Oct 29, 2019

Episode 28

Kit Kemp, Firmdale Hotels


Kit Kemp of Firmdale Hotels has been lauded for her eclectic design style that doesn’t shy away from color and pattern. But it’s her meticulous attention to detail that has elevated her to icon status. She carefully curates and champions work from venerated and emerging artists and craftspeople alike. No matter how perfect the design, she says, it always comes down to the people who make each hotel come alive.


Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, I’m here with Kit Kemp of Firmdale Hotels. Kit, thanks so much for being here today with us.

Kit Kemp: Thank you.

SSR: So, let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

KK: I grew up in Hampshire, in England, very near Southampton, and it’s in the countryside, so I’m a country girl. I had two elder brothers, so I was a tomboy.

SSR: Were there any first memories of design or anything early on in your life that might have led you to where you are today?

KK: Well, you have to remember that there’s a whole school of un-decorating in England, and so my parents were of the school that if you could remember the last time it was decorated, it didn’t need doing. But nevertheless I just remember sort of trying to slide on slippery wooden floors and clocks ticking, and things like that. And so, I was always interested in interiors.

SSR: Yeah. And growing up in the farm were you redecorating anything or helping your parents move things around the house, or doing anything like that?

KK: Well, oddly enough, I think interior design is often about being on the outside. It’s standing up a ladder. It’s going into sort of rooms, which are not completed. It’s going on to building sites. And actually, when a place looks fabulous, I’m not needed. So, I think interiors is very much about being in uncomfortable places.

SSR: Love that. So from growing up to now, a lot to cover, but where did you go to school for design?

KK: No, I didn’t. That’s the thing. I mean, I have been doing design for over 30 years now, so I must have learned something along the way. But no, I guess one of my first jobs was working for an auctioneer, so that meant that you were selling furniture. You were going into people’s interiors and it was being decluttered, things were being taken out. So, you actually got to look at spaces, and you got to look at different interiors all the time as you were doing that. So, oddly enough, I learned a lot from just working for an auctioneer.

And then I worked for an architect, someone called Leshik Nivitski, who was Polish. He became an architect in England, but he came sort of via Siberia and Palestine to the UK, and had a very different idea of design than a lot of other people at that time.

SSR: Yeah, and what were you doing for him?

KK: Oh, I was very menial. I was making tea, going round with a tape measure, and going into places like sort of roof spaces, and lofts. There’s a story that we were in a loft, and Leshik was there, and there was a bit of sort of fungi growing. He picked up a mushroom and put it straight in his mouth, and said, ‘Ah, mushkaki.’ Because, of course, he’d come straight from Siberia, where foraging was very much what was necessarily. So, that’s another example of actually having to be in very uncomfortable places to achieve, finally, a very beautiful piece of work.

SSR: And correct me if I’m wrong, but is that how you met Tim, your husband?

KK: Yeah, it is, because I worked for Leshik, and then Tim was one of his clients, and a very small client, but Tim was very practical, and I did notice very early on that when he was doing things, he did them. Lots of people had very pie in the sky ideas of what they wanted to create, and very often it was abstract, whereas Tim, working, I mean, he had student hotels, and he was very hands on. He would stand up the ladder and paint the ceiling himself.

SSR: So you meet Tim, what happens next? Did you continue to work for the architect? Did he go on and do development on his own? Or did you guys decide then that maybe there was something between you two to [pursue?]

KK: I think by that time, actually, I wasn’t working for Leshik anymore, but he introduced us, and when Leshik got married he sat Tim and I next door to one another. So, that’s sort of when it started, but it was a very on and off relationship, and I never knew whether Tim actually really liked me or not. But I remember going to a house that he was sort of building, and in the basement he said, ‘I think we’re going to need a cat door in here.’

The builder that we were using said, ‘But you haven’t got a cat.’ And I thought, but I have. And I thought oh, well maybe he is more interested than I thought. And he never really asked me to start working for him, but I realized that with Tim, he was such a workaholic that the only way that I’d really get to see him was become involved. So, very often, as a woman, you’ve just got to get in there and start.

SSR: So you get in there, and you start, and when did you guys decide that you wanted to try your hand at more traditional hospitality and try your hand at a hotel?

KK: Well, Tim had a student accommodation, and he was linked with an American college, the Richmond College, and so it would be sort of four or five beds in one room. I mean, there was nothing glamorous about it.

