Spoiled for choice
Two London boutique hotels for lovers of chic design
When I tell a London chum I’m bunking down at the Haymarket Hotel, he says, “That’s where I interviewed Richard E. Grant.” The hotel is that kind of place. Its whimsical yet elegant surrounds would be perfectly acceptable to a celeb who’s more of an expert than most when it comes to luxury digs (Grant hosts the television series Hotel Secrets).
The Haymarket’s location is so discreet — it’s a left, right, left from Trafalgar Square yet not the type of thoroughfare to attract passers-by — that it’s easy to imagine Grant simply sauntered in through its front door, unnoticed except perhaps by a pigeon or two. The hotel blends right in with its Regency-era surroundings, perhaps because the building came from John Nash, the master architect whose projects included Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Marble Arch and the Theatre Royal Haymarket, close by. A striking row of fluted Doric columns punctuate the Haymarket’s facade; above the columns a delicate black balcony railing wraps around the first-floor windows.
Nothing about the restrained exterior prepares you for the singular vision playing out inside. Kit Kemp is the creative mastermind behind the Haymarket’s interior design. She and husband Tim Kemp own Firmdale Hotels, a collection of nine boutique properties. Kit’s aesthetic mixes bold colour accents and vintage pieces with contemporary art, floral prints and unexpected delights such as dog-shaped appliques on the back of the Haymarket’s restaurant chairs and barstools.
Kemp likes to create a sense of arrival. I swan into her foyer, which feels more art gallery than boutique hotel. The space is dominated by a striking piece from Turner Prize-winning sculptor Tony Cragg and a moody London landscape from John Virtue, who paints only in monochrome.
I’m checked in, escorted to my room and offered a pot of tea but don’t have time to wait for its arrival — it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m on a mission to catch a matinee while in the heart of the theatre district. There’s a concierge downstairs but I go straight on to a ticketing website. It’s right on 2.30pm, when most matinees start, but there’s a 4pm show around the corner that will do quite nicely. I race off to the ticket booth, a few blocks away in Leicester Square, and return to examine my room more thoroughly. The first thing I notice is the television perched at the end of the bath in the polished granite bathroom. I run hot water and line up Kemp’s own Rik Rak toiletries range along a ledge.
Now I just need caffeine to accompany my soak, which is when I realise the room doesn’t come with tea or coffee-making accoutrements (caffeine addicts may find this a frustration).
What I do enjoy about the guestroom is clambering up on to the unusually high bed (more athletic types could lob themselves with a Fosbury flop). The bed is crowned with Kemp’s signature oversized padded headboard, sandwiched between two teapot prints. Tall windows let the light flood in, allowing me to check London’s weather at any point. Breakfast is taken in Brumus restaurant, which looks out on to Her Majesty’s Theatre (Nash also worked on that building). I’m tempted by the fluffy eggwhite omelette stuffed with goat’s cheese and roasted peppers, served on a bed of grilled asparagus (and it’s so good I order it again next morning). Toast comes stacked in a silver rack; polished salt and pepper shakers could double as hand weights. The buffet spread on a timber table feels decadent, perhaps because the yoghurts, fruits, nuts and mueslis are cradled in gigantic bowls (Kemp’s own Mythical Creatures range for Wedgwood).
Guests who want to work off all this indulgence can head to the glam subterranean 18m pool reflecting an ever-changing light installation. Unusually, a long pewter cocktail bar flanks the pool.
It’s a wrench to leave the Haymarket — I particularly love how staff recognise me each time I return and have my key at the ready — but I’m off to check into sister property the Knightsbridge Hotel in a quiet residential cul-de-sac two blocks from Harrods. The public spaces feature what I now recognise as Kemp’s confident mix’n’match style — cue drawing rooms where dog-embroidered cushions sit comfortably with antelope wall sculptures and vibrant textiles that speak of Africa.
Under the gaze of an equestrian print series, I tuck into the Knightsbridge breakfast (smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, English muffin with jams, juice, coffee or tea, and a flute of champagne). At other times of the day, you can brew a Nespresso at the honesty bar or grab a pastry. But for snacks, I can’t go past the dazzling selection within Harrods’ food halls. It makes me want to pack a picnic of crab and ginger cakes, chicken tikka “naanwiches” and morello cherry and pistachio baked doughnuts. I could throw in a flat peach from Spain, a golden kiwi from New Zealand or a fresh coconut from Thailand. It feels like the whole world gathered in one place: a carefully curated cornucopia. Like Kemp’s creations, the effect is greater than the sum of its parts.
Katrina Lobley was a guest of Firmdale Hotels.