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Interior designer Kit Kemp MBE has been creating exciting and unique interiors for almost three decades, in particular with her work as Design Director for Firmdale Hotels – including the Soho, Covent Garden, Charlotte Street, Haymarket, Number Sixteen, Knightsbridge and Dorset Square hotels in London and Crosby Street Hotel in New York - which she co-owns with her husband Tim Kemp. Kit is internationally acclaimed for her individual and original approach to interiors and her own idea of arranging spaces with a carefree and colourful spirit. Kit’s work has been recognised with prestigious awards such as the Andrew Martin International Interior Designer of the Year Award (2008), British House & Garden magazine’s ‘Hotel Designer of the Year’ (2008) and the The Crown Estate’s ‘Urban Business Award’ (2007). In the years 2000, 2006 and 2009 Firmdale Hotels won the Queens Award for Enterprise for its outstanding contribution to international trade. In New York, Crosby Street Hotel

designer Kit Kemp takes you on a vibrant, inspiring personal voyage through the many spaces she has designed. Here she shares the tools of her trade – her passion for materials such as fabric and embroidery, wood and stone; the innovative way she dares to mix colour and pattern with old and new furniture, textiles and objects; the joy in the wit and humour of contemporary art, dogs and unexpected details; and most importantly, her ethos that design is not something to fear, but instead something to be embraced and enjoyed. In this book, Kit Kemp brings together a visual feast of images to show that when it comes to design, there are no rules. It is about trusting your instincts, being prepared to take some risks and being clever with affordable and accessible pieces rather than always needing to blow the budget, and above all having fun.

A Living Space

was awarded Gold LEED certification in 2010.

In A Living Space, internationally acclaimed interior

The group’s hotels are regularly on the world’s leading travel and style magazines’ hot hotel lists and other awards include Wallpaper magazine’s ‘Best Suite in the World’ and Tatler’s ‘Most Glamorous Hotel in the World’ (both for The Soho Hotel), The European Hotel Design Awards’ Best Interior Design Lobby in 2007 (for Haymarket) and a Homes & Gardens Designer Award 2011 for excellence in interiors.

Kit Kemp A L I V I N G S PAC E £30.00

Interior Design

Kit-JKT-24.5mm.indd 1

7/8/12 6:22 PM


1. A Stitch in Time


2. Bespoke and One-Off ’s


3. Inside Out


4. Antique With Modern


5. Compare and Contrast


6. Nature and Organic


7. Dogs


8. Art and Collections


9. Taking Risks


10. Living With The Things You Love



The idea behind this book, A Living Space, was actually first inspired by an exhibition of the same name I curated for Contemporary Applied Arts in 2010. Then, we wanted to find ways to excite and inspire people to work with the CAA’s many talented artists, sculptors, textile designers and ceramicists, so we brought together whole room sets of specially commissioned pieces to show how a bespoke, highly personalised chest, vase or rug could instantly transform any living space. At that moment I realised how closely I held this bespoke sensibility to my heart, and how integral it had become to my own design process, whether it be for my own home or for one of the many hotels I co-own with my husband Tim, as part of Firmdale Hotels in London and New York. I suddenly felt that the idea of a book might be the ideal way to explore and explain this further for a wider audience. In this book, I hope you will find a myriad of ideas and the encouragement to listen to your heart and trust your own instinct: I have one design rule and that is, there are no rules. If I can give you any advice, it is don’t be afraid to give it a go. If someone comes in halfway through the design process and has an opinion contrary to yours, then send them away until you are done. And always remember to keep it personal – I would never have anything in our hotels that I wouldn’t have in my own home. Design is a private, intimate process and you have to embrace the many twists and turns it takes to creating an exciting, inspiring but ultimately liveable space. Through the ten chapters of this book, I hope you will see how colour, pattern, reclaimed and revamped old finds, customised furniture and fabrics, art and crafts, and unexpected, quirky details can make any interior special. I don’t want to create a pastiche of the past, but instead find little touches – like using a kerosene can, instead of one in classically cut crystal, as a lamp base in a romantic bedroom – that make a room say ‘now’. I always hope that in every interior I design, there is an element of something that anyone entering the room can relate to. Perhaps it triggers a nostalgic memory or simply tickles their fancy and makes them laugh. It is a great compliment when someone comes into one of my hotels and asks ‘Did you have to do very much here?’ They don’t realise that there wasn’t actually a ‘here’ before we arrived. Oh what luxury to be able to work on buildings that are architectural gems! Instead, we usually start from scratch and turn often-neglected, derelict areas, like car parks and old warehouses, into regenerated, burgeoning new neighbourhoods – no mean feat when all you have to start with are ideas in your head, plans on paper and a hard-hat building site. The interior designer Mary Fox Linton once asked me how I work in this way – I told her that when I go to bed at night instead of counting sheep, I walk through all the corridors and rooms of the building in my mind, as it is the best way for me to try to understand it. A great space need not be the most glamorous or luxurious – it is how personal and interesting you make it, how much it reflects you, your interests and your humour, that lends it a warm welcome. Great building bones are fantastic but not everything. For me, inspiration can come from everywhere – peering through the windows of people’s homes whilst walking down a London street (the façades identical, yet each interior very different to the next), collecting textiles wherever I travel, remembering the colours of the sky at dusk whilst horse riding through the New Forest, or buying a piece of art because it reminds me of one of my daughters – which I hope in turn makes the pages in this book, the rooms in my hotels, and my belief in life that anything goes all the more inspiring for you.

