Boutique hotelier, turned gallerist and publisher, Ori Kafri has an appetite for new projects that define la dolce vita.
In a city renowned for its luxury accommodation, the perennial question remains: Which is the best hotel in Florence? If you’re looking for a boutique home-from-home, travel editors are unanimous in their praise of JK Place. In the same city, which is crammed with some of the world’s leading cultural institutions, another question arises: Which is the most interesting private gallery? The recently opened FOR gallery is the first in town dedicated to photography, and is already making its mark internationally. Still in Florence: Which magazine to consult for the latest on cultural events and the local beau monde? Firenze magazine is the leader in its field and, again, lacks any real competition. And who is the creative force behind all these projects? That would be Ori Kafri, an entrepreneur extraordinaire who, at just 32 years old, is a master of la dolce vita. He is becoming an expert at spotting a niche in the luxury market and filling it with a sophisticated product positioned to achieve cult status.
Born in Florence and educated at the city’s hospitality and hotel management school, Kafri opened his first hotel not long after graduating. JK Place is housed in a traditional Florentine townhouse on Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which was financed in part by his Israel-based father (whose initials the hotel takes its name from). An instant hit for its cozy feel and classic style (courtesy of interior designer Michele Bonan), Kafri followed this up in 2007 with the opening of JK Capri, a hotel that garnered acres of press coverage including Tatler magazine’s Hotel of the Year 2007.
While hotels remain his core business (planning is underway for a post-crisis expansion), Kafri is also a partner in the recently opened FOR gallery, which champions undiscovered photographic talents, and is the publisher of Firenze and Capri magazines, which chronicle the local chic set. Timeless styling and a polished finish is what connect his enterprises.
As FOR gallery opens a temporary pop-up space in New York – part of Kafri’s drive to gain the art world’s acceptance – we talk to the formidable entrepreneur about photography, hospitality and his appetite for new projects.
You’re a hotelier, gallerist and publisher - where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?
My main inspiration comes directly from the hotel, which is where my entrepreneurial life began. Working in the JK Place environment, I meet people from all over the world and from different careers, which encourages me to try different things – publishing magazines and, my latest project, opening FOR, a photography gallery. These aren’t brand extensions of JK Place but the vision and lifestyle of the hotel is behind them.
Is there a common theme or style that runs throughout your work?
In each of my projects I try to convey my personality and point of view. There is no common theme that I consciously try to cultivate but I am sure guests from JK Place will see the spirit of the hotel in the magazines and in the gallery. When it comes to aesthetics, I prefer a very classic style that will stand the test of time, which from a business point of view is a necessity. You can’t do that with most contemporary design and I am not someone who wants to invent a new style.
Tell us about your most recent project, FOR gallery in Florence.
The gallery specializes in photography and we like to work with photographers who are either young and exhibiting for the first time or who are experienced but not so well known. Discovering new talent is very important to me and most of the artists are signing with us exclusively. In return, we try to launch them onto the market, to bring them to museums, to get them editorial and host events in their honor. The most important name we work with is Massimo Listri, who is in his mid 50s and for the last 30 years has been an important interiors photographer working for leading interiors magazines including Architectural Digest. Only recently he decided to make large photographs and look at his work as an artist rather than an interiors photographer. The organization that controls the museums of Florence recently commissioned him to take photos of Florence’s nine most important museums including the Uffizi, which will be used as a new way to promote our city’s cultural institutions.
You are about to open a pop-up FOR gallery in New York. Why pop-up?
We thought it would be beneficial to show our work outside of Florence; the best way of doing so would be at an art fair but when you are a young gallery such as ours (only six months old), it is difficult to do this because you aren’t so well known. So we have taken it upon ourselves to promote the gallery in New York. The space we are showing at is owned by Boffi and we are lucky enough to have it for a week. We have invited friends, the press and other galleries to come and see our work and get to know the gallery. A pop-up space is much better than an event that lasts one night because of the sheer number of people you can meet during the time you are open.
What are the priorities when creating a new hotel?
Before you open a hotel, the priority is location, location, location. The location must have a sense of place and character and needs to be very central. The business model of a hotel very much depends on its location. Once you open a hotel, the priority becomes service, service, service. Achieving service is a combination of so many elements but primarily it is down to the staff. It is important to recruit people who share your mentality and then work with them to help them understand your vision. Hospitality has to be in their DNA.
You have opted for a very classic style at both hotels. Which designers have you worked with?
I only work with Michele Bonan who is integral to my hotels and is an essential person for me to work with. From the beginning, he was able to understand my vision from a management and hospitality point of view and created an ambience based on my needs and my taste. I have learnt a lot working with him. The long-term idea is that people will look at the style and describe it as “JK Place” style. Before we achieve that, you could perhaps describe our style as quite Ralph Lauren in its aesthetic.
What is your involvement with Firenze and Capri magazines?
The magazines I publish are city and society magazines for Florence and Capri. Most of the distribution is through the hotels, but also in certain newsstands and in the best stores in town and a lot of people receive them by mail. Hopefully we will launch a magazine in Venice next, and then Rome. We want to become the main player for this kind of magazine in Italy. When I travel I enjoy reading Gotham in NYC and Angelno or LA Confidential in Los Angeles. I love these magazines and realized that we lack this sort of publication in Italy. It’s not a magazine for the hotel but for the city – this is what I find most interesting.
Do you aspire to create one JK umbrella brand?
I would love that, but my first priority is to develop the hotel brand and the hotel collection. Once we have a few more hotels then we might work on a home collection for example. There is a lot to achieve before we reach that stage.
What are your 5 favorite hotels around the world? Why?
I am a huge fan of boutique hotels that have a home-from-home feel. So my favorite hotels are Hotel 717 in Amsterdam, Blakes in London, the Delano Hotel in Miami and also Casa Tua in Miami Beach. I’m about to go to The Landing on Harbour Island and if what I have been told is true, this will also become a favorite. Of course, JK Place and JK Capri are my absolute favorite hotels.
Ori Kafri’s definition of luxury?
I think luxury is personal to you, made to measure and made to your taste. But to go to a tailor and know what you want you need to be educated in tailors and style. So to think about luxury is to think about an education and understanding.
A book because knowledge and culture is the definition of luxury.
Friends because they are difficult to find and they cannot be bought.
Home...is home! It’s where you find your family, friends, your books, and a balance in life. Your life is in your home.