Tim and Kit Kemp’s Firmdale Hotels group has always set the bar high when it comes to design, and Ham Yard hotel in London’s Soho, which opened in 2014, was their first opportunity to create a complete concept from scratch. With 91 rooms, a restaurant, spa, theatre and even a bowling alley, the building – designed by architects Woods Bagot – is the backdrop to Kit’s highly individual interiors, mixing artwork from young artists with objects from all over the world, complemented by her own fabrics and wallpapers. Firmdale Hotels’ Sally Swadling explains the thinking behind the design.
What’s the concept behind Ham Yard Hotel?
For the owners and designers, Tim and Kit Kemp, it was a unique opportunity to create a new hotel and public square in Soho, on a historic site that dates back to the 18th century.
Who designed the hotel?
It was designed by the owners of the Firmdale Hotel Group – Tim and Kit Kemp. “Everything is on a much larger scale,” says Kit, as the new hotel has 91 bedrooms and suites, in addition to 24 residential apartments, and glamorous public spaces; from a rooftop terrace and garden to a four-lane bowling alley and 188 seat theatre, a sunken orangery, an elegant drawing room and a private library. This is Firmdale’s first new-build project, and the building itself was designed by Woods Bagot.
What’s the history of Ham Yard?
Ham Yard owes its name to an early 18th-century public house called The Ham. Although the name was changed to The Lyric Tavern in 1892, it still exists today on the corner of Ham Yard and Great Windmill Street.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Ham Yard was home to a number of all nightclubs, with live music, while the 1940s saw the arrival of the first modern jazz club for London musicians, Club Eleven. It was run from a basement on Great Windmill Street involving the likes of Ronnie Scott, Hank Shaw, Johnny Rogers, Lennie Bush, Tony Crombie and Laurie Morgan.
During the 1960s, The Scene club opened and was very much associated with the mod youth culture and bands that appeared there included The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Animals. In the 1970s the site was filled with creatives such as photographers, artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and directors. From the 1980s onwards the site has sat closed off and unoccupied, while only occasionally used for filming (the 2005 film Mrs Henderson Presents was filmed at Ham Yard).
Were there any special artist commissions?
The Kemps commissioned a large sculpture in bronze, called ‘Group’, by Tony Cragg for the courtyard outside the entrance to the hotel, surrounded by a grove of oak trees. “There are a lot of historical statues and monuments in London, yet very little public contemporary sculpture – we wanted to celebrate a British artist,” say Tim and Kit Kemp, “and to us Tony Cragg is the ultimate Renaissance man. He is an artist, engineer, teacher, innovator. We hope that long after we have gone, Tony’s sculpture will still be here.”
New and emerging artists to look out for include recent RCA graduate Hermione Skye O’Hea, who created the neon silk thread installation above the reception desk, and yung Australian artist Shilo Engelbrecht, whose framed fabrics are used throughout the bedrooms.
What is the unmissable highlight of the hotel?
The Dive Bar and Bowling Alley have been given a vivid rock’n’roll kick with neon signs, including a diving Jantzen swimmer, dramatically oversized Rick Rack wallpaper (hand painted by de Gournay, to create a ripple-like effect down the wall), a specially commissioned 30ft tall orange squeezer, 50s bowling apparatus imported from Texas, two oversized Howard Hodgkin paintings and a collection of retro bowling shoes, bought from around the world, showcased in perspex boxes. Zinc-topped bars, wing chairs covered in brightly coloured Hainsworth wools, and a baby grand piano complete the picture.
Can you describe the rooftop terrace?
The fourth floor terrace has been transformed into a tranquil, fragrant garden, filled with ancient olive trees, and flowering fruit trees. Herb, salad and vegetable gardens are framed by box hedges, railway sleepers and picket fencing, while the flower garden is planted with seasonal flowers from poppies and lemon verbena to jasmine, creating a wild meadow which will bloom all year round. Expansive sun-shades and comfortable sofas make this the perfect place to relax and unwind.
What was the design concept for the hotel?
Renowned for her vibrant use of colour, texture and pattern, Kit Kemp has brought warmth and intimacy to this new-build hotel, by mixing vintage finds, with unique artist commissions and her own designs.
Were there any unique furniture commissions?
One of the highlights of the Kemps’ hotels are the handcrafted and custom-designed details. Unique ribbed glass and alabaster chandeliers were custom made in India for the restaurant, library and some bedrooms. Bespoke rugs in vibrant colours were commissioned from Christine van der Hurd.
Kit Kemp has also used many of her own designs, including fabrics such as Willow, Bookends, Rick Rack, Royal Snail and Ozone, created in collaboration with Christopher Farr; Suzani and Moondog, designed with Chelsea Textiles; and her own range of wallpapers including Racine (inspired by French 50s botanical posters).
What’s the best room to book?
Rooms on the fourth floor have direct access to the resident’s private roof terrace. For a more peaceful stay, try to book a room overlooking the courtyard, rather than the street. The terrace suite, with either one or two double bedrooms, spans over 1560 sq ft.