A Stitch in Time

Some designers are led by their love of line and architecture, others by client relationships or the latest technologies. My inspiration comes from a love of fabrics, their texture, colour and tone, whatever age or geographical origin; they are very often the start of my creative process. I see a fabric and just have to use it in some way, shape or form. I like to keep an open mind and see everything in the marketplace. I like to be aware of new processes, new designs, up-and-coming designers, and we all wait with great excitement the arrival of each season’s new fabric collection. I am never happier than when sitting on the floor surrounded by reams of material, fabric swatches and pattern books – in fact, one of my earliest memories is of rooting through deep drawers in large chests full of stored materials that my mother had hoarded away. My team often joke that my office looks more like a junk shop, where it becomes nearly impossible to reach my desk for all the pieces of furniture that start to pile up, awaiting scrutiny and reupholstering in a newly-discovered textile gem. I am constantly collecting fabrics on my travels – unique, often handcrafted fabrics that I know I won’t find at home, and I use them in a number of ways, whether pulled across a canvas and hung on the wall or framed in perspex; or remnants used to create a series of cushions or patchwork throws. A delicate embroidered sampler, simply framed, becomes a work of art; South American blankets become upholstery for chairs and inspiration for a new rug’s ranch-stripe design. I adore boiled wool as an upholstery, particularly when the seams are turned inside out and the selvedges finished in a constrasting coloured stitching. Intricately embroidered and needlepointed fabrics are something I particularly cherish – I love the way textiles so often tell a story, conveying a history of the maker or capturing a moment in time that can be treasured forever in the intricate craftsmanship of these timeless, precious pieces.

previous page:

A bookcase at the Crosby Street Hotel was inspiration for my ‘Bookends’ fabric, designed with Christopher Farr, used on the chapter opening number.


12 A Stitch in Time

If pressed to describe my style – something I never like to do because it seems to no longer allow for any change in the future – I would say it is carefree and colourful. My aim as a designer is to make surroundings a joyful thing – to bring in elements of intrigue and curiosity that create a sense of adventure and fun.This is not to be mistaken for gimmickry however – comfort and quality are at the core too.

The Six Senses of Design Luxury design is such an abstract concept because


the essence of what constitutes luxury is such a

When the window is open, the birds will sing, the trees

subjective, and ultimately personal, experience. For me,

will blow in the wind and the rain will patter against the

it is the antithesis of glitzy, shiny fabrics, ostentatious

windowpane. Each, in their own way, help to enhance

glamour and something that feels like a pastiche on the

the beauty of a space – but sometimes designing a room

past. Instead, I design around stimulating and inspiring

can be about eliminating the sound of traffic outside or

the senses.

the noise of a neighbour above or below. I love to see a bright red double-decker bus whizz by the window but


I’d never want to hear it. Good window insulation and

The aspect of a room is key: I have never adhered to

soft furnishings that absorb unwanted noise are essential

a style of design that looks like it has been ‘painted

to the harmony of any room.

by numbers’. I like to play up to the individuality of each room: the way the light bounces around it, the

