Long before she was one of the most admired designers on the planet, I loved Kit Kemp’s work.
This was over 20 years ago when I was an editor, and she was starting one of her flagship hotel projects for Firmdale Hotels in London. You may not be familiar with the brand name, but the hotels include the Covent Garden Hotel, the Charlotte Street Hotel and the Haymarket Hotel.
Her work then was described as quirky and fun. Not bad when you consider how everyone was abandoning florals and color and replacing it with monotone gray and stark white. But the uber-modern look never left the inhabitants of these spaces feeling cozy or comfortable. Finally, when that stark reality set in, interior designers opened up their perspective and introduced color into their designs.
Of course, the lovely Kit Kemp confidently kept doing what she was known for: discovering artisans to soften a room that had modern touches. Embracing not discarding multi-dimensional fabrics including felt appliques and bold exuberant fabrics that she brilliantly matched with more subtle options. To be in a Kit Kemp room is always a happy experience.
“That is the whole point isn’t it?” she says with a sweet smile. “It’s important to feel comfortable. That is too often underrated and underplayed.” Citing Virginia Woolf’s 1929 book on the need for “A Room of One’s Own,” Kemp points out that color – when seamlessly meshed with layers of interesting objects, furniture and complimenting fabrics – can create both excitement and a sense of calm.
Now she and her husband, Tim, own eight hotels including London’s Ham Yard, the Soho, Number Sixteen, Knightsbridge and Dorset Square as well as the Whitby and Crosby Street hotels in New York.
Her office is a hub for aspiring artists and artisans – and she also is involved in an innovative program that helps male prisoners learn a trade by sewing pillows. Oh and there’s more.
She also is an acclaimed author, fabric, fragrance and homewares designer who, in fact, is introducing a new line of products in April at Bergdorf Goodman’s in New York. They can also be purchased through her own site. Her new book is”Kit Kemp: Design Thread.”
It says a lot about somebody when they have so much success and still work with the people they started out with.
Craig Markham has been her director of marketing for more than three decades. Those who move on to start families or relocate “still visit me, which is very rewarding,” she says.
She knows many of the artists she discovers will move on “because they become famous and I can’t afford them for my projects anymore.” But she is delighted to help them in their success.
Speaking to her at the Decorators Clubs Education Fund Lecture series in New York, I thanked her for being a champion for floral fabric designs.
“With flowers, it’s always summer,” she said, pointing out how flowers cheer up dreary days and cloudy skies – as well as brighten dark rooms. “Don’t be timid,” she added, noting that there are so many different kinds of floral pattern, people can be adventurous. In her presentation, she showed how matching floral prints with contemporary furniture can create a modern but cheerful interiors.
When asked her favorite flowers, she enthusiastically defined them by season – she is British after all – including bluebells in spring, peonies and delphiniums in summer, blousy dahlias in autumn and berries and amaryllis in winter. But I already knew her love of flowers was deep. Two of her three beloved daughters are named after flowers.
One tip worth noting is how one can transform bedrooms with statement-making fabric headboards. Here are some ideas that you can incorporate into your own homes. As Kemp advises – don’t be timid. I’ve also included some of her iconic rooms for you to enjoy – Jill Brooke
Notice how she used a modern black and white fabric to offset florals. Modern touches are the pillows as well
Love how she used the wallpaper and headboard to complement and flow together. The bedspread is boho and adds cool.
This is a very traditional room. She mixed and matched with fabrics which make it fun.
Notice how the chair fabric is so modern but the squares have flowers. Fun.
This needlepoint carpet has florals and she mixed it with so many fabrics.
Last but not least, here she has floral fabric for pillows and then adds artisan flourishes. Mix and matching patterns are fun – try it. – Jill Brooke