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In the heart of Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Rarely does a hotel inspire one to visit any urban mecca. However, I have to admit that the reason for my stopover in this Renaissance city was for the rare opportunity to experience Florence’s Renaissance hotel, J.K. Place.
J.K. Place is no ordinary hotel. Rather, it is a new and exciting space recently incorporated into a hotel. The exquisitely intimate property, smack dab in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, had come well recommended. I had to see for myself why the award-winning J.K. Place would be an absolutely, unique and special hotel experience.
Room with a view – Located in north-west Florence -named after Tuscany’s major Gothic style church
I came to Florence to experience why Fodor’s Travel named the intimate boutique as one of just thirteen hotels in the world to be awarded in a category called, ‘Home Suite Home’ – places that provide guests with the feeling that the they are staying in is their own.
As I enter J.K. Place through the London reminiscent, black wooden door, I have to wonder, have I entered someone’s private home? I’m stunned. Yes, it’s hard to believe that behind the sublime, hand crafted wooden doors, you are entering your hotel stay; in reality you are entering an architectural marvel. Perhaps it’s a crime? How can one structure have so much style?
Did the J.K. Place steal all the right blend of style from Florence and beyond? Just the right mixture of an old classic bygone world in a contemporary, comfortable home setting. The genius design of a Florentine original, Michele Bonan, the architect who oversaw the hotel restoration.
The hotel is filled with charming works of art.
J.K. Place is tastefully designed to make you feel like you are staying in your own home.
J.K. Place is just the right mix of many design styles.
J.K. Place – Firenze Fireplace – Just Like At Home.
The J.K. reception is unobtrusively placed in the library. Also, the elevator leading to the guest rooms is strategically hidden in the library.
On my first day, I have a chance to sit down with a true “Renaissance man.” Behind any five star boutique hotel, there has to be a leader of passion and conviction leading the charge. At J.K. Place, Claudio Meli, General Manager of the hotel, is a true inspiration and a refreshing ray of light in the crowded boutique hotel business. Not unexpectedly, Meli was a former concierge himself.
Claudio Meli – General Manager and force behind the J.K. Place – It’s not everyday the one get’s a picture taken with a true “Renaissance Man.”
After spending two hours with Claudio Meli, I decide to coin a term, I now officially refer to Claudio as the “Renaissance Man of Florence.” Meli inspires me: “At J.K. Place we do not want to be considered as a hotel; you ring a bell to get inside- it’s like visiting friends in Florence.” I concur. Simply, stated, this is not your average hotel stay. “We have a lot of repeat guests, and a small number of rooms, so we do not really have a low season.”
Meli reminds me that there also stunning J.K. Place properties in Roma and in Capri. Meli is a true Renaissance man, hailing from Oltrano, or as stated, from “the real Florence.” The once condominium was in bad shape. It took three years to complete the renovation into what J.K. Place is today, nothing less than stunning.
Meli continues, “public spaces are what make the J.K. Place special. The roof top with the Duomo in the background is like a post card.” I have to agree- J.K. Place is nothing short of breathtaking.
Meli comes from a hotel and a Tuscany tourism background, since age 23 when he started ‘Bravo Concierge.’ The ever passionate Meli took his love and knowledge of Florence to the next level. Meli continues, “have you seen my book, J.K. Essential Guide To Florence?” In the book you will find all that Meli loves about Florence. Now Travel & Leisure wants to publish the guide.
Two of the many stars of the J.K. Place – Serena Galli, Receptionist and Ariel Plasencia – the professional server from the Dominican Republic
Matteo Cappelli – The Dapper Food & Beverage Supervisor
I ask, how did the concept and marriage of J.K. Place come to fruition? The charismatic Meli informs me, “as the concierge of the Helvetia & Bristol hotel, in 2002, I met Ori Kafri, son of Jonathan Kafri, and we connected. We talked about the concept- the feeling of a hotel made to be a home… I feel that I am quite unusual at a General Manager, I know no other GM coming from a concierge position.”
I’m learning that my first impressions are correct. Meli is “the Renaissance man of Florence.”
Meli reminds me of his unique position and personality. “If you are in a lobby of a 5 star hotel how can you tell the GM of the hotel? He is the guy who goes straight to his office to crunch numbers…We are unique and fortunate to be a small boutique of only 20 rooms, as I can say hello to every guest… Every detail is important. Even the chef cooks like my mama cooks.” After all, this is home.