Not all noises are negative – the sound of chic high-

view outside its windows, the depth and breadth of its

heels, clippity-clip-clipping on a wooden floor plays with

dimensions and proportions. Next, I think of colour,

the senses, evoking a sense of glamour and intrigue; but

because for me, colour is everything. Solid hues, bold

that same clippity-clip coming from every room in the

patterns, subtle undertones – it is what constantly

house, or from the house next door, quickly loses its

inspires me and it is definitely never something to fear.

appeal. The rising crescendo of a party in full swing is

I am constantly enthralled by how one can use and

great unless you want people to be able to sit, relax and

abuse it, and I mean this in a good way: there’s no need

have in-depth conversations of a very personal nature.

to be precious about colour, in fact, be bold with it.

I spend considerable time thinking about how each

That’s when it works best. Trying to match it to the

space will really be used, its level of foot traffic, how I

‘nth’ degree can actually deaden an interior.

want people to feel when they’re in that space, and then use materials to enliven or soften the sense of noise

If access to natural light is limited, I try to embrace it

bouncing around the room accordingly.

rather than try to change it – darker, moodier hues and pattern can work to enliven the space. Where


rooms have floods of light, I keep the colour scheme

Often it is the invisible things such as smell that creates

more simple and tonal, maximising the use of subtle

a sense of true luxury in a space. I love the smell of

textures to help bounce all that lovely daylight around

soap suds, for example, and my idea of ultimate luxury

the room.

is having bouquets of freshly-picked honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender or roses from the garden, warmed

I also introduce colour into a room through objects –

by the sunshine outside, to fill the air with delicious

one key piece can provide the perfect focal point in a

scent inside. Adding fragrance can have as much impact

room, and the ambience of the space can radiate out

on how someone feels in a room as can the choice of

from it. Against a neutral backdrop, I like to throw in

furniture or wallpaper used.

colour-dipped pieces of vintage furniture (from wooden chairs to sideboards and coffee tables), collections of

Much like I love the powerful smell of wax-polished

luminescent glassware, or a generous armful of printed

floors and furniture – the strong smell of a freshly

and embellished cushions. You’d be amazed how quickly

French polished table in the Covent Garden Hotel feels

it transforms a room into a happy oasis.

so right for the mood of the space, as does the smell

are practical too because they last forever. Objects on coffee tables or sideboards should be tactile and welcoming, in materials like wood, metal and clay, so that people are encouraged to embrace them and enjoy of often the and is room, freshly Soho ultimate remembering the or spruced thing Charlotte experience you leather ittake long Street ofor away aafter cowhide room Hotels. as you’ve the toIton fruition, memory brings left theit.seats the and ofmood ascent in

them, rather than live in fear of breaking them.


If a guest’s instinct is to want to reach out and touch

Creating a dining space is all about stimulating both

everything they see, to explore and investigate, and to

the taste buds and scintillating conversation. In a dining

then smile in response, then I always feel as if I have

room – whether it be part of a large open-planned living

created a successful interior. One of my key design

and kitchen area, or an intimate room all of its very own

mantras has always been ‘never use a fabric you would

– I always aim to create an environment where people

not sit on in the nude’.

want to sit, linger, enjoy, unwind. Dining spaces are no longer formal, foreboding rooms which are only used


for special occasions.

Finally, my sixth sense: a sense of FUN. I have always been drawn to things that are alive with wit and a bit of

A good dining chair is essential – comfortable, easy

eccentricity – things that make me laugh. With each and

to manoeuvre and non intrusive (I prefer a low back

every room I design, I want to peak people’s curiosity.

which doesn’t interfere with the eye’s line of a room).

I encourage them to want to come in, to enjoy looking

Also, a handsome, simple table that can multi-task

and poking around, to sit down, put their feet up, and

– homework, meetings, long lunches, grown-up

never want to leave.

dinners, letter writing, girlie nattering – is vital for accommodating the myriad of modern day demands

Little collections of mad objects, like childhood

expected of it. After all, today the kitchen/dining

artworks, unusual figurines, or colourful ceramic

space is invariably the heart of the home – it is where

pots, grouped together and encased in perspex can

everyone congregates, talks, nourishes and organises.

suddenly take on a whole new meaning and become an

It’s certainly my favourite room in any house.

interesting and witty display of their own accord.


