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Photography by Simon Brown and Firmdale Hotels, written by Jan Henderson.
When is a hotel not just a hotel? Answer, when it is the Ham Yard Hotel in London. Designed by Kit Kemp, the Ham Yard Hotel is the latest offering from Firmdale Hotels and is a total package of design and experience wrapped in the cloak of comfort and creativity. Kemp has made a name for herself in the world of interiors as an eclectic designer who has reinvented the English aesthetic in a new and fresh style. She combines the old and the new, embracing colour and decoration, and creating her own brand of opulence on a grand scale. From her first project, the Dorset Square Hotel, situated in a Regency style building with 38 bedrooms, Kemp and husband Tim have amassed a portfolio of nine properties under the Firmdale Hotels banner and established a stellar reputation among devotees in London and New York.
Kemp’s style has developed over the years and the Ham Yard is the culmination or, rather, pinnacle of her design prowess. This project is the largest to date and presents more as a village with the hotel at the epicentre of a tree-filled pedestrian thoroughfare that incorporates 13 individual retail outlets. The hotel is situated on a 0.3-hectare (three-quarter-acre) site in busy Soho in the heart of London’s West End and is tucked behind Piccadilly, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue.
The site takes its name from the 18th century public house The Ham (now The Lyric Tavern and still standing). There have been multiple incarnations of the site over the centuries with music at the core. There were jazz clubs in the 1920s and pop in the 1960s followed by writers and the creative set in the ’70s; however, it is the rebirth of Ham Yard in 2014, initiated and completed by Kemp, that has once again reinvigorated the area today.
Car access to the hotel is by a narrow street behind Piccadilly Circus. From the moment of arrival it is evident that the transformation from Heritage to modern day is complete with a large bronze statue by Tony Cragg entitled Group centre stage within the courtyard entrance.
The ground floor of the hotel is a cornucopia of colour, pattern and texture – a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of objets and furniture. Decoration is key for Kemp and she does not disappoint with the Ham Yard. The reception area sits between the drawing room and the Ham Yard Restaurant and Bar and here wingback chairs, tables and stools have been placed near a large fire for the milling crowds. Through a walkway at the front of the hotel is the orangery and this leads to a private library for guests. With trademark attention to detail, Kemp commissioned literary expert Philip Blackwell to curate the library selection and all manner of books are available for guests’ pleasure. The décor is old world charm with Chesterfield sofas, fabric-lined walls (Ozone, Kemp design, Christopher Farr fabric) and hand-embroidered curtains (Suzani, Kemp’s Chelsea Textiles collection). Here and throughout Ham Yard, found objects and ornaments from distant lands co-exist to delight and pleasure the eye. There is an honesty bar and this concept of drawing room and library is a trademark in all Firmdale properties.
The restaurant seats 102 and patrons can enjoy upholstered banquettes set against fabric-lined walls. The predominant colour is saffron and there is a lightness to the design touch. The bar area is large with floor to ceiling windows that overlook the outside courtyard and alfresco dining area for 50. The bar is topped in pewter and painted crates line the wall behind. There is a substantial lounge area to the back and, cleverly, Kemp has created intimacy in this large space through the use of objects that screen and delineate furniture groupings. The large organ pipes between the restaurant and bar lounge are astonishing, novel and a real conversation starter.
Downstairs is where the fun begins. Feel like a spa? The Soholistic Spa and Gym can provide respite for the weary guest. This is a calm space with treatment rooms and a white marble steam room complete with fibre optic lights that create a night sky to promote relaxation. There are several private event spaces and a theatre that seats 190, all unexpected and exciting, but it is the Croc Bowling Alley that astounds and delights. This is ‘back to the future’ where Kemp has installed an original 1950s solid maple four-lane bowling alley with adjoining lounge, bar and dance floor. This area is an explosion of colour and fun with vintage bowling balls and shoes on display, two large Howard Hodgkin artworks, a silver baby grand piano and comfortable sofas. It is, however, the display of three, three-metre crocodiles made of driftwood on the wall at the back of the dance floor that captivates and gave the bowling alley its name.
The rooms above are as eclectic as the offerings below, but more restful. Again, colour and the mixing of patterns and textures is central to the design with each of the 91 bedrooms and suites individually decorated – unique and bespoke is the language of Kemp. Every luxury has been included in the rooms. There are large upholstered bedheads, footstools at the end of the beds, fully upholstered sofas and chairs, mirrors, writing desks, lamps of all sizes and styles, artworks, statuary and objets, while the bathrooms feature Kemp’s new signature range of bath products, Rik Rak, which takes hand cream to another level. The overall design incorporates myriad fabrics, patterns and furniture styles that are layered and textured. Each room is a labour of love and it shows. In addition to the rooms there are 24 apartments for those wishing to stay long-term – all designed in the same narrative.
One inspired feature of the hotel is the inclusion of a rooftop garden on the fourth floor. This sanctuary, with sweeping views over the London skyline, doubles as an event space and includes bar and barbecue, flowers, olive and fruit trees and raised beds that contain herbs and vegetables and supply the kitchen below.
Ham Yard Hotel is so much more than a comfortable bed and a club sandwich from room service. This is a destination, a place to relax and a place to play. The design is sophisticated, crazy, intriguing and creative. Design is at the heart of this hotel and Kemp’s love of decoration a masterful tribute to eclecticism.
Now in its eleventh year, Shaw Contract’s Design Awards program honors architecture and design firms that are changing the way people engage and interact with a space.