And we had short leases, and it was fun, actually. I mean, we were both very young, and on Friday evenings there would be a guitar playing and then all the students there, and we were little more than the students ourselves, and we enjoyed that.

But he had this idea, it was Tim’s idea, to take what was just an old sort of 2-Star hotel and then create a boutique hotel. And this was in the ’80s, and this is actually when Craig [Markham] started working for us. He was a backpacker from Australia, and with a degree, but he never actually went back. And in fact, you know, quite a few of the people that are working in our hotel company all joined us when we were very young, and they’ve grown with us, in a way.

SSR: That speaks so loudly for what you’ve created, and the culture that you’ve [created].

KK: Well, I think basically we always say that we’re all pretty unemployable, so we had to stick together.

SSR: That’s amazing. And what did you want to do with a hotel? Were there others that you had admired that you wanted to emulate, or did you want to kind of just disrupt what was happening in the ’80s in the hotel business?

KK: I think it was very difficult to actually get financing, because people didn’t understand small hotels, and they certainly didn’t understand small boutique hotels. So, you were trying to do it on a wing and a prayer.

But we could see that there was a market there, and we so much didn’t like what was existing. I didn’t like the sort of feeling of the sort of large hotel, where it had very little character, and we felt that there should be much more of a sense of arrival, because hotels actually were a part of the adventure of travel.

SSR: Right. And so, the first one was Dorset Square.

KK: Yeah, Dorset Square. It’s a Regency building, but it’s on the site of the first Lord’s Cricket Ground, so of course that was a great thing to sort of make a bit of a theme for the hotel.

SSR: Right. And you just recently, I mean, it’s still around, so you’ve renovated it, you recently refurbished it, right?

KK: Yeah, well we sold it, and then bought it back again. We just couldn’t bear to let it go. We didn’t like letting our buildings go.

SSR: What were some of the things you learned with your first hotel project? Do you remember some of the challenges and solutions that you came up with back then?

KK: Well, I mean, we were just really learning as we went along, and there’s something about the arrogance and ignorance of youth that really pulls you along. I do remember that in the basement of the hotel we were building a restaurant, and somebody said that they knew Anton Mosimann, who was a very well distinguished restaurateur in London.

And so we said oh, well maybe he can come and have a look at the building site. I remember meeting him. He was Swiss, and he was wearing sort of white patent shoes, and rain was dripping from sort of six floors down into the basement. He took one look at the space and he said, ‘You will never cook a meal in this restaurant,’ you know? Like, go home, forget it.

So we just thought, oh, well that’s silly. We’re just going to continue, and we’re just going to do it. And I must say that sort of a year or so later he did come back and say, ‘Well, well done, you know, I was wrong. There was a space for a small boutique hotel here.’ We were already, by that stage, winning a following of people who felt like ours. There was a space where you could actually have a hotel with much more character.

SSR: Yeah. And from Dorset Square, where did you go next?

KK: Well, I think the next hotel we did was the Pelham Hotel, and yeah, we had, it’s always slightly more difficult during the second and the third, and as you go on people are expecting more and more. But it never felt like work, and we had fabulous buildings.

You know, in London we’ve got new builds of the Soho, and of course the Ham Yard Hotel. Covent Garden Hotel was an old French hospital. Charlotte Street Hotel was a dental warehouse. And the Pelham Hotel was just a sort of rather rundown hotel.

And to take something where you just have an original idea, and then after all the renovations, walking through the door is always the most fabulous feeling. I mean, in a sense, though, you feel as if you’ve handed it over. It’s really got nothing to do with you then, and then the people that come to the hotel create the character. You’re just doing the space, you’re doing the surround, you’re adding to the curiosity, to the adventure of travel, but then it’s all about the guests.

SSR: And what do you love about the old buildings? Is it just discovering new layers as you go through?

KK: Well, we have found amazing things behind radiators, like fabulous old paintings, and things that have been lost and forgotten. But I think with old buildings, of course, the rooms are never going to be straightforward. You’re going to have nooks and crannies, and fireplaces, and then sort of differences of heights in the floors between buildings. I mean, it can be quite tricky. It’s almost easier to do a new build.

SSR: Right. And talk about your process? How do you even start with a new hotel, a new idea? I mean, you’re so involved, and so hands on, which, you know, is what makes your hotel so great. But how do you even start the process?

