Canal House owners Peter and Jessica Frankopan first fell in love with the hotel on a visit to the city 20-years ago. Discerning travellers themselves, they lovingly renovated the property to create the cosy and characterful boutique hotel that it is today. Set across three 17th-century merchant’s houses it now boasts a rich mix of history and contemporary style along with personal touches and service throughout. We met with them to hear more about the inspiration behind the hotel and why, for them, great service is so key.
Peter: We met very young – we were college sweethearts – and when we would travel and go for anniversaries or birthdays, all the fancy hotels in England at that time were like rubbish versions of Downton Abbey! You would fork out a fortune, then have to wear a tie at supper and be sat next to a group of accountants talking about tax whilst you’re trying to be lovey-dovey.
We were part of a travel revolution – a fundamental change in how our generation live and travel. We’re all time short so, when you’re on your downtime or you’re travelling for work, it needs to be right and because we’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot, we had an idea of how that should all be refreshed.
We stayed here about 20 years ago and knew that if we ever did a hotel in Amsterdam, this would be the one. All the houses here are tall and thin because they had to use every inch of space on the limited land recovered from the sea but this one is the perfect size and shape – with its enormous garden (which not many canal-side properties have), history and character. It’s screaming with character – from its entrance to its magnificent sitting room – which you don’t find in every property.
Jessica: We wanted to keep a lot of the eccentricity of the property, some of the old paintings and objects… The art was all here already – from the 70’s.
Peter: Quite often when people renovate, they pull everything down and build from scratch. But for us it’s important not just to make reference to Dutch history and Dutch art – we’re also trying to be a continuity of what this building has always been, so objects that have lived here longer than we’ve owned it, we still found a place for them but we also wanted to bring it up to date. So, the colour schemes, the way the furniture looks, the art on the walls – this couldn’t be anywhere except Amsterdam.
Jessica: The blacks, greys and white are inspired by the very simple, quite stark interiors that you see in some of those Dutch paintings. And then of course purple – my favourite colour.
Peter: Design, location and brand are important but it’s all about service. Get that right because that’s what people are coming for. We are seasoned travellers and getting hospitality right is the same as if you’re having people over for dinner – you work out what your guests want and need, you make sure they’re catered for, that you’ve got enough of everything. You’ve got to get the nuts and bolts of it right.
Jessica: We aim for unobtrusive service whilst being attentive and slick – it’s a slightly more informal but still very professional service. In a smaller property you’re at an advantage because we can get to know our guests and really understand them – when a guest checks in, we sit them down, ask them what they’d like to see and help them to create a program using our expertise. And how do we know a guest’s preferences? We ask them! There’s no need to overcomplicate it. The team makes a real effort to offer personal service and I think that’s why people keep coming back – we get a lot of repeat guests.
Peter: You know we have globally famous people that stay and we tell our staff that they should be treated in exactly the same way – professionally and unobtrusively, whilst still being friendly. Just having good enough judgement to know who might want to chat and who might want to be left alone takes a lot of training – you can’t just be robotic and there’s not a manual. Our reception is the bar area, so when guests are checking in – there’s always a welcome drink for them and one of the team might say – let’s start the weekend with some bubbles! It should feel like you’re coming home – for us, if we have a chance to travel, we’ll always stay somewhere that feels like home but also feels exciting and makes you really breathe and live that location.
Luxury is about the service being right, that you don’t want for anything – you’ve got everything you need at your fingertips. You decide you want something, you call and the team here will arrange it for you. Tickets for something that’s impossible to get, food that’s impossible to find or reservations that are impossible to make – they’ll take care of it. It’s about the experience that you have in that city that makes you come back and feel that you really understand a place better. That’s the trick of travel, the trick of life philosophically – it’s about filling yourself with experiences.
Jessica: For us, our hotels are so much more than just a comfy bed – although we do have incredibly comfy beds! We stay in all of our properties frequently and I like to stay in different rooms – we’re always rotating. You have to experience each room as a guest to check it’s working – make sure there’s enough plugs, that you can see the TV from bed etc…
Peter: Jess is very particular about pillows, mattresses and sheets because it all starts with a night’s sleep really… But I think here we are only part of the process of someone’s trip to Amsterdam – your memories are going to be formed when you’re in the Rijksmuseum, walking around the city, taking a canal boat or going for a cycle. But we are the bit that you come home to and that’s a fundamental part of how you feel. The best thing you can ever hope for in a hotel is to have your guests feel gutted to be leaving!