What was once the home of the traveling Italian aristocracy, and of the international élite who included Florence among the essential stops on their Grand Tour, now has been dusted off and renovated under the aegis of Starhotels Group
The ‘restoration of Florence’
In 1865 Florence was proclaimed capital of Italy, after Turin. Thus began the so-called ‘restoration of Florence’. The city’s first luxury hotel accommodated ministers and heads of state. What at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a luxurious private residence, now had become a hotel by the Swiss Giacomo Mosca. But when he completed the project in 1885, it was already too late. The capital had already been moved from Florence to Rome. So it was that Florence’s first luxury hotel – the Helvetia & Bristol – began to be the home of the traveling Italian aristocracy, and of the international elite who included Florence among the essential stops on their Grand Tour.
During the restoration, the city changed its face, adapting to the new role, through the urban work of Giuseppe Poggi. The architect and engineer demolished the ancient walls. In their place, on the model of Paris, they realized the avenues of bypass, culminating in Piazzale Michelangelo. The first public event of national importance in the season of Florence Capital was the inauguration of the monument to Dante Alighieri on the six hundredth anniversary of his birth. Sculptor Enrico Pazzi from Ravenna created the stature for Piazza Santa Croce.
Helvetia & Bristol in Florence
The narrow and dark streets typical of a medieval city like Florence had become wider and brighter in many areas. In a secluded but central boulevard – not besieged by tourists, but just a short walk from Piazza della Repubblica and Palazzo Strozzi – is the Helvetia & Bristol Firenze. The establishment joined the select group of Starhotels Collezione in 2016. It reopened its doors after an intervention that redesigned its sixty-four rooms, the facade and much of the common areas. The works started with the restoration of period furniture and accessories, entrusted to historic workshops and Italian artisans
«Over the years, this hotel has grown in fame for its frequentation. A place of attraction and meeting for writers, artists and scientists. Many of them have also stayed here for long periods», says Luxury Sales Manager Stefano Dondi. «There was then a downward phase. In quite recent years, the previous property no longer dedicated love or investment to the palace, which became tired and dusty. With the new ownership, under the aegis of Starhotels Group President Elisabetta Fabri, it was dusted off and renovated, keeping its historic structure intact and enhancing its charm». In the renovation work that lasted two years, in fact, the original part has been maintained as it was initially. The same colors, original doors restored on site, elevators refurbished while maintaining mirrors and gleaming original chandeliers.
Renovation works at Helvetia & Bristol
President Elisabetta Fabri personally took care of the décor of the rooms, coordinating all the work phases of a team of interior designers. She entrusted Antonio Casciani, owner of a historic workshop and former collaborator of institutions such as the Uffizi and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, with the recovery of almost two hundred pieces of furniture.
Chest of drawers, tables, consoles, bedside tables have been restored to their original beauty. The Apulian company Gravina Parquet took care of the realization of about two-thousand-and-three-hundred square meters of solid oak parquet in Hungarian herringbone with perimeter comb, for all the rooms. Three craftsmen cut, beveled and finished with natural oils each plank.
Antico Setificio Fiorentino developed some of the damasks, trimmings and velvets. Emilio Pucci was the former owner of the establishment, now owned by the Ricci Family. Known all over the world for the quality of its creations, all hand-woven since 1786 on antique looms that originally belonged to the noble families of Florence, the Setificio produces brocatelle, brocade, ermisini and damasks, spun yarns, lampas and Florentine twill. A painstaking work (for some fabrics the production rate is fifteen centimeters per day) and of great value, also culturally speaking.
British designer Anouska Hempel’s contemporary design
«Like all hotelier family stories, when the family gains financial power, they expand. The first expansion to the building next door took place before the current ownership. When the Starhotels Group purchased this hotel, there was the Bank of Rome for sale next door. Our ownership decided to buy it. They wanted to create a contemporary design that was in keeping with the traditional. We hired British designer Anouska Hempel (already the creator of the Franklin Hotel London – Starhotels Collezione, ed.), known for having conceived in the 1970s the concept of Boutique hotels. Thirty rooms or less, later reinterpreted in different ways in various countries around the world. It transformed private houses in London into luxury accommodations. It became a trend».
Architectural Digest named Hempel one of the one hundred best interior designers in the world in 2002. As a hotelier, she has, in fact, owned, designed and managed three boutique hotels. Blakes London, Blakes Amsterdam, The Hempel. All of them display her signature style, with the utmost attention to detail, from guest rooms to menus. Guiding his work is the utopia of merging West and East. Blending the luxury of antiques and contemporary pieces, with a theatrical and welcoming composition.
«President Fabri asked Hempel to reinterpret Florentine design for a younger, contemporary-loving clientele». The twenty-five new rooms and suites bear the signature of Anouska Hempel. Hungarian herringbone oak parquet, wallpapers, boiserie, silk and velvet curtains, chandeliers and opals produced by Moleria Locchi, Murano glassworks, Rubelli and Antico Setificio Fiorentino. From the hotel’s private collection come the sacred and botanical paintings, hunting scenes, prints and mirrors, armchairs, antique loveseats, bedside lamps and Chinese vases that embellish not only the rooms, but also the corridors and the lobby. Here the pietra serena details frame real pictorial glimpses.
Vasari’s Corridor inspired gallery of portraits at Helvetia & Bristol
Vasari’s Corridor inspired the staircase with its gallery of portraits. While the Winter Garden overlooks the lobby and is now a restaurant and convivial lounge. Soft light floods in from the Art Deco skylight. Between the screens and mirrored walls, it feels like another era. The wallpaper designed by the artist Ottavia Moschini brings to life scenes of Tuscan flora and fauna in the key of chinoiserie of the European 1770s. Pomegranate trees, olive trees, vines, water lilies in which hoopoes, kingfishers, grey herons make room.
The intelligentsia, the animators of Florentine, Italian and international cultural life used to meet here. From the exponents of Futurism – Marinetti, Boccioni, Carrà, Balla – to D’annunzio and Eleonora Duse, to De Chirico – who designed the sets for the Florentine May Festival – and Igor Stravinsky. The Winter Garden leads to the Tinello. A new space signed by Riccardo Barthel with a mix of craftsmanship, brocantage and technology. Food and wine events take place there. The Tinello also hosts a chef’s table, due to the presence of an open kitchen.
Helvetia & Bristol
Via dei Pescioni, 2, 50123 Florence
Helvetia & Bristol is part of Starhotels Collezione, Italy’s leading private hotel group by revenue. Further, the group is the leader in the upscale and upper-upscale & luxury segments, with thirty hotels located in the heart of Italy’s top destinations as well as London, Paris and New York, for a total of over four-thousand-and-two-hundred rooms. In early 2020, Terme di Saturnia Natural Spa & Golf Resort also became part of Starhotels Collezione, joining the twelve charming historic residences already present. Starhotels Premium – Bergamo, Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Parma, Rome, Saronno and Turin.