When you've cornered London's boutique-hotel market, what big city do you conquer next? For Kit Kemp, interiors director and one half of the husband-and-wife team behind the award-winning Firmdale Hotels, the answer is obvious: "New York is basically a capital, and probably the best place to create a building from scratch."
Creating something out of nothing is a skill Kemp has turned into an art form. Many of Firmdale's seven sublime hotels, from the playfully colourful Haymarket (which last year won an Urban Business Award for reinvigorating the building), to the super-slick Soho (voted the world's most glamorous hotel by Tatler) started life as something else – from an empty car park to an insurance firm's headquarters.
Starting in 1985 with the Dorset Square Hotel in Marylebone, the Kemps pioneered the boutique-hotel concept, creating luxury spaces with flair and individuality. Today, with an annual turnover nearing £60m, Kemp is determinedly anti-corporate. "We don't want a big-company look; we use smaller companies that are very individual." Thus, no two rooms are the same, with colour schemes ranging from floral prints to monochrome stripes. And Kemp's "fusion" design ethos brings a blend of styles and materials; an antique chair sitting next to a hi-tech table.
Will her ethos change in New York? "It's a development of what we've done before," she says. "The exciting thing is that there's a garden overlooking the restaurant."
Once an eight-storey parking lot, the 75-room Crosby Street Hotel will open at the end of the year in Manhattan's SoHo district, and Kemp has complete artistic control. "It's frightening, really," she admits. "But once you get that concept in your mind, it starts to get really exciting".
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