KK: I never liked the idea of brands, so every hotel has to speak for itself, it has to be individual. And I think that’s what makes it so fascinating for people to come and stay, because although there’s a handwriting, every building has its own signature.

And to start with, it does depend, every building is different. For example, Charlotte Street Hotel is all about Bloomsbury, because that’s where it is in London. So, there’s such a fabulous archive and interesting things to learn about the Bloomsbury Group, which is Virginia Woolf and Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and the Omega Group.

So, that was just a fabulous, wonderful resource to look into, and at that time we could actually buy Bloomsbury art. It was out of favor, so we could afford to get quite a good collection. And, of course, they never stand still, these hotels, so you’re always getting something else and trying to build on your collection.

SSR: Okay, so you made a presence for yourself in London, and then you brought your signature look to New York, first with the Crosby, and then the Whitby. What was it like translating your, I don’t want to say brand, but your collection, your viewpoint to New York?

KK: Well, I think the thing is that with any hotel that we’ve done it’s part of its surrounding, and when you look at London it’s a series of villages altogether. So, in a sense, your building is part of that village, and I like the idea of putting character back into that area.

So, of course, when we came across to New York, it’s the same here in New York, every village and every area has its own character, and it was really frightening, to be honest, coming over the pond. This is like a graveyard for so many British companies that have come over here. And, of course, it was a new build, and in Crosby Street, which is an area, which was really just developing even then.

But I love walking the streets, and we had this original idea, and it was going to be art inspired by the written word, because I love this salon idea of sort of artists meeting, and Crosby Street and SoHo seem to be an area for creative people and artists.

And then, as we were going through the streets, and walking around, I couldn’t get over all the dogs I was looking at, because you know, where are all these dogs living? Are they living in tower blocks, in skyscrapers, and dogs with sort of dreadlocks, and every shape and size.

So, we started off with these wonderful sort of highfalutin ideas, and then, in the end, we had this incredible dog theme, which also has inspired so many guests to actually send me their pictures of dogs and get into a dialogue with them, and find great artists who are using dogs, Holly Freeman, Peter Clark. We then established a nice conversation with them. And then you can start commissioning people to do particular works of art as well.

I mean, we have got fabulous pieces in the Crosby Street, the Jaime Plensa. I saw his work first of all in Basel, and now I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but then we were able to. And we’ve got Anselm Kiefer, Callum Innes in there, a big [Fernando] Botero cat outside, actually, as well. So, that’s been amazing, to just watch it growing. And in fact, even now I am going with Ruby [Kean] afterwards to look at the event spaces, because we’ve just redone those as well.

SSR: And so, that was SoHo, and then the Whitby was  Midtown, very different in terms of scale and location. So, what did you want to do for the Whitby that was different?

KK: Well, I sometimes think that being in New York is like being in a bit of a battlefield, you know? You’re on the streets, it’s like a huge anthill of commercialism, and I really wanted to make the hotel into a little sort of fantasy hideaway that you wouldn’t expect to find, and quite different. I mean, it wouldn’t be English, it wouldn’t be American, it was just filled with interesting artworks, and just a good feel, a good character to it.

SSR: And speaking of your artworks, how do you find people? How do you find inspirations, and the right collaborators for these projects?

KK: Well, I go out and actively look for them, but I’ll get people coming to me as well. And it’s actually recognizing people’s strengths, when you’re commissioning you have to go with that sort of person, and not try and put them in an arm lock. So, we’re very democratic in the way that we hang art. So, we’ve got very well known artists beside very young artists who are coming out of art school. I will go to graduate shows. I found a couple of really, Hermione [Skye] who does the loom artwork, which is above the reception desk at the Ham Yard and at the Whitby. I saw her, I met her, first of all, at her graduate show.

SSR: Oh, that’s such a wonderful story.

KK: Yeah.

SSR: And then you also, I mean, you pepper in your own pieces, if you will, or installations. Like, I love the baskets that hang. There’s probably, what, 20 or 30 baskets …

KK: 57.

SSR: Oh, 57 baskets that hang above the bar at the Whitby. For people that haven’t seen your designs, I mean, they’re textural, and colorful, and seamlessly blend different patterns together in a way that I think you’re an inspiration for many because what you can do with so much love in a hotel.

