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The Hospitality Experience

The Babinis Share a Slice of Italy with The Hospitality Experience 

The Italian hospitality company offers unparalleled luxury in Venice, Florence, and soon-to-be Umbria.

The Hospitality Experience (THE) is an Italian hospitality company dedicated to luxury properties and the new and inherited details that make them shine. Owned and operated by the Babini family, the portfolio features three hotels in its current collection: THE PLACE Firenze in Florence, Londra Palace in Venice, and the upcoming Borgo Dei Conti Resort, opening this summer in Umbria. 

Since purchasing their first property in 1938, the Babinis have been laser-focused on each property’s historical preservation and cultural significance. Architectural elements, like the building’s original layout and materials, are carefully considered when approaching renovations and design to bring each property into the contemporary market. And each hotel’s ties to its local communities serves as a great source of inspiration and responsibility to both locals and visitors alike.

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

The Hospitality Experience

For THE’s CEO, Carlo Babini, creating a hospitality company has been a lifelong project, connecting his family’s company with his prior roles in finance, management, and even renewable energy. “My career started within various corporations mainly in finance and management roles, which then turned towards a decade of entrepreneurial experiences within the renewable energy space. In 2019 my family asked me to take over the business and from that moment on I focused all my efforts to the internal reorganization and optimization of the real estate and hotel business. With our newly revised structure and our fantastic team, we are aiming at creating the utmost solid foundation to then further expand our reach.”

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

Since 2019, Babini has also created The Place of Wonders—a foundation with a mission to preserve, protect, and promote Italian artisanry. By collaborating with schools and institutions in Florence, Venice, and other Italian cities, the foundation’s programs safeguard Italian craft, from handmade glass and porcelain to paper and scagliola.

Curious about THE’s destinations and the programming at The Place of Wonders, Whitewall spoke with the CEO of THE, Carlo Babini, the general manager of Londra Palace, Alain Bullo, and the director of The Place of Wonders, Michela Canzi Blanc.

A Look Inside Londra Palace Venezia

The Hospitality Experience Michela and Carlo Babini, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

WHITEWALL: The first property in your portfolio was Londra Palace Venezia, acquired in the 1930s. How does being anchored in Venice inspire THE? Its ethos? 

CARLO BABINI: Venice is the root, the start, and the heritage we look into to draw the path to our future. Venice and the Londra Palace Venezia are the strong stance of the archer, Florence and THE PLACE Firenze is the bow and the Borgo dei Conti Resort is the arrow about to be projected in the distant future. The Hospitality Experience, are our collection of hotels that aims at providing a unique glance of our beautiful regions and strongly diversified territorial characteristics.

Our family love story with Venice is nearly a century old, starting five generations ago in 1939. At that time, our involvement in hospitality took various forms until the early 2000s, which was then followed by our second investment, JK Place in Florence, which was acquired just three months after its launch. Il Borgo dei Conti was acquired a few years after, but a large construction and restoration project was needed. This brings us to its opening in 2010. 

The three hotels were managed independently for various reasons. Only in 2020 did we start looking at ways to generate a more cohesive synergistic portfolio. Once we fully committed to the idea of creating a hotel collection, the road ahead became clear. We drew a path based on what each hotel had in common and at every step we tried to protect what was unique to each of them, as we didn’t want a chain of hotels. 

Venice is our heritage, combined with Florence’s influence over the last twenty years, which helped to create our current path. After parting ways with the JK brand in Florence and going through the COVID crisis, our path was even more clear!  Our focus is the network and fabric of each hotel in its region.  This is when it became apparent that we needed to support the local artisans and artists that make our country unique. The Place of Wonders, our foundation, was born out of the desire to merge the hotel business and its guests together with the most interesting examples of artisans each location had to offer.  But COVID did deliver a deadly blow to many of them and this is when the Foundation took full effect.  

Merging the visibility of the hotels with an international clientele to promote the small shops and their capabilities in showcasing centuries of crafts and knowledge in products, that are specific to the region where we operate.  The trait de union of sophisticated travelers and incredible craft.  This path brings us to Borgo dei Conti where we decided to take the next leap in this philosophy.  

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

Expanding Hospitality to Borgo dei Conti

WW: What work has to be done to the Borgo property in order to get up to speed with the others?

CB: The major rework of Borgo is to bring it to the same level of our Venice and Florence properties—in terms of quality of service and offering—but push the boundary to the next level by not being constrained with the architectural characteristics of the city landscape.  

With its 16 hectares of woods, orchard, and olives trees, we worked with a canvas that is as rugged and as beautiful as the Umbria region landscape but as rich as this region of traditions and history. The 59 rooms we had are being transformed to only 40, but they will be much more luxurious.  All the services, amenities, and restaurants will also be included in the renovation. The roots of the Borgo dei Conti Resort are even deeper and strongly radiate in the region. The materials, furniture, and workers have been sourced locally making this project a counter statement to globalization as much as possible.  We will offer an experience as unique and as regional as possible, down to the last detail.  It will be a concentration of Umbria in its essence and soul.

