Published: May 2009
By Shane Mitchell
A total design transformation has given this venerable St. James's favorite a fresh face—but it still flies a traditional flag.
Since 1908, Dukes has occupied a pair of discreet town houses on a cul-de-sac just blocks from Green Park and Clarence House. This spring, the frumpy classic was rescued from impending obscurity by Gordon Campbell Gray and Mary Fox Linton, the creative duo responsible for One Aldwych, in London, and Carlisle Bay in Antigua. "It was like inheriting a maiden aunt with thick ankles," quips Campbell Gray. "We couldn't smarten her up too much or she'd look silly."
Rule Britannia meets Thoroughly Modern Mini. Despite its diminutive size, Dukes retains a certain grandeur, evidenced in polished mahogany doors, a handsome iron central staircase, and "dead ancestor" oils in the formal rooms. But Linton has stripped away faded flourishes (chintz bedskirts, pub-green carpets), adding fresh linen upholstery and a calm limestone-tiled foyer. "Dukes is very English. I didn't want to change that."
All 90 have a soothing palette (predominantly blue and cream) and granite baths. Flat-screen televisions and fiber-optic reading lights are welcome updates. The Penthouse Suite has a view of the park, just north of where Wills and Harry lay their tousled royal heads.
At press time, room service orders were subject to the occasional snafu. A request for no mayo resulted in a mayo-slathered sandwich; soup was delivered lukewarm. First World pain, perhaps, but at these prices...?
Real keys. Hot buttered crumpets served in the Drawing Room. Natural bath goodies from Ren. And a warm staff that puts on zero airs, despite the posh address.
St. James's Place, London; 44-20/7491-4840; dukeshotel.com; doubles from $680.
Additional reporting by Bridget Moriarity.