KK: Well, it’s collections, actually. And if you get a collection of almost anything together, it doesn’t matter. I mean, we’ve done the bowling shoes in Ham Yard in London. And I think one of your first jobs [pointing to design director Ruby Kean], actually, was putting, stuffing newspaper inside bowling shoes that we bought on eBay, and then by putting them in Perspex and pushing them as a collection on a wall, suddenly, a massive wall, and surrounded by bowling balls, they looks really fascinating.

And at the Whitby we just took fabulous old dinner plates, and that when you look at them, actually, they are little works of art, but they have to be framed in such a way for you to actually recognize that. Then, of course, when you get a lot of them together they start really speaking to you.

And so, our baskets, for example, I mean, the basket is such a humble little thing, but they had so many different uses. And whether it was baskets on the back of ponies bringing fish from a Scottish porch or collecting apples in Kent in a great big horn of plenty, suddenly, when you start looking at all these baskets and seeing how useful they all were, it became quite an interesting thing to see them altogether. But, I have to say that I was a bit worried about them being over the bar in a Manhattan hotel. But it kind of worked out in the end, yeah. So, you are taking a few risks.

SSR: So, one of the hallmarks of your designs is oversized headboards that are full of character. Is there, how did that come about?

KK: It suddenly starts, well, I mean, I wish I could say how it came about, but it’s one of those things where with a high headboard you can actually see the fabric, you can see the pattern. And we say every headboard tells a story, and so you can create a story, and it’s the one focal point within the room where you can really have a lot of fun. And it’s not being creased or pleated like a piece of material, and then if we find really good artists we can ask them to make their own headboard.

We found Kumi, who’s half Japanese and her mother sends over kimonos from Japan, and she also collages and sews and adds pieces, and adds color to these beautiful pieces of work. And so, we’re lucky to find her. She was only making bags before, and we said to her, well, have you ever thought about doing this? And then we’ll send her the pattern for the headboard, and then she works her magic.

It’s coming up with ideas, and it’s coming up just with something that you think will capture the imagination within a room, because I love to have interiors that aren’t straightforward, that do capture your imagination, that make maybe the most jaded businessman look around him and say oh, that’s different, yeah.

SSR: And your use of color, was that something always that you loved.

KK: Yeah, I’ve always loved color, and much more frightened of beige or white or gray. And although I appreciate these interiors, which are completely just basically one color, I can’t do it. It just always creeps in, lots of colors.

SSR:  Lots of color. You’re creating happy places.

KK: Yeah, because I think color does make you happy, and it’s one of the easiest way to do it. And here in New York, for example, I mean, your seasons are so intense. Winter is freezing cold, you get strong winds, and then in summer it’s baking hot. And I think somehow the interiors can sort of die on you, so by adding color, it suddenly will add life into an interior.

SSR: In most of your hotels you feel like you’re home, or you’re entering a very well curated, eclectic space. Is that how you look at that? I mean, are they an extension of you and your company? I mean, how do you look at a hotel?

KK: Well, I mean, I thought everybody would do the same, but I suddenly realized, actually, that what we do is quite niche, and I have noticed that right now there’s a lot of art and design, which is very technical. It’s very austere, and it’s very masculine. I like that, I mean, but I like it in my kitchen, and I like it in my bathroom, but in my bedroom and in my drawing room, I want a much more embellished, slightly more feminine look.

And that is a point of view, and it’s not necessarily a very popular point of view at the moment, but actually it’s amazing how many people really feel so comfortable that they don’t want to leave. I think, basically, that’s what you’re trying to achieve with your interior.

SSR: No, I think you’re onto something. I think people are, they want that comfort these days. They want that sense of, you know.

KK: I mean, hotels are so fascinating at the moment, because there are so many different wants. And you know, there’s that sort of WeWork type atmosphere as well, which I love. I mean, I love the idea of refectory tables and people working away, and the sort of teamwork of it all. But actually, I don’t want to come into a hotel and feel that I’m coming into an office. So, I don’t mind having an area aside, but that’s not the main, intentional feel for my hotels.

SSR: And from all this, from your use of color, patterns, artists, you now are prolific in product design. I mean, you have many different collections. Was that just a natural extension to what you were doing in?

KK: Yeah, it was an organic sort of process. If you’d have asked me 20 years ago would I be doing this, I would be very surprised, but I’m so delighted. I mean, it’s just something that I have learned so much, and I’m continuing to learn from, you know, from weaving of carpets through to going to Belgium and talking to third and fourth generation weavers there, all the different fabrics that we’re working on, whether it’s linens, cottons, twills, or chintzes. And then the wedge wood, doing the ceramics as well, and furniture design.

