Ori kafri in An Unexpected visit

The American is chilled to the bone when he rings the doorbell at a large front door on Piazza Santa Maria Novella. A girl dressed in pearl-white opens the door. He steps inside, asking permission as he does so, as if he were entering someone’s home – it just came out that way, unbidden. He crosses the corridor with vaulted ceilings and casts a glance at the walls: floorplans, sections and technical drawings from renaissance architecture. To the right is the large staircase which is the only remaining vestige of the old building, whilst an enormous monography by Araki with a pink cover, volumes by Herbert Ypma and Massimo Listri, the AD collection, a historical encyclopaedia and the ten-year anniversary edition of Firenze magazine lie in a small library on the left hand side. The American glances up at the coffered ceiling, and a voice calls out from behind the table, which is covered with stacks of books and a PC. “Welcome, Sir.” There is no such thing as check-in here. Nor is there any check-out, for that matter. And when he goes, I am quite sure he will say See you again soon. You are our guest. Not a customer, I feel like saying to him, but I keep quiet and hope that my gestures convey it – thinks the girl dressed in pearl white, before asking, “Would you like a tea, coffee or a glass of water? No doubt, with this first cold snap, something hot is better.” “An espresso, please. I’d like to speak to Mr. Kafri, could you give me his contact details?” “You’re in luck sir. It just so happens Mr. Kafri is here,” she says. In one of the two small rooms, in front of the blazing fire, Mr. Kafri is seated in an armchair upholstered in ivory fabric. Barely 40, he is wearing a faded denim shirt, and his blue eyes have a gentle expression. The fire brightens up the drab light of early winter filtering through the large windows. “Good morning, can I get you something to drink?” “I’ve already had an espresso, it was excellent, thank you”. “So how can I help you?”
Ori by name, Kafri by surname. At primary school he stood out amidst all the Marios and Paolos. Yet his clean-cut voice has a distinctly Florentine accent.
“Do you remember me? February this year, in Malibu. I came to Mr. Rappaport’s villa, the one turned into JK Malibu for a week. I went back every evening. For the views of the Pacific, sure, but above all the atmosphere and the cuisine.
An outstanding ambassador for your country and all its delights. The wine, the mozzarella...Italy was in the spotlight, and yet everyone kept saying “that’s very JK”. So I came to discover the first JK, where it all started.” “I am honoured. How long are you staying with us? “Just a few hours, I’m passing through on my way to Milan”. “Well let me accompany you then”. Mr. Kafri returns to the library, takes out an old leather-bound album and shows him the photos of the Florentine palace both before and after it was renovated by the architect Bönan. “A thourough and very skilful transformation,” the American notes. Mr. Kafri steps back to allow his guest to enter the small glass lift, and presses the top floor button. The door opens to room no. 1. The American heads towards the four-poster bed, noticing the perfect folds in the curtains, the embroidered linen sheets, the cashmere blanket, the Carrara marble sink with Stella taps. Then he goes out onto the small balcony overlooking the square:
to the right are the two-tone decorations of the basilica of Santa Maria Novella, whilst to the left there are posters for a personal exhibition on Gaetano Pesce, underneath the loggia of the former Ospedale di San Paolo.
Mr. Kafri takes out a pocket book from the desk and hands it to the American. “This is the JK guide to Florence, written by Claudio Meli, Manager of the Florence JK Place. He is a bona-fide Florentine and a true connoisseur and lover of his city, not to mention the spirit of this hotel. Take it with you, you will find all the most essential maps and addresses to really familiarise yourself with the spirit of this city.” In two steps they are outside on the terrace, nestled amidst the geometrics of the rooftops and the vast silhouette of the dome of Santa Maria Del Fiore. “Do you believe in coincidences? I do. I came here with my family in ‘95 for a farewell dinner, before moving to America. It was a bustling Chinese restaurant, later it was abandoned. When we bought it the building was derelict and very few people frequented the square. But we didn’t let that stop us. I was 23 or 24, and I had this ambition to change the hotelier’s profession starting from something very simple: a return to the roots of real hospitality which a good host reserves for his guests. Human warmth, kindness, dialogue and the approach of those who don’t just start counting, but instead make sure they instil confidence first and foremost”. The American reflects that Mr. Kafri emanates a tranquillity unusual for someone his age. Walking back down the staircase, Mr. Kafri guides his guest towards the breakfast room, which is now empty.
A winter garden with a glass ceiling, above which swing Moroccan lanterns hanging from the upper levels. The American imagines the morning chatter when the guests are seated at the large oval table; the lids covering the tarts on glass platters are removed, and they are served cappuccino as they weigh up their plans for the day. If they follow Claudio Meli’s advice, this will take them to galleries, museums, artisan ateliers, cashmere manufacturers and oil and wine producers. They head on to the restaurant, which spills out onto the square in the summertime.
I want to show you the Pink Room.
says Mr. Kafri. They descend the steep stairs into a long and narrow basement room which is a world away from the all-enveloping warmth of the wood panelling and natural hues of the lounge. Everything is minimal, in dazzling white illuminated by pink lights. The only decorative element is a series of small photos of Araki in square frames. “This is where we host events and presentations for those who like the sartorial approach, as opposed to pret-a-porter”, says Mr. Kafri, without making names. “In the early days, when I was Chairman of The Club, we used to hold a lot of parties here. When we go back upstairs, don’t worry if everything looks a bit green, it’s just the effect of the pink lighting”. “Thank you so much, Mr. Kafri. I’ll be off, I don’t want to take up anymore of your time. Do tell me what I owe you.” “You don’t owe me a thing; if anything, I’m the one who owes something here.” “I don’t follow you...” “Yes, my welcome is a tribute to Henk de Lugt”. “I’m sorry, who is he?” “He was the manager of Hotel 717 in Amsterdam. He was the one who opened my eyes to the desire for a new approach to being a hotelier. He did exactly what I have just done with you today for me, on a day when it was pouring with rain. His sincere welcome struck me far more than all the glitz I’ve seen laid on in the world’s 5-star hotels.” “What is the most important thing of this new way of being a hotelier for you?” “The manner of course. It’s not just about what you give, but how you offer it. At JK Place, nothing is more important than sincere intentions. Those that work here must truly love the local area, their jobs and, above all, people”. “Well if we met today, Mr. Kafri, then coincidences exist for me, too”. The American walks out into the silent square and turns left. Just a few steps ahead, the River Arno will open up in front of him.

The Travelling Box

When the iconic magic box meets the place, captured from hotel guests shots to let discover the details of the hotel destinations.

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