Kit Kemp: Design Storyteller, Adventurer, Memory-Maker (1/4)

Every Room Tells a Story by Kit Kemp
10/29/15: Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne
256 pages, 296 full-color photographs
12.25 by 9.25 by 1 inch

Storytelling is at the heart of everything I do…It’s what makes a space intriguing beyond being just lovely to look atit draws you in, captivates your imagination, makes you become a part of its narrative rather than standing on the outside, simply looking in.

—Kit Kemp 

And so begins designer Kit Kemp’s latest book, Every Room Tells a Story, which makes us a part of the narrative of some of the most luxurious boutique (and boho) hotels in the world, if only for the few hours it takes to turn the pages.

Photos are drawn from Firmdale Hotels in London and New York, which Kemp co-owns with her husband Tim, as well as the couple’s Caribbean vacation home. Fabric, shape and color may move from one room to another, and even one hotel to another, but each hotel and every room within it is unique.

Linger in these spaces as long as you can, pine over the gorgeous photos, sigh with pleasure at the sumptuous furnishings, and when you reach the end, begin again.

That’s what BoHo Home is going to do, and we’ll bring you four days of Kit Kemp’s storybook spaces this week to relish. Here’s how we’ll parse it:

  • Monday (that’s today, mind you): Story, adventure and detail 
  • Tuesday: Be bold!
  • Wednesday Design CRUSH: Kit’s whimsical upholstered headboards
  • Thursday: Words and pictures

Without further adieu…

Every room should hold surprises to delight both the eye and the mind. Traveling through any of my buildings should be like going on an adventure, full of fun, personality and humor. There should be an intelligent thread that binds the stories of each room together, and only by doing this does a building make sense.
—Kit Kemp


Simon Brown

Lampshades resembling bowls and hats but made from recycled plastic bottles gave the “shade bar” of London’s Ham Yard Hotel its nickname. Visible from either end of the long, narrow space, their placement draws guests into the bar…

Simon Brown
…and toward the entrance to the orangeriean atrium filled with comfy seating, folk art, sculpture and, of course, plants. It’s the oasis the hotel’s public spaces revolve around.
Simon Brown

If that gorgeous and wildly upholstered chair doesn’t draw you toward check-in at the Ham Yard, this glimpse of the library will. There’s so much to take in just in the lobby area, that, I wouldn’t mind a wait.

If we do continue on while the desk clerk finalizes arrangements for our stay…

Simon Brown

…this is the reward—a feast of the eyes for booklovers and design-lovers both! Kemp’s tip for displaying books? Remove the dustjackets to soften the look and then let the colors play.

I gauge the success of a room by how I carry it in my mind’s eye when I leave its presence. The most memorable rooms aren’t necessarily the most dramatic, but the ones where a detail makes me think twice.

—Kit Kemp

The Ham Yard drawing room is nothing if not dramatic, but it’s also been layered with detail. The result? Unforgettable, for sure.
Simon Brown

The three crystal galleon chandeliers set the pace. Kemp says they remind her of “a sailor returning from his travels with all his treasures intact.”

From the hand-painted Swedish dresser at the back of the room to the mounted Robina Jack plates flanking the fireplace bookcases, the room is a whirl of precise detail. The mix of fabrics by itself is to die-for.

Simon Brown

We see Kemp’s Moondog design on the wing chairs and a crewel-work fabric in a pattern reminiscent of a Kandinsky painting on a sofa and chair in the same grouping. An 1835 Scandinavian marriage cabinet seems to call out to the Swedish dresser at the opposite end diagonally, which adds to the energy of the room. And Kit says she likes to think of the many-drawered spice chest from India and the white bird on top as two of the treasures that sailor she conjured up brought home with him.

Simon Brown

The crewel “Kandinsky” fabric is repeated in the larger sofa in this secondary conversation area. A smaller sofa in the foreground wears a Raoul African Asafo-inspired fabric. At closer range we notice the whimsical painting and intricate inlaid veneer on the cabinet, which also functions as a desk. “I can imagine a wife writing letters at this secretaire on dark winters’ evenings,” Kit says. The sailor’s wife perhaps?

The Philippa Stjernsward painting is the calm spot in the sea of color and pattern, its bright blue pop near the center the room’s bindu point. A curated selection of books is available in this room as well as in the library for guests to enjoy stories of their choosing. Everything about the furnishings say sit down, relax, read, take a nap.

These are fun spaces to say the least, and Kemp has designed them with all the care one would give a home—a home away from home in every sense of the word. At upwards of the US equivalent of $560 per night, I would expect no less.

Simon Brown

In a video on the hotel’s website, Kemp says the console beneath the large mirror in the drawing room is “just” an old draper’s table—“a piece of junk really”—that’s made to look important with the placement of the impressive mirror over it and the elegant accessories on top—a tip to remember for our own houses. Who wouldn’t want to take coffee or tea in here?

Simon Brown

Even the china rates Kit’s special attention. Mythical Creatures is a collection she designed for Wedgwood, and it calls to mind many of the creatures seen throughout the hotel in textiles and art.


You can imagine someone’s hopes and dreams just by looking at a piece carefully and tracing its newly dyed threads. What matters most is that the piece has soul.

—Kit Kemp


Folk art is a connecting thread not only from public to private rooms within individual Firmdale properties, but also from hotel to hotel.

Simon Brown
Nowhere is the designer’s love of folk art more apparent than in Suite 907 of Firmdale’s Crosby Street Hotel in New York, where the collection she designed for Anthropologie takes center stage.

The orange Winged White Rhino chairs not unexpectedly “flew” out of stores in a matter of days after their release. The rugs in patterns inspired by Native American weavings, used here both on the floor and as throws on the sofas, are also part of the collection, as is the staggered-plank coffee table and the upholstered dining chair in the foreground.

Simon Brown

The Terrace Suite at The Soho Hotel features one of many uniquely embellished headboards Firmdale rooms—and Kit—are known for. In true folk-art fashion, this one is comprised of cut-out felt and fabric leaves against a denim background. The autumnal hues work throughout the year with the Carey Mortimer painting.

Simon Brown

In the adjacent sitting room, over the door leading into the bathroom is another work of folk art—a lounging woman made from a Monopoly game board by outsider artist Mimi Chanard. The sofa fabric is another of Kit’s design—Bookend—and appears in various colorways in other hotel spaces.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 in this series: ‘Always Be Bold!’

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