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Bringing The Art In

Room 1408 at The Whitby Hotel features a custom headboard
Room 1408 at The Whitby Hotel features a custom headboard

The celebrated British artist Sir Howard Hodgkin’s largest-ever set of prints was also his last: he was in his late 70s when he made the 20ft, vibrant splashes of color that make up As Time Goes By. The interior designer Kit Kemp saw them in his studio shortly before Hodgkin died. The huge work now hangs in the bowling alley of Kemp’s Ham Yard Hotel in London.

It is one of the 10 establishments that Kemp and her husband Tim have opened under the Firmdale Hotels family. When the couple unveils the Warren Street Hotel in Tribeca in March next year, their third in New York, after a Street and The Whitby, patrons will also be seeing the city’s newest gallery of art and crafts.

Kit Kemp in her Hyde Park home
Kit Kemp in her Hyde Park home

On the walls of any Firmdale hotel, one can see pieces by stellar artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Louise Bourgeois, Jim Dine, Alexander Calder, Sir Terry Frost, Tony Cragg, and Fernando Botero. “We have bought work by great artists, but it’s also wonderful to discover new ones just before they find fame,” says Kemp. “It’s about what I see, about falling in love with a piece of art, rather than buying a name—it’s all very democratic.” One recent “find” was Ugandan artist Sanaa Gateja, whose beaded textile works she bought for the Warren Street Hotel. “We have to start collecting long before a hotel opens,” she says. “Now suddenly he is having exhibitions in New York and everywhere—but we got there first.”

If all Firmdale properties are distinguished from their blander rivals by their use of original pieces, signature design flourishes do the same job. There are bold patterns and colors, and tall headboards, often with a hand-stitched appliqué design, as the focal point of every bedroom. “One room is orange, with a huge black and white headboard. I recently overheard a family party—in town for a wedding—who were astonished to see that every bedroom in the Crosby Street Hotel is decorated differently,” she says.

Eileen Cooper, Dancing and Solitude, 2015, on display in The Whitby, New York
Eileen Cooper, Dancing and Solitude, 2015, on display in The Whitby, New York

Though Kemp wants to leave some surprises for the Warren Street opening, she reveals that the foyer is designed around bold geometric works by British painter Vanessa Jackson, whose abstract work she saw at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition in London. There will also be fantastical childlike painted scenes by a favorite Spanish artist, Ramiro Fernández Saus, as well as ceramics. “Something made by hand appeals to all of the senses in an easy, not insistent way,” she says. Huge pots by Carol Wainwright and Daniel Reynolds’ powerful shapes will both appear, and charming painted plates by Robina Jack, which Kemp is known to frame and hang in a grid on a wall.

A chandelier by the textile-designer-turned-lighting-artist Gareth Devonald Smith has been commissioned, and there will be “curving minaret-like baskets, reaching floor to ceiling” by the Argentinian basket-maker Cristián Mohaded. Collections of smaller pieces—for example, original design sketches for Sèvres vases—will work alongside large abstract canvases. It is a rich mix. “The important thing is to let the art breathe, give it space,” Kemp says. She applies the same principle to her use of color: “It’s good to be bold without getting frantic, it’s about how you balance color and pattern. With every interior, you should want to sit there forever.”

Her mission is to make hotels that are both exciting and original. Those Howard Hodgkin prints in London were joined by 36 pairs of eBay-bought bowling shoes in clear plastic cases. She seems sure to succeed again at Warren Street.

Visit firmdalehotels.com



New York, $7,100,000 sothebysrealty.com/id/YN2DNC Cortnee Glasser | Sothebys International Realty East Side Manhattan Brokerage
New York | $7,100,000
Cortnee Glasser | Sotheby’s International Realty – East Side Manhattan Brokerage

Architectural Digest put Ike Kligerman Barkley on its AD100 list for the firm’s “old-meets-new sensibility”, and the architect’s expert touch is in evidence throughout this impressive Tribeca loft, which it created with another AD100 alum, and designer to the stars, Monique Gibson. Inside the 3,735 sq ft home, a grand foyer greets you straight out of the elevator, and leads to a living area with nearly 50 ft of linear frontage. Other features include hand painted wall murals by Dean Barger Studios, a Saint Laurent marble center island in the kitchen, a dressing room with custom oak millwork and antiqued mirror details. It is right beside the district’s best restaurants, parks, schools, and transportation links.

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