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A Living Space

A Conversation With Designer and Hotelier Kit Kemp
  • Crosby Street Hotel

    Crosby Street Hotel, New York

  • Kit Kemp

    Interiors by Kit Kemp

  • The Soho Hotel, London

    The Soho Hotel, London

  • Crosby Street Hotel

    Crosby Street Hotel

  • Haymarket Hotel

    Haymarket Hotel, London

  • Kit Kemp

    Interiors by Kit Kemp

  • The Soho Hotel, London

    The Soho Hotel, London

QUICK LOOK:
Kit Kemp
WHO

Designer (and co-owner, along with husband Tim) of the eight Firmdale hotels.

WHERE

Mostly London, though New York recently saw its first Firmdale opening in the form of SoHo’s Crosby Street Hotel.

WHAT’S NEXT

Another New York hotel — but first, in London’s own Soho, the upcoming Ham Yard Hotel, a more ambitious effort that will anchor a mixed-use development (including shops and residences) on a site near Piccadilly Circus.

December, 2012

Kit Kemp
As one half of the creative partnership behind Firmdale Hotels, Kit Kemp is responsible for the look and feel of quite a few Tablet favorites, both in London and New York. We caught up with Kit on the occasion of the release of her new book, A Living Space, to talk about design, materials, and Firmdale’s plans for the future.

You say in the book that you consider fabric an obsession.

I’ve always loved fabric, and I think texture within a room is very important. For the hotels we’ve designed so many things specifically for just our use, and I think that’s what makes the hotels special, really — the fact that it’s tailor-made for a particular job, and that there are things you can’t see anywhere else. I’ve done two fabric ranges now, and I’m continuing to do another one for Christopher Farr, and also designing carpets, and now lighting.

It’s always a bit of a letdown to check into a hotel and then see details you’ve seen elsewhere.

I do like every room to just have that unusual feel, and I think they should arouse your curiosity. I think arriving at the hotel should be slightly like an adventure. And in fact, that’s what you want to achieve in your own home — you want to reflect the travels that you’ve had, the things that you’ve seen, and if you can buy a blanket and make it into a chair, it makes it even more individual.

Since last we spoke you’ve taken over the Dorset Square Hotel again. What kind of state was it in? How big were the changes that you wanted to make when you saw it again?

Total. I wanted to totally change it. Because it was last done really in the Eighties, and so little had been done with it. It had been untouched since then. It wasn’t in a great state at all. And it was so exciting to just completely redo it, and make it look as I feel it should look now.

The Dorset Square was the very first hotel that I did, actually. And our hotels seem to have got slightly larger and become a bit more grandiose, but it was great to go back to thirty-seven bedrooms, and that little gorgeous Regency building, with the drawing room and the great little restaurant. Some of the rooms are quite small, but they are so tailored and so comfortable. I was really happy with it when we finished.

It’s interesting that it was untouched. Did you sort of cringe looking at your earliest work, or were you able to distance yourself from it?

Oh, no, I cringed at some of it. I think you have to look at your work, and not all of it is going to be great. Time passes. I think a garden, when the bones are right, you can still see it and it’s still living. A room, if you leave it, dies almost, if there’s nobody living there. There are a few rooms where I thought, that’s sort of a classic, that one’s okay, but most of them, no, I’m afraid.

We’ve heard you’re preparing something new in London.

It’s going to be called the Ham Yard Hotel, and that’s in Soho, and it’s one of our biggest projects. There’s a sort of garden in the center that we’re creating. Soho itself is always very grey, so to be able to put five large oak trees in the center of somewhere, it’s really nice. And there’s going to be a few shops and apartments, and then we’ve got a full theatre and a bowling alley. I’ve never been to a bowling alley that I wanted to stay at for more than five minutes, so that’s going to be a real challenge, and fun to do as well, actually.

And something in New York as well?

That’s further on, because where we’re going to build, which is on 56th Street, has actually got another building on it, and that’s got to be demolished before we then start again. So that’s a sort of more long-term project.

It’s just an exciting time. It’s been a really good year for us. We got a lot of awards over here, and then to do the book, and to do the fabric collections and everything else. I’ve just had this little gap between projects, and I just feel kind of reinvigorated in a sense.

John Speranza
QUICK LOOK:
Kit Kemp
WHO

Designer (and co-owner, along with husband Tim) of the eight Firmdale hotels.

WHERE

Mostly London, though New York recently saw its first Firmdale opening in the form of SoHo’s Crosby Street Hotel.

WHAT’S NEXT

Another New York hotel — but first, in London’s own Soho, the upcoming Ham Yard Hotel, a more ambitious effort that will anchor a mixed-use development (including shops and residences) on a site near Piccadilly Circus.

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