WALKING INSIDE TONY HORNECKER'S house is like stepping into a world that you thought only existed in your childhood fantasies. Serving as both his home and his workspace, Tony’s warehouse in Dalston is a bit like your grandmother’s attic crossed with Aladdin’s cave of wonders.
The elaborate space has become well known to many Londoners as the setting for the Pale Blue Door, a supper club that began life a few years ago as a means for Tony to make some extra cash. Diners were tucked into the intimate recesses of his home and treated to a home-cooked meal, booze and a crooning drag queen. What was originally intended to be a one-off thing went on to become one of London’s most beloved pop-up dining experiences, subsequently appearing in Buenos Aires and Santiago. The restaurant shut its doors earlier this year after a wildly successful three year run.
“I wanted to create an installation or experience where people were taken on a journey. I think it achieved that, but it got to that point where it became too much of a business and it was stopping me from doing anything else. People were quite shocked when I shut it down because it was so successful and everyone loved it.”
Prior to his career as a pop-up restaurateur, Tony worked as a set designer in the fashion industry for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. Before this he’d trained as a chef and it was the combination of these experiences that Tony brought together in his restaurant. “The reason the Pale Blue Door was a success was that all the facets of my life came together.”
Following the launch of the Pale Blue Door at his East London home, Tony took the pop-up restaurant on the road to a dilapidated mansion in Buenos Aires. “When we first opened there was a tramp that living in the doorway, and it always stunk of piss. It was an old crumbly mansion, which was beautiful, but you were sitting on broken chairs made of bricks and the house was falling down around you. In the first few days people were arriving in limousines, and we got a lot of interest. But it took a few days for them to get it.”
Tony found that Londoners were more receptive to the Pale Blue Door experience than the Argentineans. “Here people are much more open to having an experience. It’s not so much about the food or the service. They did get it and enjoy it [in Buenos Aires], but it wasn’t quite what they had in mind.”
In the same year Tony and his team took their creative venture over to Germany. “My favourite project ever was when the whole team went to Berlin and the eight of us built a little village of houses in an urban garden. We lived there for eight weeks. We arrived with my little van which went around Berlin every day to find new materials, and we built this amazing little village. But there was a lot of rain. You were constantly getting wet and trying to get dry.”
One of Tony’s most notable accomplishments includes the construction of a restaurant and brothel at Glastonbury. “I was so blatant about it that they kind of didn’t believe me. In the middle of a festival you’d come to dinner, then go to bed for an hour. People would go up after their dinner and when they’d come down everyone would be clapping. It was very communal. It was nice.”
Tony recently returned from a stint in Chile where he was working on a project called Homes with his partner William. “We were travelling around in a little van. We’d find a location and build a house there to live for a couple of weeks. It was very exciting. We built six homes over about two months.”
“The whole thing was very romantic. It was hugely challenging for our relationship but I think we both grew, and our relationship survived. We were so naïve in a way. The first house went well, but then the second house flooded. We spent one night there out on this lake and it started to rain, and the next day we came back and the whole thing had collapsed. The next one on the beach blew down and we had to put it back up again. It was nearing winter and we nearly froze. We’re making a book about it.”
Despite shutting up shop on the Pale Blue Door, Tony’s schedule is far from quiet. In addition to working on the book for Homes, he has recently collaborated with luxury design house Hermes to bring his whimsical aesthetic to their stores across the UK (Video at the bottom of this post).
He seems to live by the advice he gives others: “Just do whatever makes you happy, and do what you love. Don’t be afraid of anything. One thing I’ve learnt is to do whatever you want to do and it will work out.”
Interview and words by: Cleo Andrews