I ask Meli what his biggest challenge is as a GM. Meli responds, “my biggest challenge as a GM is the staff. I never have complaints from our guests, and I am quite proud of this. You really should invest your time with the staff, from the bottom to the top. I look for people with personality. People need to know how smile and have passion. I cannot teach you how to smile.”
I would expect nothing less than this from “The Renaissance Man of Florence.”
Soft Beige and Cream Rooms are an inviting contrast to the classic and contemporary ground floor house.
Modern Deluxe Master Baths – Guest Suite Bathrooms.
As I settle into my new home for two nights, I come to realize. This really is a “home away from home.” The common areas of the ground floor are complete with a burning fireplace, library, lounge, and large open breakfast room. It’s like eating with the family.
The reception area is located in a brilliant library of geometrical black woodwork. Different styles are harmoniously combined into the ground floor salons and eating areas. Contemporary flavors provide that homey feeling that we all crave in a hotel.
The details are stunning: black wooden floors in the corridor, a neoclassical bookcase, animal skin armchairs, 1950’s lamps, a paled colored, wooden paneled ceiling… a reverie of a typical British countryside home inspired decorations in a modern Florentine design.
Angela Berti – The stunning Front Office Manager & Head Concierge.
Behind every great leader is a person who can also be an ambassador for the hotel, a second in command, someone with a true passion for the property. Next I meet with the charming Front Office Manager & Head Concierge, Angela Berti, who I learn joined J.K. Place after its first year of opening in 2003.
The stylish Berti reminds me that J.K. Place recently had a lavish party celebrating their ten year anniversary. Berti, educates me further, “Do you know what J.K. stands for?” she asks. “J.K. stands for Jonathan Kafri, our owner, who moved his life from Tel Aviv to Florence. His dream was to have a small hotel where people feel like they are in their own home, in a central location, right in the heart of the main sightseeing area.”
A concept of welcoming guests to one’s own home is quite a concept. Berti continues, “we cannot say that we are a modern hotel; the J.K. is a mixture of styles, soft, different styles in an understated elegance.” We have 20 rooms in 8 different categories, because every room is different. The architect working on the place had to deal with the way the structure was built. He had to work with the layout, as it was originally built.”
The inviting J.K. Lounge is a wonderful area to meet other guests.
The Breakfast Room complete with a large walnut table from the 1800s and Chinese style chairs designed by Michael Bonan.
Chill Out! – In the Pink Room – a juxtaposition to the rest of the interior design.
The Rooftop Terrace Lounge – Complete with views of Il Duomo.
As I strolled and meandered through the maze of the compact labyrinth of Florence, one thing was certain, as the city sounds slowly faded, I would have a home stay feeling, fatigued from exploring churches, galleries, restaurants and, of course, shopping… investing many of my hard earned dollars in the Italian economy. As darkness falls early in November in the land of Michelangelo, Donatello, Botticelli, I would open that nondescript door in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella and enter my own private home in Florence, JK Place, the “Renaissance hotel in the Renaissance city.”
Sit back in the lounge, sip a martini, and enjoy your – “Home Suite Home.”
J.K. P L A C E
Piazza Santa Maria Novella, 7
50123 Firenze – Italia
Tel: +39 055 2645181
About the Author: Nick Kontis – Travel Expert and Founder of World Travel List
Born on the one of the most beautiful Islands in the world, Santorini, Greece and raised in America’s culture capital of San Francisco. Nick Kontis started out as a world traveler at an early age traveling back and forth between California and Greece every summer. But it was a backpacking trip around the world at age 24 that proved to be a life changing experience. After traveling by car, train, plane, bike and, boat around the world, it would be this trip of a lifetime that would lead to a life as a travel entrepreneur and world traveler. Nick has been on both radio and television. Featured on Arthur Frommer’s television show, and referred by Lonely Planet writers as a leader in discount airfares. Frequently mentioned as the “father of around the world airfares.” Arthur Frommer once said, “If Jules Verne were alive today he would use Nick to go around the world in 80 days.” Nick and his various travel companies and agents have sent over 10,000 people around the world. Now, Nick promotes travel through his World Travel List and ‘Trip Rambler’ by World Travel List. Having traveled to over 80 countries Nick hopes to inspire others to travel the world. Follow Nick’s “passion for travel” on the World Travel List.