I love turning unusual objects – old kerosene cans,

To me, the best interiors are those which infuse

ceramic dogs – into lamps, and I’ve always fancied the

different textures and unexpected details within the

idea of teaming a row of real stag heads with one made

room. Like rope or contrast-colour cording on chairs

from cardboard interjected in the middle, pearls draped

and ottomans, bold buttoning or intriguing skirting

across its antlers. How fabulous can a series of botanical

on sofas, mixed materials like marble or glass with

prints from an antique book, found inexpensively in a

metal legs on tables, and mixing up eras like fifties’

flea market, look when all framed in a group together

modernist lines with bold batik or ikat prints (in the

on a wall? And nothing beats a pendant light crafted

restaurant at Crosby Street Hotel, we teamed fifties’

from something like organic pieces of smooth, ancient

wallpaper and striking ‘gum ball’ bright plastic pendant


lights alongside African ASAFO flags framed in perspex boxes).

So much gets taken too seriously these days – I like to poke fun at those who try to dictate what we ‘should

Paper-backed fabrics instead of wallpaper are a

and shouldn’t have, should or shouldn’t do’, and I find

wonderful way to absorb sound and lend a room an

that a humorous take on art is the perfect way to

extra layer of warmth; and in areas like hallways, they

do this.


16 A Stitch in Time


previous page:

The drawing room at the Covent Garden Hotel comes together in the detail. The wood panelling and intricate salvaged fireplace provide a neutral, natural backdrop for very brightly coloured silks, modern Suzanis and eighteenth-century embroideries and needlepoint.

The Canadian maple panelling comes from the old League of Nations building. It was one thing to purchase the panelling and quite another to put it into our building. It was quite a process and a tribute to our carpenters, Eddie in particular. There is something very satisfactory in renovating a building and knowing that it will look good for at least another hundred years. I know that building inside out, even down to the pigeon nesting outside the window in 304.

this page, above:

A long-distance view of the drawing room, through to Tiffany’s library, showing an unusual pointed pelmet that sits behind Designer’s Guild silk curtains.


44 A Stitch in Time

this page (and previous):

This room has a lot of Northern light, so to prevent it feeling too cold, layers of textures through felt embroidery and patterned fabrics make it feel warm for a countryside setting. I like raised fireplaces where you can store wood beneath the burning embers and the fireplace becomes the heartbeat of the room.


50 Bespoke and One-Off ’s

When designing the entrance lobby of the Haymarket Hotel, on one side I hung a very large modern black and white painting by English artist John Virtue against a modern black sofa and vibrant yellow chairs, all underpinned by a Marni rug. On the other side, I have a 22-foot-long installation of tiny stones by Sue Lawty, teamed with an eighteenth-century Swedish sofa and two bergères, underpinned by a second Marni rug. In the centre sits a liquid steel sculpture by Tony Cragg which unites the two very different sides of the lobby. These are all very disparate pieces but they balance well with one another and look good. I don’t like matching many things in pairs – to begin with, pairs are always more expensive, and it’s so much easier to find one nice table and use it rather than try to match or copy it. Instead, playing with dissimilar things at similar heights maintains a sense of symmetry.



52 Bespoke and One-Off ’s

This room, 303 at Covent Garden, is the perfect example of how bespoke details make a room feel truly unique. I worked closely with the talented textile and carpet designer Christine Van Der Hurd – the ultimate colourist in my opinion – to create the fabrics in this room, from the furniture and walls to the bedhead and rugs. We have a great working relationship where she asks what colours I am thinking of using and suddenly, she comes out with a flow of ideas for every part of the room. The combination of the exquisite needlepoint used on the armchairs and cushions, teamed with the simple cross-stitch on the back of the dining chairs, is lovely. Where else could you get such quality of workmanship? It feels like these are precious pieces that you might never see again.

My collaboration with Althea Wilson, in commissioning the fabric used here for these curtains in the drawing room at Knightsbridge, led to the creation of the miniature mannequins (seen at the start of this chapter and page 61). My design schemes are often influenced by random things I notice wherever I go. The thought process behind the colour and pattern scheme in this room was actually inspired by some catwalk images I spotted from Paris fashion week one year, where there was a mood of gentle greys set against an odd combination of circles and patchwork. It worked so brilliantly on the clothes, I thought it would create an interesting dynamic in a drawing room as well. Abstract painting by John Illsley (one of the founding members of Dire Straits, now a well-regarded modern painter in his own right).