WW: Since, THE has focused on preserving historical properties.  How do you work with local craftspeople to keep its architectural heritage and cultural significance alive? What details are resorted in an artisanal way? 

MICHELA CANZI BLANC: Our collaboration with local craftsmen is fundamental in preserving the architectural heritage and cultural significance of our historical property. This approach not only sublimely characterizes the hotel’s design by incorporating local culture and traditions into the interiors but also serves to introduce these traditions to our guests. Moreover, working with Venetian artisans helps support the local economy and keep alive traditional techniques that might otherwise disappear.   Specifically, we rely on artisans for the restoration of particular architectural elements, such as decorative stuccos  Venetian terrazzo floors, and woodwork, specifically designed woven fabric which require a mastery and traditional knowledge that only local craftsmen possess. This not only conserves the historical appearance of the structures but also integrates a piece of history into the current context, offering guests an authentic and immersive experience.

A Venetian Renovation

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

WW: Londra Palace Venezia originally opened in 1853. Most recently, it underwent another renovation led by the Venetian-based firm Studio Ruberti Cutillo. What special details keep the hotel rooted in its Venetian roots, but extend into the contemporary world, like Venetian silks, lavish brocades, geometric prints, abstract figures, Fortuny chandeliers, and Rubelli textiles?

ALAIN BULLO: The recent renovation of the Londra Palace Venezia, as spearheaded by Studio Ruberti Cutillo, is a testament to the delicate balance between preserving the rich historical essence of Venice and embracing contemporary aesthetics and technologies. This transformative project highlights several key aspects that tether the hotel firmly to its Venetian roots while projecting it into the modern era.  One of the most notable incorporations are the textiles and fabrics from historic Venetian weavers like Rubelli. Known for their intricate designs and high-quality materials, Rubelli textiles are a direct nod to Venice’s storied past in textile production. The project’s choice to use fabrics inspired by Vittorio Zecchin, a notable Venetian artist active during the Art Deco period, further entrenches the hotel in the local artistic heritage. 

The creation of the exclusive Salomè fabric for our LPV Restaurant showcases a blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern design, making each space both luxurious and unique.  The use of tactile velvets and lavish brocades in the hotel’s interiors evokes the opulence of Venice’s golden age. These materials, historically associated with Venetian nobility, bring a sense of warmth and luxury to the hotel’s rooms and public spaces. Their incorporation into the design scheme speaks to a deep appreciation for Venice’s textile legacy, updated for contemporary sensibilities.  The strategic integration of Rubelli textiles throughout the hotel, not just as decorative elements but as part of the hotel’s identity, underscores a deep respect for Venetian artisanal traditions. This choice reflects a broader commitment to maintaining a tangible link to Venetian craftsmanship, ensuring that the essence of Venice is woven into the very fabric of the hotel.In conclusion, the renovation of Londra Palace Venezia by Studio Ruberti Cutillo expertly melds Venetian heritage with modern design principles. Through the thoughtful use of local textiles, materials, and artisanal techniques, the project honors the past while creating spaces that are vibrant, contemporary, and deeply rooted in the unique cultural landscape of Venice.

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

WW: The redesign of the hotel includes a new gallery & library space on the ground floor, that will feature art work and a thoughtfully curated selection of books. How do you envision this being a community gathering space for guests and locals alike? 

AB:
The new gallery and library space on the ground floor of the Londra Palace Venezia, envisioned as part of its comprehensive redesign, has the potential to become a vibrant community gathering space that engages both guests and locals. This initiative can serve as a cultural bridge, blending the rich heritage of Venice with contemporary artistic expressions and intellectual pursuits. 

During the winter, hosting events, such as artist talks, book readings, and cultural discussions, can transform the space into a lively forum for intellectual exchange. By inviting authors, historians, and artists to share their insights, the gallery and library would not only enrich the cultural life of its patrons but also foster a sense of community among them.

These events could also include workshops or interactive sessions that encourage participation from both guests and locals. The library aspect of the space offers guests and locals alike a tranquil haven for reading and relaxation, amidst the bustling city. A carefully curated selection of books, including works on Venetian history, art, architecture, and literature, would provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the city. Comfortable seating areas overlooking Saint-George Island and the lagoon would make it an inviting place to linger, read, or engage in quiet conversation.  In envisioning the ground floor gallery and library as a community gathering space, the goal is to create a multifaceted environment where art, culture, history, and leisure converge, making the Londra Palace Venezia not just a hotel, but a vital part of Venice’s cultural landscape.

