Known as the queen of boutique hotels, Kit Kemp (along with her husband, Tim) is responsible for some of the world’s most stylish and eclectic hotels. Since founding the Firmdale Hotels group with London’s Dorset Hotel 25 years ago, Kit has pioneered her instinctive ‘no rules’ approach to interior design, inspiring many home owners and design fans along the way. Following the launch of her first book, A Living Space (£30, Hardie Grant Books), Life.style.etc caught up with Kit for some of her top tips on designing interiors.
What did you want to achieve with A Living Space? A book about interior design that was inclusive and ‘can do’, and that showed people there are really no rules. Interiors should be fun and joyful, and when you get home at night you should be able to close the door behind you and be surrounded by the things that mean something to you. I also wanted to encourage people to use craft in their home as I have a real passion for arts and crafts.
What advice would you give someone starting to decorate their home? Firstly, start a scrapbook of images of all the interiors you like. You’ll soon discover they have a common thread – for example, you might find you don’t like carpet, or you love a certain type of light. Once you’ve started your design process, don’t let anyone put you off or come along halfway through and sway you – it’s important to have the confidence to carry through your ideas. If you commission someone to make artworks or furniture for you, make sure it’s a person you really like and trust, and after you’ve talked through your ideas with them, let them use their artistic licence. Things can turn out much better if you let them grow organically, and sometimes other people can help things move on in a way you never expected.
What’s your studio like? I love my studio, which is all white with great big windows. It doesn’t feel as though I’m going to work because the building is actually a house, and that makes all the difference. The studio is filled with boxes containing all manner of fabrics and swatches to look through, which I do in the mornings when the light is good. We have nine people here all together so there’s a really lovely atmosphere. I have to say I love Mondays!
Where do you start with the design for a hotel? Often the buildings we use are completely remodelled inside, so we really start with the bones of the hotel. It’s not as exciting as plunging straight into the decorating ideas – first we work out the function, as this is the key to a good hotel and you need to make sure the space is well thought out.
Where do you go for inspiration? I love to go to the theatre – I adore the sets and scenery. It’s the same with television: even when I’m watching Downtown Abbey I’m looking at the clothes and backdrops. But I get inspiration from everywhere – I’m a designer because I love everyone else’s work. In every period of design there’s always something that’s really exciting, even if it’s just the jewellery of the era. I like to see individual styles – it doesn’t matter if it isn’t to my taste, I just like to see it.
What are you currently lusting after? Top of my wish list right now are Lynn Chadwick’s candlesticks, which I saw at Willer on Holland Street. Willer also has a great exhibition on at the moment called Texture and Form, showcasing Paul Philp’s ceramics, which I love.
What’s next? We’re doing a large development in Soho behind Piccadilly Circus that’s due to open in 2014. It’s going to include a hotel, shops, a small theatre and a bowling alley, as well as a bar and brasserie. But the nicest thing about it is that we’re designing a green space in the middle of it with six oak trees. It’s so nice to put a bit of green back into Soho as it can feel quite grey.