Every room should hold surprises to delight both the eye and the mind. Travelling through any of my buildings should be like going on an adventure, full of fun, personality and humour. There should be an intelligent thread that binds the stories of each room together, and only by doing this does a building make sense. This may just be a consistent quirkiness, a discernible colour palette or an emphasis on a particular combination of textures – whatever the thread, it needs to enliven the senses and create a congruent flow throughout the area.
THE INTELLIGENT THREAD
There is nowhere better to explain this idea than at Ham Yard Hotel. We built and designed Ham Yard Hotel from scratch so I know this space like I know my children. The challenge was to link very large areas together over half an acre of ground floor. I wanted to humanise the spaces and create smaller areas that propelled you to other areas without realising the distances in between. With Ham Yard Hotel, we wanted to create a green space in the heart of London’s Soho, not just a solid block of a building, where you can walk quietly and browse.
The lobby has high, white walls and ceilings so I started with a loom art installation over the reception area, its colours complementing the 1960s artworks by Terry Frost and Sandra Blow. I love stone, wood, alabaster and organic pieces – these appear over again in every area, each in different ways. Alabaster chandeliers light the traditional library, oyster- and sepia-coloured wide wooden floorboards link together areas of the restaurant and stonecarved mirrors hang in the Shade Bar.
Always be bold and stick by your guns. Believe in yourself and be true to what you feel. Very often this is the key to success, and if not, well, it’s easier to live with your own mistakes than the ones others have made for you. I like to break the rules – I have been designing and decorating for a very long time and it makes my job so much more interesting and fun.
I am more frightened of beige than of any other colour in the spectrum – I prefer to travel a more adventurous route, but being bold with colour is only one tiny part of the story. It’s also about playing with scale – an enormous picture in a very small space can sometimes make it look very large, or paintings with a depth that lead back to infinity are a clever way to
deceive the eye by the view. Being bold in difficult spaces can bring them suddenly alive. In the lobby at Ham Yard Hotel I have a 24ft long Anatolian rug on one wall, Rick Rack wallpaper on the staircase with four Sandra Blow paintings in strong colours hung alongside a contemporary chandelier in white. The back wall is painted a glossy white to further reflect
the riot of colour going on around it.
If a picture can tell a thousand words, then an interestingly framed one shouts volumes. Anything can be elevated – from pages in a children’s picture book, a collection of plastic insects, a favourite handkerchief, a deck of playing cards or
pieces of fabric – into admirable works of art. It is the framing that makes you look at them with fresh eyes, and very often the stranger the artwork the more inventive the frame. We have created frames from old mobile phone cases and printing press letters, leather buckles from a belt and old floorboards. A library is one of my favourite rooms – a wall of
books is the best wall covering a room can have. I take the paper covers off the books so the raw spines in all their natural colours show through and look softer against the shelves. Warmer coloured woods work well here too – I seek out so-called ‘brown’ furniture which glows when waxed and polished, but this doesn’t mean the room becomes a pastiche of the past. In the library at Ham Yard Hotel, I have used my Ozone fabric in gold and neutral shades for walling, but over the fireplace I’ve hung an abstract painting by Leonora Carrington in contrasting shades to add presence.
OUT OF THE BLUE
There are colours that feel right for now and as I look at my colour palette when I am designing, my eye keeps straying back to blues. There are so many different tones to choose from – the palest sky blue to deepest darkest denim, rich indigo to dirty petrol shades, and a kick of that amazing Yves Klein blue that lends a little zippiness when used on the piping of a
chair or inside the kick pleat of a valance. Blues need not necessarily be cold, although the aspect and light coming into a room, and the time of day the room is to be used, always need considering. I’m careful about blues in dining rooms because I don’t feel it’s a very conducive colour for eating, but rules are made to be broken and midnight blue can be dramatic at night when the curtains are drawn and candles with age. Vintage French blue linens with polka dots look better having been washed and ironed over the years.
The Terrace Suite at Ham Yard Hotel was created around the artwork by Holly Frean. Her work is witty and covers many subjects, for example a made-up pack of cards of 52 different artists, where Holly has painted her interpretation of each artist in her own inimitable way. She creates multitudes of the same animal painted over and over again in miniature. I particularly liked her doggies – I spend ages looking at them because their expressions are so fascinating.
Although this set of paintings are multi-coloured, the blues caught our eye and so we built upon it for this apartment space.
Extract taken from: Every Room Tells a Story by Kit Kemp, Hardie Grant, £30
Compiled by Rosalind Sack, photography by Simon Brown.