As a designer, it can be difficult to walk that fine line between showcasing your client’s taste and simultaneously creating a look that is original, distinct and memorable. You don’t want your business to be defined by a particular aesthetic but yet you want your work to be so different from what else is out there, that the originality itself is what defines you and your curated spaces. Enter KIT KEMP. This London-based designer with Firmdale Hotels has caught our attention in a big way, and from the way she designs her spaces–it is clear she’s taking the word “original” to a whole new level of meaning. In addition to being a talented hotelier and interior designer, Kit’s brilliant designs have been featured in her book, A Living Space, which gives readers the ability to truly admire her talent and see the diversity within her work. We wanted to know a little more about Kit, and what better way to do that than by asking her a few questions for our readers! We are delighted today to reveal our interview with Kit and give you a taste of true originality!
Number Sixteen Hotel
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you came into the world of designing hotels:
The first hotel I designed was the Dorset Square Hotel in 1985. My background had been in graphics and nothing to do with interiors. It was a Regency townhouse and was called the first country house hotel in London at the time. I had the opportunity to redo it from top to bottom last year in 2012. It was so fantastic to totally reinvent the building and make it sing another song. I loved every minute of the project and realise how much we have grown up, but our original loves and thoughts always remain. Even though we have created buildings from below ground upwards in both London and New York and never stopped working on new projects, the kernel of creativity and ideas remain intact. I don’t like gimics or branding. I love tactile objects, and fabrics that tell a story and feel and look beautiful. I prefer wood to plastic, and prefer paintings to photographs. Nevertheless rules are for breaking and I just love good design. I love lots of other designers’ work and appreciate the diversity. I work closely with architects and builders and mostly from plans. It is so important to relate well with all the disciplines and craftspeople involved with a project, and this is the joy of it all.
The Soho Hotel
Covent Garden Hotel
You have such a unique aesthetic. What inspires you and how does that translate into your design work?
Each project is different, and should speak for itself - it should never look like a formula. Of course there will be a thread that runs through every project. There should be a consistency of thought that runs through a building and shows itself in the interiors. I’m never off duty and always looking for ideas and inspiration wherever I go. Private homes, museums and art galleries inspire me more than other hotels. However, as a designer my biggest inspiration is textiles – organic pieces, remnants, colourful threads, ethnic, ancient or contemporary, colourful or monotone, linen, wool, dyed or natural. I love them all. I love colour, and I like my interiors to look carefree.
Dorset Square Hotel
What is the biggest challenge in designing a hotel’s interior?
It is a luxury to design an existing interior space, the real challenge is to design one where the building is still a figment of someone’s imagination. To grow with the project, visualise, and make it look so right when completed that no one thinks I have done anything at all.
Number Sixteen Hotel
We’ve read you design your own fabrics and commission your furniture. Are these ever available for purchase and if so, where?
For the hotels we’ve designed so many things from furniture to lighting and wallpapers, specifically for a project, and I think that’s what makes the hotels special, the fact that it’s tailor-made for a particular building, and that there are things you can’t see anywhere else.
I’ve completed an exquisite embroidered fabric range with Chelsea Textiles. The range is called Mythical Beasts, and includes lyrical fabrics like Friendly Flowers and the Sailor’s Farewell. We are also doing a tea service for Wedgewood based on the range. Also I have designed carpets and fabrics for Christopher Farr. The carpets are in jute and wool and are called Egg and Dart and Pebbledash. We have done lots of fabrics together. I love working with Michal Silver and going to the printers to mix colours before the fabric runs. We are embroidering the fabrics after the printing so it is a longer more drawn out process but so fulfilling. I hope to use them in our latest project at Ham Yard. It will be good to launch them there.
I am also in the process of designing furniture for Anthropologie, I can’t wait for it to be completed!
Dorset Square Hotel
Other than your own designs, what other fabric lines do you favor?
Just about everyone you could think of from Andrew Martin, Colefax and Fowler, Osborne and Little, Designers Guild, Maharam, Abbot and Boyd, Travers, John Robshaw, Robert Allen, Jab, Zimmer and Rohde, Pedroso and Osorio, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Kathryn Ireland, Schumacher, Raoul, George Spencer, Vaughan, Peter Fasano, Borderline, Caroline Irving and Claremont to name a few.
Haymarket Hotel “Brumus Bar and Restaurant”
Number Sixteen Hotel
How do you place your different textiles, paint colors, and traditional pieces together in a room? What is your thinking behind it? You make it look so effortless!
I love good detailing and a good finish. Once I have achieved that I can have fun adding the right amount of colour and dash. I like a room to feel restful though and to balance it accordingly. I like to keep the curtains and walling quite plain so I can add the colour and texture to the centre of the room. Art also links the rooms together and it gives guests an opportunity to enjoy art in a decorative setting rather than the austere and impersonal surroundings of a gallery.
Crosby Street Hotel, New York
The Soho Hotel
You are one busy lady, Kit! What is next on your radar?
Ham Yard Hotel will be opening in London’s Soho in the middle of next year. We’re bringing some greenery into the area. To be able to put five very large oak trees in the center of a city overnight and adding a 12ft tall Tony Cragg sculpture is like sprinkling magic. We will be adding new lifeblood to the area in so many ways. The hotel will be large, light filled and with plenty of art. There are some unknown artists that well deserve our respect, and I will be so pleased if they are enjoyed and appreciated. We are building a 175 seat theatre and installing a vintage bowling alley. I’ve never been to a bowling alley that I wanted to stay in for more than five minutes so this is very exciting. There are also apartments, shops, a spa, car parking, and inside and outside restaurants and a bar. There is a roof event space and a roof top garden and a vegetable garden.
Thank you, Kit, for taking the time to speak with us! You are truly inspiring and we cannot wait to visit London and New York soon to see your hotels in person!
Want to know more about Kit’s hotels in London and New York — and a few of her favorites spots if you’re traveling there? Stay tuned! More to come on Thursday!
(All images courtesy of Kit Kemp)