the works at The Hari are on long-term display, there’s no permanent, in-house collection, which means that each time guests return they’re pretty much guaranteed to encounter something new. Their art prize, launched in 2022, is a particular draw not just for the artists who have the chance of winning £10,000, but also for guests who get to encounter the next generation of artists, many of whom don’t yet have gallery representation. In keeping with the homely environment, there isn’t any wall text accompanying the artworks but the friendly staff, many of whom have worked at the hotel since its inception, will happily provide more information or put you in direct contact with the A Space for Art team. Glasgow-based British Cameroonian artist Kialy Tihngang was the winner of last year’s prize, for her sculptural work that explored the ‘supervillains of antiquity (colonial merchants, slave traders, and industrialists), the present (billionaire profiteers of extractive neo-colonial practices such as mining and waste dumping), and the future (colonisers of as-yet-unknown territories such as space and the deep sea)’ – it imagined the kind of ornament that might adorn their lairs while also celebrating opulence as a means of Black resistance and joy.

The Design Details

The Hari is in the process of a slow renovation, which started with the ‘reinvention’ of its guest rooms by the designer Tara Bernerd and will continue this year with a refresh of the bar and lobby area. ‘Reinventing rather than replacing’ is part of the hotel’s commitment to sustainability and in practice means that most of the original features are being maintained, with subtle updates and additions to create a brighter, more modern aesthetic space that still feels lived-in. Think bare brick walls, wooden flooring, dark velvets contrasted with light, floaty fabrics, warm shades of caramel and cream, G-plan furniture, art books on tabletops, interesting light fixtures and lots of mirrors.

The Rooms

The bedrooms are elegantly understated, offering a quiet and calming environment in which to properly unwind. Ours, a Studio King Suite, felt like a nest overhanging the city, with two cantilevered alcoves in the bedroom – one with a honey-coloured window seat and one with a desk – and another in the bathroom, with a deep marble bath and views over a pretty little park. During the daytime, the room was flooded with natural light and at night, the lamps and sheer cream curtains made for a romantic atmosphere. A complimentary mini-bar is always exciting and ours was particularly well stocked not just with the classics (coca-cola, mineral water, juices and crisps) but also with bars of artisanal chocolate and cute little retro-style boxes of gummy sweets.

The Food & Drink

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at il Pampero, the hotel’s in-house Italian bar and restaurant (named after the owner’s racing horse). Here an eclectic collection of artworks are hung at different heights on dark green-painted wood-panelled walls creating a relaxed and homely atmosphere. Bag a table in one of the booths and order a hearty bowl of homemade pasta (portion sizes are suitably generous) followed by tiramisu which comes theatrically deconstructed on a dessert trolley, allowing diners to choose their preferred quantity of cream and alcohol in which to drench the lady finger biscuits.

Cocktails are served here or upstairs in The Hari Bar, which serves as a bright and welcoming lounge area and library during the daytime (it’s a popular coffee spot for locals) and turns sultry at night. Try one of the hotel’s art cocktails, which are inspired by famous works of art such as Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Birth of Venus by Botticelli. The most elaborate cocktail is Casa Azul, named after Frida Kahlo’s blue house in Mexico: a heady blend of tequila, mezcal, aloe vera and smashed berries served in crystal glass inside a golden bird cage decorated with colourful flowers. There’s also a dedicated martini menu, featuring inventive takes on the owner’s favourite tipple, all made with the hotel’s own brand of gin. For al fresco dining and private events, there’s the garden terrace, with a rain sensitive retractable roof.

Art in the Neighbourhood

The Hari is a 15-minute walk from the V&A, which is currently hosting two blockbuster exhibitions – DIVA (until 10 April) and Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto (until 10 March) – alongside its impressive permanent displays. While you’re there, drop into the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum (until 30 June) for some seriously impressive images of the natural world, and into the Science Museum to admire a collection of magnificent mechanical zimingzhong clocks on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing (until 2 June).

At the top of the King’s Road, the Saatchi Gallery is showing photographs by Edward Burtynsky (until 6 May) and tongue-in-cheek sculptures by Chinese artist Rong Bao (until 31 March). Cassius&Co, a tiny gallery and rare books dealer on the edge of Hyde Park, is always worth a visit – and after that take a leisurely stroll across to the Wallace Collection, which currently has a free display of watercolours by Turner and Bonington and will be opening a show exploring the life of the Sikh leader Ranjit Singh in April.

Yoko Ono, PEACE is POWER, 2017, installed at ‘Yoko Ono: The Learning Garden of Freedom’ at Fundação de Serralves – Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto, 2020. Photo © Filipe Braga

If you’re planning on venturing further afield, the hotel’s proximity to both Sloane Square and Knightsbridge tube stations make it and easy spot from which to get almost anywhere in the city, and there are almost endless exhibitions to choose from. Don’t miss Frank Auerbach’s haunting charcoal drawings at the Courtauld Gallery (until 27 May) or the enormous Yoko Ono retrospective at Tate Modern (until 1 September), which takes in seven decades of the artist’s work.

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