At the other end of the Knightsbridge Hotel drawing room, an illuminated ladder stands against a very simple bookcase to add interest. In the middle hangs a painting by Breon O’Casey; in front sits a carver chair upholstered in an Althea Wilson fabric created specially for the room.


My favourite room, at home in London, is this kitchen. We decided to turn what was originally the best room in the house, the very large sitting room, into the kitchen, thanks to a suggestion by Robert Kime. It faces the garden and teamed with a conservatory, it became our dining room where we now spend most of our time.





An i




94 Inside Out


Blousey pink florals by Bennison and a wooden sculpture mounted on pink perspex add a dash of brightness to the elegant conservatory space.


An intriguing tablescape in the dining area, with old copper and Paola Navone ‘plaster of Paris’ watering cans, painted bronze figures by Ramiro Fernandez Saus and a beaded zebra from Africa. 95

The odd but dramatic mix of Catherine Cuthbert’s unusual ceramics and an extraordinary mother-of-pearl console table (with an arch that looks like the mouth of a cave) contrasts with the graphic texture of a Bard painting. Those lovely grainy feet felt perfect for the Crosby Street Hotel, hanging opposite the lift with the lovely association of the footprints our guests make on their global journeys.


When I talk about ‘taking risks’, I think I mean ‘not being predictable’ rather than tempting disastrous fate. I see so many rooms that look as if they have been painted by numbers, or pieces of furniture bought simply because they have a trendy designer name attached to them. In my opinion, this simply makes for interiors that are safe and uninteresting. I don’t start by thinking ‘how can I risk doing this’ because I don’t like rooms that are gimmicky or too adulterated. It is finding the right balance between adding a few extra pieces and maintaining the line of a room that pleases the eye. I like my rooms to last. If the bones are good then they will go on forever. That’s why wood panelling and books will always be favourites – but that is not to say there can’t be light in the book cases created with illuminated strips and a library ladder of glowing perspex and metal. I have been creating living spaces for quite a long time now and the concept of taking risks is not as frightening to me anymore. I bought some reclaimed hand-painted strips of wood that were old and falling to pieces but I loved the painting on them and the splintery look of the hard wood. I hung them in strips around a room and overlaid them with paintings and pictures when they looked too raggedy. To suit this home-made mood, I sewed felt scenes on the upholstery of the chairs and found remnants of fabrics to make into cushions and to cover the sofa. I was always a demon on the sewing machine when was I was young (luckily I now have a fab little team to help me pull it all together) – but the essence is still the same now, as it was then. I love to see someone’s personality in a room. Don’t be afraid to show it. At the moment I am designing a fabric on linen that will have a hazy, rubbed-out stripe, overlaid with a tangle of willow-type leaves, overlaid with a darker vine, overlaid with a cut-out collage of an African print. I think this might be taking a risk. It’s a mixture of delicacy and strength, yet simplicity and a dab of singing colour too… which is also the recipe for a perfect room. pRevioUs paGe:

Woven lattice-work leather by Dedar used on the chapter opening number; pieces commissioned for the CAA ‘A Living Space’ exhibition, including work by artists Sarah-Jane Selwood, Rupert Spira, Malcolm Martin and Gaynor Dowling, and Alison Crowther. opposite:

Commissioned plates for the same exhibition.


I am afraid that I am not a purist. I think it a lovely thing to be but

Ikat weaves by Mary Restieaux sit framed above an

it’s just that there are so many opportunities and so many talented

Edward Teasdale reclaimed driftwood cabinet.

people to use that being a purist would constrain me in a box. It would be like only wearing navy and beige all your life. Just too tasteful for words.

If you’re surrounded by something interesting, it immediately gets the brainbox working in an entirely different way.


220 Taking Risks

The harmony in the room is created by making the black tonal – from the darker tones on the sofa to the softer greys of the hand-blocked and printed Marthe Armitage wallpaper, teamed with a pale rug and muted painted purple ceiling – and then giving it punches of colour in the fabric, coffee tables and lights. Think about your framing.

A Living Space  

A Living Space by Kit Kemp. October 2012

A Living Space  

A Living Space by Kit Kemp. October 2012