We're accustomed to glamour in London SE26: Kelly Brook and Jason Statham used to live above the dentist. But when Anouska Hempel's heels hit the cracked cement of the parking space outside my flat, it's hard not to think of those Picture Post photographs of royalty visiting bombed-out families during the second world war. Her mission in my modest tract of suburbia is, however, about more than offering sympathy. Hempel—the woman who invented the boutique hotel before it bore any such proprietary name—has come to give me information for which, judging by the spreads in interiors magazines and anxious postings on online DIY forums, half the property-owners in the Western world seem desperate: how to give an ordinary home the look and the vibe of a five-star, £750-a-night hotel suite. To Hempelise, in this case, a modest conversion flat formed from the middle slice of a three-storey Victorian semi.
"You could do it," she says, casting an eye around my kitchen. "Anyone could do it. Absolutely no reason why not. But there has to be continuity between the rooms. A single idea must be followed through." She looks out wistfully over the fire escape. "And you'd have to buy the house next door, of course." That's a joke. I think.
It's worth pausing, though, to consider the oddness of this impulse. The hotel room is an amnesiac space. We would be troubled if it bore any sign of a previous occupant, particularly as many of us go to hotels in order to do things we would not do at home. We expect a hotel room to be cleaned as thoroughly as if a corpse had just been hauled from the bed. (In some cases, this will actually have happened.) The domestic interior embodies the opposite idea: it is a repository of memories. The story of its inhabitants ought to be there in the photos on the mantelpiece, the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves. If hotel rooms were people, they would be smiling lobotomy patients or plausible psychopaths.