IT’S exactly one month before the doors are swung open and the first guests check in at Firmdale Hotels’ eighth London property, Ham Yard Hotel, and the group’s interior designer and co-owner, Kit Kemp, is taking WISH on a personal guided tour.
The sprawling property in the middle of London’s Soho, directly behind the neon-lit buildings of Piccadilly, is teeming with tradespeople putting the finishing touches on the place. Saws are buzzing, hammers are banging and everyone is wearing an orange safety vest, except for Kemp. There’s still plenty of work to be done but already it’s possible to see glimpses of the finished product.
Kemp, who together with her husband Tim established Firmdale in 1985, has designed the interiors of all of the company’s hotels which, as well as the eight in London, include the Crosby Street Hotel in New York’s SoHo and another New York property currently under construction in midtown. No two rooms in the group are the same, but there is a distinctive — and much copied — Firmdale style.
Kemp’s work can be best described as eclectic. She sources things from all over the world, mixes antiques with contemporary pieces and upholsters junk shop finds with luxurious fabrics. Her style is also colourful, comfortable and fun. “Every building has to stand on its own and there should always be an element of surprise and fun; design shouldn’t be too serious,” she tells WISH. “I always try to have something unexpected in a room, something that surprises the eye.”
There is certainly a lot to surprise the eye at Ham Yard, now open to guests. The 91-room hotel is Firmdale’s most ambitious project to date and was four years in the making. The building project by Woods Bagot, on a previously neglected site, has created a new urban space linking Great Windmill Street and Denman Street with a pedestrian walkway lined with 13 small boutiques, as well as outdoor seating for Ham Yard’s restaurant. The courtyard is home to a specially commissioned bronze sculpture by the Turner Prize-winning artist Tony Cragg. Inside there are a 176-seat theatre, a spa (“our first real spa,” says Kemp), 24 residential apartments, a four-lane 1950s bowling alley imported from Texas and a library with more than 2500 books.
The library was curated by Philip Blackwell, a member of the Blackwell book publishing family. “The books have been selected to give a very strong sense of place,” he says. “If you run your fingers along the spines you’ll work out pretty quickly that you are in London and probably in Soho because there is a lot on theatre and books with nods to Soho’s past with sex and crime and things like that.” And they’ve been chosen to suit Kit Kemp’s keen designer’s eye. “All the dust covers are coming off the books, because I want them to look neater,” she says.