When Tim and Kit Kemp unveiled their first hotel project in 1985 – Dorset Square Hotel, in London's Marylebone – they shook up the capital's hospitality scene. This fine Regency town house, on a quintessential London square, provided the perfect showcase for their fun and stylish new approach to hotel design.
The Kemps blew a fresh breath of life through this beautiful building, filling it with bold colours and patterns and contrasting textures, as well as eclectic furnishings and ornaments handpicked from around the world. And so, Dorset Square set the tone for their portfolio, Firmdale Hotels, which, 28 years on, numbers seven properties in London and one in New York City.
Kit designs all the Kemps' hotel interiors, describing her style as "modern English". Her radical assembly of bright tones and striking patterns, natural materials and glorious flourishes, such as the oversized textile bedheads and presence of a dressmaker's dummy in each room (the company's motif), might seem riotous on first sight, but this magpie's nest is so elegantly put together it could never be described as cluttered. The effect is intriguing and begs closer inspection, which reveals that every tuft of carpet and weave of drape has been carefully chosen and layered to create a joyful space in which to reside.
The Kemps sold Dorset Square in 2002 but reacquired the property in 2011, reopening it to guests last June following a thorough refurbishment. It now offers a choice of 38 bedrooms, a drawing room with an honesty bar where afternoon tea is served (from £25), and the Potting Shed Bar & Restaurant in the basement, which has a mainly British menu, such as ham hock terrine with piccalilli and sourdough toast (£7.50), fish pie (£15) and rhubarb crumble with custard (£4.50).
For the revamp, Kit has found much to amuse and admire in her craft box: the wallpaper on the stairs is modelled on a French botanical poster dating from the Fifties; the trio of side tables in the drawing room, made from rough slate and a polished slice of tree stump, are irresistible to touch; while the Fuzzy Felt-style cushions in the bedrooms, with appliquéd tigers and elephants, can't help but raise a smile.
She has also incorporated a cricket theme, inspired by the fact that the square's private garden was the site of Thomas Lord's first cricket ground. Look out for witty nods to the sport, from the cricket balls that double as wardrobe handles in the bedrooms to the scoreboard numbers in the restaurant and the Silly Wicket cocktail served at the glamorous pewter bar.
Dorset Square Hotel is a couple of minutes' walk from Marylebone station and five minutes from Baker Street Tube. Regent's Park (0300 061 2300; royalparks.org.uk) is on your doorstep, as is Madame Tussauds (0871 894 3000; madametussauds.com; £22.50), both five minutes on foot to the east.
Experience village life, London-style, on nearby Marylebone High Street (www.marylebone village.com), a 10-minute walk south-east, where you'll find upscale shopping and independent boutiques (agnès b, Fresh, Designers Guild), and top-quality dining (Orrery, Cotidie, The Providores). If you're visiting at the weekend, there's a food and artisan market on Saturdays (11am-5pm) and a farmers' market on Sundays (10am-2pm). Further south, you'll hit Oxford Street at the Marble Arch end (for Selfridges); from there you can head east to the heart of the West End.
There are nine categories of room, from a single through a variety of doubles (their pricing reflecting the size of the room and whether you're overlooking the square), to the two main suites. The rooms are small; the largest suite, the Marylebone Room, is only 35sq m. But they are all luxuriously finished, with soft carpets and comfortable beds, chairs and sofas.
The bathrooms sparkle: they're encased in granite tiles, with a double vanity area, white porcelain and a free-standing glass-panelled shower. (Only three rooms have baths.) Toiletries are by Miller Harris and bathrobes come as standard. All rooms have free Wi-Fi, a satellite television, iPod docking station, Tivoli radio and a mini bar of snacks, wines and spirits.
Children get their own menu and toiletries; extra beds and high chairs can be organised too. Everything is dedicated to ensuring guests have what they require at their fingertips.
Dorset Square Hotel, 39-40 Dorset Square, London NW1 6QN (020-7723 7874; dorset squarehotel.co.uk)
Doubles start at £235, room only