We don’t do collections where you have to do three or four whole collections every year. It has organically grown. And I was surprised, when we did the Bergdorf pop-up, just how much we had. I didn’t realize, actually, you know, putting it all together.

SSR: Right. You see all your collections come together.

KK: Yeah, and they actually worked, color wise, really well. I mean, that was a really good feeling.

SSR: Well, as I mentioned, you’ve been very hands on from the get go. There’s one story that you have to tell, because I love it, but that, for the Crosby there was, you couldn’t find the right pattern for a couch, and you actually, you and a friend sewed it.

KK: Yeah, this was Louise and I. Louise is someone who knows a lot about art, but she’s just a great friend of mine, and we met because we both ride, and she had this great big horse that wouldn’t go through water, and mine would. And then we got talking and I found out, actually, that she was in the art world, and she was really good at sewing.

And so, we wanted to do large sort of patchwork repeat on these sofas, and I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I said to Louise, ‘Look, you’re really good at sewing. I can do a lot of cutting out. Will you help?’ So, we had a whole weekend of listening to, I think it was ’70s music, and Louise on her sewing machine and me with sort of cutting, and this, that, and the other, and we made it ourselves. It’s a really good feeling.

SSR: And you’ve also written two books.

KK: Three.

SSR: Three, sorry, three books. And again, was the writing of these books just an evolution, a progression of what you were doing, or something you’ve always dreamt of to do?

KK: Well, when I won the Interior Designers of the Year, of the galaxy with Andrew Martin, Martin said to me, ‘Oh, I want to see that you’ve published a book by the end of the year.’ And I thought, oh, I’m never going to do that. But then Craig’s other half runs Hardie Grant Books, and, which is an Australian publishers. So, I was encouraged to do it.

And you always start thinking I’m never going to fill ever page, what am I going to do? And then, at the end of it, you’re taking things out there’s so much. So yeah, it’s been such a really fun process, and something that I didn’t think, again, I would ever be doing. But we’ve got so much more now, we’re going to have to do another one, yeah.

SSR: Four books.

KK: Yeah, exactly.

SSR: Well, and you’ve also created blog, and a lifestyle website, and then you, just, you’ve really turned yourself into a brand, which not many people, you know, it’s not easy to do.

KK: Well, I didn’t, we hadn’t really wanted to, but I think the other thing that we found was, especially with our blog, when I’m interviewing people, because I have a small team, there are only just 12 of us. But the one thing that people when they came for interviews, they always said I want to work in a team, because so many people now are almost, they don’t have their own desks. They hot desk, they work from home, and so you don’t get that feeling of working together. And I think, when you’re doing things creatively, it means a lot to sit round a table with other likeminds, you know? And so, we decided to start the blog so that it would be like day to day in our design office, because we’re either filling shoes with newspaper, or we’re collaging sort of fabrics onto sofas, and doing creative things like that. We found that people were very interested to know more.

So, it started as that, and now we just have our blog meeting every week, and it’s like a show and tell. We have day to day, which is what’s happening in the design office, out and about, so that’s the best exhibitions that we’ve seen or creative things, and then we have sleeping around, because we’ve done so many bedrooms.

Every week we show exactly how we’ve done a bedroom, we tell everybody where we got the fabrics, how it was designed, how it was put together. You’re learning as well, and the dos and don’ts of paint and how to create beautiful, tiny rooms, which are facing brick walls, and that sort of thing.

SSR: Amazing. I love that you actually are transparent, and you share your, quote unquote, secrets.

KK: But, I mean, I just think that design is a bit like a kaleidoscope. We can tell everybody exactly what we did, but everybody will do it in a slightly different way and that’s really the fascination of it.

SSR: And you champion artists, you’re creating your own products with various companies, you’re finding small companies to work with throughout your hotel, what do you look for in a collaborator, for somebody to enter Firmdale, Kit Kemp world?

KK: Well, we like small people, really. We like the ones who are independents, who are kind of going it alone. I mean, that’s a great start, and you can build up a rapport. They’re helping you. You’re helping them. Of course, they then get so famous that you can’t afford to use them anymore.  But that means we have to go and find somebody else. So, that’s great. It’s another vacancy. What was the question? I can’t remember.

