Who is she? Kit Kemp MBE needs no introduction. As creative director and co-owner of Firmdale Hotels, the award-winning designer has been creating unique, vibrant and inspiring interiors for almost three decades. Having trained in graphic design, she then worked for a shipping company, which allowed her to visit places such as Columbia, Guatemala and Mexico, where she collected ideas and brought back fabrics and rugs. Next, she worked for Polish architect Leszek Nowicki, who became a huge influence. It was, in fact, Nowicki who first introduced her to Tim Kemp, her now husband and co-owner of the Firmdale group. ‘He was a developer and was upgrading some of his properties,’ explains Kemp. ‘He’d been working on hotels offering student accommodation, so we decided to do something different and have a go at creating a small boutique place together.’ As well as stylish hotels, Kit also designs textiles, fragrances and homewares, and has written two interior design books. What’s her style? ‘I’m always looking for ideas wherever I go,’ says Kemp. ‘Private homes, museums and art galleries all inspire me, but my biggest thing is textiles – remnants, colourful threads, ethnic, ancient, contemporary, colourful or monotone. I love colour, and I like my interiors to look carefree.’ Organic, natural pieces play a big part in her work, as does travel. A sense of discovery through each space is important, as is having a clear identity for every project. ‘I look at everything afresh. Obviously interiors will display our signature, but they should be of this moment, not of yesterday’s moment. With good design, you
shouldn’t be able to imagine it from the start – it should become larger than your original idea,’ she says. ‘The key is to always be curious. The whole look of a hotel should be an adventure for the senses. Most importantly, though, it should make people smile.’ Which hotels has she designed?
Kemp’s first hotel, Dorset Square, opened in London in 1985. ‘It was really great fun working on the design, even though I had no formal training,’ she says. ‘I meet people now and they say, “When I’ve done my design course”, or when I’ve done this and that, but sometimes, you’ve just got to get on and do it!’ Since then, along with husband Tim, Kemp has expanded her portfolio to include no fewer than ten properties in both London and New York, including the Covent Garden Hotel, the Charlotte Street Hotel, the Soho Hotel, Ham Yard and her most recent hotel project, The Whitby in upper midtown Manhattan, which opened to the public in February 2017. What is she working on now?
Although there are no more hotels on the horizon at the moment, Kemp is always working on her next big project. A third interior design book is due for release in April 2019, while a second collection of china with Wedgwood, called ‘Sailor’s Farewell’, will be out later this year, as will an exciting new wallpaper and fabric collection for Andrew Martin. firmdalehotels.com ➤
‘The whole look of a hotel should be an adventure for the senses. Most importantly, though, it should make people smile’
Private room in The Whitby Hotel
The Whitby Hotel, New York
Ham Yard Hotel, London