We caught up with Claudio Meli, general manager at J.K. Place in Florence, to talk about the ultimate bespoke hotel experience and a burgeoning clientele in search of authenticity rather than excess.
Words by Jennifer Papa - Photo by Dario Garofalo
Has there been any evident shift in the Florentine hospitality industry over the last decade?
Absolutely, and J.K. Place Florence has been, and still is, an important part of this change. Most particularly, we are finally seeing an ambition to bring the guest back to the core of the hospitality industry. Here at J.K. Place Florence we have capacity to host between 40 and 50 guests at a time. Such a rather limited group affords me, as general manager, the opportunity to meet and greet each guest, further allowing me to personalize a unique experience for each person.
How would you describe the J.K. Place Florence guest?
Our guests are seasoned travelers. They are accustomed to staying at the best hotels and resorts around the world. These are people who expect an authentic hospitality experience, preferably tailor-made for their visit.
Florence is home to several high-end hotels, including Four Seasons. What sets J.K. Place apart from its competitors?
We’re often described as the “tailors of hospitality”. And staying at J.K. Place Florence, rather than one of the major hotel chains, is much like shopping for a suit. When you turn to the big labels you’re sure to get a nice garment, but it will be similar to the clients’ before and after you. By comparison, when you turn to a small tailor, the result is a unique piece that allows your personality to shine through and is the perfect complement to your wardrobe.
The modern generation seems to regard luxury less in terms of hedonism and excess and more in terms of honesty and personification. How do you incorporate this into your guests’ hotel experience?
This is very true. The younger generation that stays with us is almost always looking for a genuine experience rather than a luxurious one. They want to experience and indulge in the Italian lifestyle—be it visiting a local farm that produces Pecorino cheese or crafting their own unique perfume. To this end I usually direct my guests to destinations that are off the tourist map and it always plays out right.
In just a few words, how would you recommend that your guests spend their time while in Florence?
It’s hard for me to be brief here; Florence has so much to offer. However, a must for anyone new to Florence is a visit to the most important sights, such as the Uffizi Gallery, the Santa Maria Cathedral and the Baptistery. In order to experience Florence and its surroundings to its fullest I recommend a minimum four-night stay. This will allow sufficient time to savor the best of Florence’s culture and gastronomy as well as to get lost in the bohemian neighborhood of San Frediano.
What essential pieces of clothing should a gentleman pack for his visit to Florence?
Opt for a smart casual look. A cashmere blazer paired with a tailor-made shirt, a pair of lightly whiskered jeans and sneakers work for every occasion. That said, more important is what pieces of clothing you bring back from your sojourn in Florence. I recommend gentlemen visitors invest in a custom-made suit or overcoat.
You travel quite a bit, both for work and pleasure, and you’ve stayed at many hotels. Do you have any favorites?
When holidaying in Italy, my family and I enjoy staying at the Lefay Resort, scenically located by Lake Garda. It is the perfect place to relax and indulge in delicious food. I recently stayed at Setai in Miami, Florida, and it definitely offered a premium hotel experience. I really appreciated the pool area and the beach-side patio where they served savory dishes.
If you had the chance to open a boutique hotel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Without a doubt I’d stay exactly where I find myself today—in my beloved Florence.
In conclusion: what dress code do you adhere to when you greet your guests?
When dressing for work I aim for a polished yet laid-back attire: a cashmere blazer, preferably blue, a white tailor-made shirt, a colorful cashmere or silk pocket square, blue jeans and a pair of comfortable limited-edition sneakers