A walk on the wild side
Kit Kemp, the creative force behind some of London’s most exciting hotels, believes that art is the secret to creating spaces with meaning. This autumn, she’s offering tours that will reveal some of most exciting works on show in her own interiors and nea
Kit Kemp, co-founder and design director of Firmdale Hotels —which, at the last count, owns eight hotels in London and two in New York—has launched a series of walks with the aim of demonstrating how contemporary art can transform an interior into something memorable and meaningful.
From Ham Yard, just off Regent’s Street in W1, to Bloomsbury’s Charlotte Street Hotel, the Firmdale premises all share an unmistakable house style that reflects Kit’s idiosyncratic eye for bright colours, contrasting fabrics and arresting artworks. Her personal mantra when it comes to decorating is that every room is like a painted canvas and has to tell a story and that often begins with art.
‘to stop a busy guest on their way to a meeting or someone who is jetlagged and grumpy in their tracks and make them look around for even a moment is what i try to achieve,’ she explains.
this approach follows in the footsteps of other ‘art hotels’, including New York’s Gramercy Hotel, which has works by Damien Hirst, and La Colombe d’or in Saint-paul-de-vence, which boasts a mural by Fernand Léger in the restaurant. Kit’s collection, however, juxtaposes works by award-winning established names against others by up-and-coming artists and pieces of folk art from around the world.
the walk, which begins in Ham Yard, will tour the pieces onsite, including As time goes by, two canvases by Howard Hodgkin that stand side by side in Croc, the hotel’s 1950s-inspired bowling alley. ‘i’ve never been in a bowling alley that i wanted to remain in for more than two minutes, so that was going to be a challenge,’ laughs Kit. ‘One of the solutions i came up with was to actually have good art on the walls.’
Other works include Group, the specially commissioned sculpture by turner prize-winning tony Cragg, which stands in the courtyard of the hotel, as well as the large oil by Lucy Kempwelch that hangs in the library and which Kit counts as one of her favourites. ‘i think she was as good a painter of horses as munnings, but, being a woman, she was never taken seriously.’
A magpie eye makes graduate shows such as the one at the Chelsea College of Art almost a must-visit; it was there that Kit spotted work by Hermione Skye O’hea and commissioned her to produce the loom art installation that hangs above the reception desk. ‘there’s always a balance that needs to be achieved,’ explains Kit. ‘i like displaying works by established artists beside pieces by younger ones. it makes a room feel less serious and more witty.’
Afterwards, Courtauld-trained curator Olivia paterson will take the group to private views of the latest shows and exhibitions at top Soho and mayfair galleries, including marian Goodman, the octogenarian New York dealer who opened her gallery off Golden Square in 2014; contemporary specialist Larry Gagosian, who has three galleries in London; and Savile Row’s gallery double act of Ordovas and Hauser & Wirth, before finishing off with a threecourse lunch or afternoon tea at the hotel.
‘Our aim is to show how to collect and successfully hang art, making it playful and enticing within a living space,’ states Kit. The next series of walks take place on September 2, October 7 and November 11. Tickets cost £95, including lunch or afternoon tea at Ham Yard (020–3642 1007; email@example.com)
‘Our aim is to show how to collect and successfully hang art
Kit Kemp’s effervescent interior in the Ham Yard is designed to stop even the most busy guests and encourage them to look around