“Mano a Mano,” On View Through October

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

WW: In collaboration with Alain Bullo and Italian creative agency Venezia da Vivere, the hotel is presenting “Mano a Mano” (or “Hand to Hand”), a collection of five objects created by five storied Venetian craftsmen. Can you tell us more about this?

MCB: The Place of Wonders foundation unveiled “Mano a Mano,” a collection of five exquisite objects, each a masterpiece of Venetian craftsmanship. Entirely handcrafted, these pieces are not just objects of beauty; they are emblems of creativity, dedication, and excellence. Tessitura Bevilacqua, Fonderà Valese, Meracu, Ramosalso, Alessia Fuga, and Marisa Convento weave stories that bring us closer to distant traditions, showcasing the individual, family, and culture behind each artisan’s work. This collection acts as a vibrant link between the past and present, championing the rich heritage of the artisans. On display at our hotel until October 2024 these pieces are available in exchange for a donation to our foundation, supporting the ethos of craftsmanship and cultural preservation, becoming an ambassador of Venetian culture. This initiative offers guests a deeper appreciation of artisanal craftsmanship, fostering a desire to discover the magnificent historical workshops of Venice, an experience readily available through our hotel.

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.


WW: THE features The Place of Wonders—a philanthropic program and foundation dedicated to Italian artisanry. Can you tell us more about this? What kind of programming helps protect, sustain, and promote this? How is it crucial to preserving Venetian artisanry/skillset?

MCB: Our cities, rich in beauty and heritage, are increasingly facing the pressures of globalization and a shift towards uniformity. This is where we step in. It’s our way of giving back to the places that have given us so much, by ensuring that the unique essence of tradition and culture that defines them. Our approach is built on three fundamental pillars:  Preserve, Promote and Pass down.  Firstly, we’re deeply committed to the conservation of high craftsmanship. It’s not just about keeping traditional skills alive; it’s about integrating them into the very fabric of our hotels. This means artisans aren’t just preserving their craft; they’re actively contributing to creating environments that reflect the uniqueness of our locales.  Then, there’s the aspect of promotion. 

We believe in telling the story behind each craft, in showing our guests the meticulous processes that go into artisanal work. It’s an eye-opening experience for many and sparks a newfound appreciation for the dedication and skill these crafts require.  And finally, we’re looking towards the future with our transmission efforts. By partnering with prestigious schools and institutes, we’re offering scholarships to young individuals passionate about pursuing craftsmanship professionally. It’s our way of ensuring that these essential skills, these art forms, do not vanish but instead evolve with the times.

Apprenticeships for Artisanry

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.


WW: The Place of Wonders is partnering with Murano glass bead artists Alessia Fuga and Marisa Convento to launch a program, granting four students apprenticeships. Can you tell us more about this?

MCB: The art of Venetian glass bead making is a centuries-old tradition that the foundation aims to help preserve. Through a collaborative effort, we’ve established this course, fully funded by the foundation for four venitian young talents with the goal of passing down the manual craftsmanship to new generations, ensuring this skill does not vanish and that young talents can carry it forward in the years to come. Alessia Fuga and Marisa Convento will teach in this 180 hours course both practical and theoretical lessons, marketing, and the opportunity for the students to create a handmade artifact showcased at an event at the Londra Palace Hotel, organized in the occasion of with Homo Faber. This will highlight the importance of this initiative, providing a prestigious platform for their craftsmanship and opening doors for their professional future.  The foundation has chosen to invest in the city and young Venetians who wish to pursue a professional future in the world of craftsmanship, responding to an ever-growing demand. We hope our program will act as a catalyst for larger initiatives, sustaining and nurturing the rich artisanal heritage of Venice.

The Hospitality Experience Londra Palace Venezia, courtesy of The Hospitality Experience.

WW: The Venice Biennale is on view through November. What are you looking forward to seeing or experiencing in the city this year? 

AB:
The 60th Venice Biennale, with its long-standing tradition of showcasing some of the most groundbreaking contemporary art from around the world, promises to be an event full of discovery and inspiration.  The national pavilions are always a highlight, offering a glimpse into the current cultural and social issues as interpreted by artists from different countries. It’s fascinating to see how each nation curates its space, choosing artists and works that reflect its identity, concerns, and aspirations. The diversity of artistic expressions, from avant-garde installations to traditional mediums, provides a rich, global perspective on contemporary art.  Beyond the official pavilions and exhibitions, the Biennale is surrounded by a plethora of collateral events throughout Venice. These range from independent art shows to cultural talks, workshops, and performances.  

The Venice Biennale attracts a diverse crowd from across the globe, including artists, curators, collectors, and art enthusiasts. This presents a fantastic opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, exchange ideas, and even collaborate on future projects. The atmosphere is charged with creativity and inspiration, making it a fertile ground for networking and community building.  In essence, the Venice Biennale is more than an art exhibition; it’s a vibrant cultural phenomenon that offers endless opportunities for discovery, learning, and engagement with the global art scene.

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