A colourful life
The interior designer Kit Kemp brings the same vibrant, eclectic style to her Caribbean holiday home as she does to her boutique hotels.
Hotel designer Kit Kemp’s beautiful Barbadian bolthole
When Kit Kemp retreats to her family’s holiday home in Barbados each winter, escaping the mad bustle of running and designing the ever-expanding boutique-hotel empire she founded with her husband Tim in 1985, she always has great plans to plough through lots of life admin, ‘but, of course, nothing ever gets ticked of the to-do list, and by day four, I realise I haven’t done a thing,’ she says, laughing. Instead, each day, after a long walk and a breakfast picked up at the local market – ‘There’s a French man who bakes the most wonderful bread and we’re spoilt for choice with tropical fruit’ – she lies down somewhere quiet, ‘pretending to read but really going to sleep’. Then it’s time for a quick swim or water ski, and an early supper, ‘just after the sun’s gone down’.
This eleg a nt house, set on a high hi lltop overlooking the Caribbean Sea, has a dramatic entrance: a long coral-stone driveway lined with sabal palms leads up to pair of 18th-century carved Indian doors, from which you can see straight through the house and out to the bright-blue water beyond. As it is a downtime destination for family and friends, Kemp wanted to create large openplan spaces for entertaining and lounging, while bedrooms are mainly located in cabanas outside
‘The monkeys are very inquisitive and seem to notice every change we make to the house. Recently one hurt his hand, so he dipped it in the pool’
the main house. ‘It’s a place to switch of and sleep so well with the sea air,’ she says.
Most rooms are open to the elements, and hummingbirds buzz around the high, pitched ceilings, designed to allow the air to fow through freely. A family of Bajan green monkeys are also frequent visitors. ‘They’re ver y inquisitive and seem to notice every change we make to the house and come to check it out; recently one of the monkeys hurt his hand and it was fascinating to see him dip it in the pool. I love to watch them walk along the fence lines; they make it look so easy,’ Kemp says.
By day, the intensity of the hues – turquoise, raspberry pink and lime green – that she has used on the tong ue-and-groove ceilings, woodwork, oversized shutters and upholstery resonates with the tropical landscape outside. ‘You just can’t get colours hot enough – in this light everything looks bleached out,’ she says. The bohemian mood of the
house is ‘inside out’, a theme Kemp reiterates in her work, bringing nature into fabric designs and creating rooftop terraces, complete with beehives or chicken houses, at the Firmdale hotel g roup’s properties in London and New York. In her holiday home, small details such as seashell-studded frames and lamps, and drif twood table bases emphasise the connection with island life.
Textured coral-stone walls provide a calm backdrop for a broad mix of furniture and textiles, featuring many of Kemp’s prints for the fabric houses Christopher Farr and Chelsea Textiles. Further interest comes from artwork by the likes of Breon O’Casey and Ramiro Fernandez Saus, and unusual pieces including mud-bead chandeliers and decorated chests of drawers by the Biarritz-based artist Mimi. And always, there is a certain irreverence.
‘I don’t like my designs ever to get too serious; they need to make you smile,’ Kemp explains.
At night she lights dozens of storm lanterns around the house, before settling down with a cocktail that is ‘usually fendishly made with too much rum if my daughter Min is around’, she jokes. ‘It’s a treat to sit on a sofa in the open air, under the stars, listening to the crickets and warbling tree frogs with a cooling drink in hand,’ Kemp enthuses. ‘It gets dark early but stays warm, so it’s a sarong-only dress code. And when the sun goes down, the beat of Caribbean music starts to foat across the bay, bringing the party to us.’ Kit Kemp’s second book, Every Room Tells a Story (Hardie Grant, £30), is available for £25 with free p&p from Telegraph Bookshop (0844-871 1514; books.telegraph.co.uk); frmdale.com
The hallway Above a long 19th-century fruitwood console table hangs a series of artworks by Breon O’Casey (breon-ocasey.co.uk). The shell sconces are by Porta Romana (portaromana.co.uk). The lounge room Designers Guild’s Island Hibiscus was used for...
Kit Kemp in a bedroom suite at Crosby Street Hotel in New York, part of the Firmdale Hotels group that she runs with her husband, Tim. The exterior 18th-century Indian carved doors, such as these opening into one of the satellite bedrooms, are used...
The outdoor sitting/dining room has three sides open to the garden and views of the sea. The ceiling is painted in Indian Ocean and the shutters in Alchemilla, both by Designers Guild (designersguild.com). The bespoke rug is by Christine Van Der Hurd...
Two sofas are upholstered in Fathom by Christopher Farr (christopherfarrcloth.com). A custom-made mud-bead chandelier from Mud Studio, a rough wooden table and side tables with driftwood bases contribute to the organic, breezy ambience. The master...