SSR: What do you look for in the right collaborator?

KK: Oh, right. Well, it’s somebody who can complete a job, and can complete it on time. There was a time when art schools weren’t making people who were very practical. That’s changed. And so, you have to have someone who’s reliable, someone that you know can complete the job. That’s about it, really. I mean, I don’t think you need any more than that. It’s just seeing what they do and liking it.

SSR: One of the things that I really love is that you’re also committed to sustainable design. You actually have a 10-year plan to reduce energy consumption by 25 percent across your hotels. And why is this something that’s so near and dear to you as well?

KK: Well, when we were building Crosby Street we wanted it to be a green building, and we got the first LEED award in New York, a gold award, for building it, which meant we had all the cycle racks outside, a green roof, chickens on the roof, buying as much locally and as near as possible, and et cetera, et cetera. And, I mean, you’ve got to do that, really. It just makes perfect sense.

But, oddly enough, we’d get letters, and the Covent Garden Hotel, we got a letter from a very famous actor saying you’re using too much plastic, even with your tea bags, they’ve got a bit of plastic in them. And Tim and I, my husband and I, sat down, and we thought, you know, that’s right, and it’s just not good enough. Why are we doing this?

So, Jessica Black, who’s worked for us for quite a few years, she’s the main one who’s actually been looking at sustainable ways of even washing our sheets. We have our own laundry, and it’s got tumble washers, which lose less water. Now we’re going to have our own bakery.

But, so we’ve worked a long way, and over a long time, to get this more sustainable image. It just works for us. It’s what our clients want in the long run. And we’ve really got into the swing of it now, so we’re not turning back.

But, you know, the other thing, you were just talking to me about commissioning artists, and I think the thing is that we love craft. You can have a lot of technology, and you can go in that direction, or you can have a lot of craft, and that artisanal feel. That’s where we have gone. It’s less modular and more about sort of beautiful pieces of wood.

And so, when I’m looking to find artists, it’s people who love to use just beautiful pieces of wood, just simple things, actually, just very organic things. That’s what I’m looking for.

SSR: And you mentioned Tim, your husband, which we started with, but how do you work? How do you play off each other? Is he strict development, you’re strict design, or where do you cross?

KK: Well, it has got better over the years, but we would have terrible arguments, because, of course, if you believe strongly in something you’re going to fight your corner. So, now we’re just like a couple of old sumo wrestlers. We know when to sort of circle, and then go in for the kill. But it has got easier.

And now, actually, I mean, we do things quite autonomously. I mean, Tim has his area. His is much more financial. Mine is the design, creative side of it. His is the rest, actually, which is a huge part of it, and he will find the buildings, and he’s just that person who doesn’t see anything in between, from the original idea to the final end product. I’m the one who’s saying hey, hang on a minute, do you think we can do this? You know, I’m that notch, the gung-ho one. But it works quite well. We have a brilliant team, and we’ve been together for quite a few years now. So, we’re all working to the same spec.

SSR: And you’ve been an inspiration for many designers, and artists as well. Where do you find inspiration? Where do you go to just kind of reconnect?

KK: Well, I don’t think of time off. I mean, I love design, so if I go to the theater I’m looking at the set design. If I’m going to the ballet, you know, I’m looking at all their sets as well. It’s not work, it’s just a way of life.

And so, if you’re going to galleries, if you’re looking at an artist’s work, you just sort of click in your mind, and watch, and then, hopefully, something will come up, and you think, ah, that’s going to work really well for us in this particular setting, in this particular building, in this particular idea. You’re always creatively trying to arrive at some artwork, which isn’t costing millions of dollars but has a lot of impact, and sometimes that’s creative thinking.

SSR: And you work with a lot of students, as you said, what would be  your best piece of advice for young artists, for young designers starting out?

KK: Well, I think to be original. I mean, for example, with textiles, I see so many archive textiles, where all the manufacturer has done is just change the colorway, and I say don’t do that, there are so many fantastic students coming out of art school, you give them a chance. They’ve really got to be given the chance, and they’ve got to be paid an appropriate amount of money to do it.

It’s very, very hard to start off in that world. My nephew designed the top selling fabric for Liberty several years ago, and he was paid 500 pounds, and that’s nothing now. It’s being used everywhere, and resold and reused. And so, that’s really dispiriting for a young designer.

