A Living Space

black and yellow room in Firmdale hotel Number Sixteen from A Living Space by Kit KempMeet British hotel designer Kit Kemp via a new book full of color, objects and luxe ideas.

As we seek comfort and small luxuries wherever we go, hotel design and home decor are moving closer together. That makes the work of a designer like Kit Kemp and her new book A Living Space (Hardie Grant Books, $49.95) more relevant than it would have been a decade ago. Firmdale hotel owner and designer Kit KempToday, people want  hotel looks in their own homes and, because Ms. Kemp is responsible for décor in the Firmdale boutique hostelries she and her husband Tim own and operate (seven in London and one in New York), a big picture book documents her penchant for details and personal vision that makes those spaces so modern.

Ms. Kemp is no theoretician, nor is her book conceptually based. There’s no real DIY take away, no tutorials like we found in The Upholsterer’s Handbook though she is generous with her sources. On the contrary, it is intuitive and as anecdotal as a blog. In the book, Ms. Kemp comments on what interests her – embroidered textiles, unique antique and vintage pieces, paintings and sculptures by British and Irish artists, bold color, big stripes, upholstery details, pattern and embellishments. Plus, she loves dogs and she can sew. Not every designer can sew.

A Living Space, by Kit KempWhen I connect with a design book there’s always a reason. In this case, it’s shared obsessions and admiration for an individualistic vision and someone who has her own studio and is her own best client. As a result, she decorates her hotels to her own taste, often described as “quirky” — a trait I particularly appreciate.

Firmdale hotel Number Sixteen, near Harrod’s has 41 rooms, this one [top] keyed off the sublime “Manor House” wallpaper by Marthe Armitage. The sofa picks out the black and has wonderful upholstery details like a mattress seat cushion and special stitching down the front of the arms, plus the black and white “rick-rack” border across the bottom – repeated on the taxi yellow accent pillows.

upholstery detail from A Living Space by Kit KempBoiled wool is a favorite upholstery material and detailing like contrasting patches and string stitching over the arms, seat and decks is rarefied and takes especially high-end upholstery skills.

Knightsbridge hotel lobby from A Living Space by Kit KempIn the lobby of the Knightsbridge Hotel, dogs are the motif for the sofa’s back cushions as well as a quartet of “doggie bag” collages by British artist Peter Clark. Tribal-pattern seat cushions and red accent piping on the sofa make it killer, I think.

lamp embellished with jewelry from A Living Space by Kit KempKnown for wearing “statement piece” jewelry, Ms. Kemp doesn’t hesitate to use her earrings or necklaces to embellish a lamp and favors the work of jewelry designer Ayala Bar, who often incorporates stitching, cording or tassels in her pieces. Still, how often do you see a hand-stitched lampshade?

plate rack with transferware platters installed above a fireplace from A Living Space by Kit KempPlate racks are not only for kitchens! Here, a vintage beauty set over a fireplace is filled with antique transfer ware platters and a small ethnic sculpture. Because I am writing about a book, the number of images is limited. But rest assured I will find other ways to see Kit Kemp’s work first hand. I’ll be in New York next week and head right down to her hotel in SoHo, camera in hand.

(Source: Images from “A Living Space.” © 2012 by Kit Kemp with Fiona McCarthy. Photos: Simon Brown. Used with permission. Headshot via howtospendit)

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3 Responses to A Living Space

  1. Allison October 30, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I haven’t purchased a book in awhile, but this looks like one I would enjoy.

  2. Tricia Rose October 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    What an interesting book Jane, but it’s a pity to dissuade anyone without ‘especially high-end upholstery skills’. Kit Kemp has wonderful creative ideas, if she doesn’t mind inspiring the rest of us to follow her lead! Blanket stitch is blanket stitch – if you have the right needle.

  3. Jane F October 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    My father owned an upholstery factory so I grew up around those needles and fabric samples. And as lovely as the blanket stitch is, she treats upholstery like patchwork. Wish I could have shown all the wonderful sofas and chairs in the book. Of course, she is working on a fabulous budget doing upscale hotels. So those upholstery effects with 3 and 4 fabrics worked onto seats and backs are accessible to her. And I do think she has a brilliant upholster. If someone is doing their own work they will want to see how she handles things. Otherwise, there is maybe one upholsterer in Manhattan who could do her looks. But that may be only the one I know of. Quintana.

    Wait till you see the chair coming on Friday.

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