And there are so many talented people out there. They do need help. I mean, a lot of them would look great, their stuff would look great as wrapping paper, or a Christmas or a birthday card, but to actually take it that one step forward and use it within interiors, and with integrity and with something which makes it last, again, is something that you have to learn, I think.

SSR: Right. And what has been your greatest lesson learned over the years?

KK: Oh, I don’t know. That’s a hard question. My biggest lesson. You never listen to people’s advice halfway through a project. You have to have your ideas, you have to believe in them, and then you have to see them through to the end, because, you know, halfway through people will say I don’t like that idea. I don’t think that’s going to work. That color’s no good. This is the wrong shape. You know, you shouldn’t be doing this. And you have to say wait to the end, wait until it’s completed, and then you can tell me what you think about it, but in the meantime, have a bit of faith.

SSR: And what can you tell us about the training academy?

KK: Yes, this is our latest project. We had warehouse space, 30,000 square feet of warehouse space, actually, which is quite near Heathrow. And so, we decided to make part of that into our Firmdale Training Academy, because with our own school it’s so important that everybody is talking about the same things, having the same attitude.

And so, we’ve always had our little training school, but never all in one place. We thought if it works then it can be also for the outside as well, so we can actually really start training people in hotel management.

But that meant that we’ve got the restaurant, we’ve got the café there, we’re got our own bar, we’ve got our own bedrooms, we’ve got our own sort of school rooms, and our own bakery, because you look through from the café into the bakery, and we worked out that we were using over 3,000 bread rolls just, you know, every day. And so, if we’re making our own, so much the better. But also, if we’re teaching others how to do it too, even better.

So, that’s our latest thing. So, we’ve just been taking photographs of the restaurant and café, and re-landscaping all around the outside as well. It’s been quite exciting.

SSR: I love it that you guys can create your own little microcosm, right? And just play in your space, and continue to make it better.

KK: Yeah, we try.

SSR: Yeah. And your thoughts on, I know you’re on the more design side, but what is, how would you describe Firmdale’s hospitality? I mean, how do you try to make guests feel in your hotel, beyond the design?

KK: Well, I think you’ve got to capture their imagination, and not one area can’t work. Everything has to be working in unison. You can’t arrive in your room and say this is very nice, and then order roomservice and nothing comes.

So, it’s all about the people involved, and in a sense it’s not a family as such, but there has to be the same worth ethic, which is working throughout. And you can tell by someone at the end of the day, and you can watch them leave the building, and if they’ve had a good day there’s a smile on their face. They’re ready for the rest of the day. If they’re hating it, they’re coming out and they’re looking really dreary. And you know what? That comes over to your guests as well.

And so, it’s important that everybody feels that what they’re doing is valued. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting off as a chambermaid or just someone filling the mini bar, you’ve got to feel that if you’re filling that mini bar, one day you’re going to be general manager. And so, we try and always promote from within. And so, there’s always that feeling that there’s a progression within the company. That’s another way of keeping the best people.

SSR: And so, what’s next for you? Is there, I know there’s another hotel coming in New York, which I don’t know how much you can talk about. And then, is there a dream project, or something you haven’t done yet?

KK: Well, that’s a dream project. I think the Warren Street Hotel is a new build, it’s a dream project. I mean, when you’re building a hotel you’re so lucky, because you’ve got drawing rooms, you’ve got event spaces, you’ve got restaurants, you’ve got bars, you’ve got bedrooms, you’ve got roof spaces. I mean, what more would you want? I mean, that is a fabulous project for any interior designer, and any designer, full stop.

And so, there’s Warren Street, then there’s Richmond Buildings, which is next door to the Soho Hotel in London, and that’s another new build. We want to have different spaces within that, and then there will be another roof space, because over here, you know, terraces are loved, and it’s the same in England, actually. We’ve got bees on the roof at Ham Yard, so we’ve go to think of how this is going to be slightly different. And then we’re doing for C.P. Hart we’re designing a bathroom, which means redesigning the tiles, designing the wallpapers, designing a lot of the fittings that are going in it. So, that’s really fun.

And then doing this. I mean, a guest editorship is so fabulous. I don’t think I’m ever going to get the opportunity again. So, you know, I’m really delighted to be doing it.

SSR: Well, we’re very honored to have you. So, thank you so much.

KK: Thank you.