Inside Kit Kemp’s Whimsical Hotels
I think about how a piece of art will look in an interior space all the time. Whether it’s a house or a hotel—it’s easier if you’re starting with a building that actually exists, rather than one that is still being built, because you know the space and it’s how you actually use the punctuation in that space as you move from one area to another. I like mixing old and new, because contemporary art is much brighter, as a rule, so that it can make a good contrast, from the neutrals in a room to something brighter on the wall that pushes you through to another space.
When I’m trying to get people to walk through an enfilade of rooms, especially if they are very unglamorous spaces, I make them more interesting by having art on the walls, particularly if it’s colorful or enticing. The pieces don’t need to relate to each other. I like every room to tell a story, but it doesn’t have to be the same story, especially if they are bedrooms in a hotel.
You can be saying something very different in the next room, but it can be linked, possibly with a color or a theme, or even just with a carpet. I love design, and the reason that I do it is that I love a lot of people’s work, so I am going to be influenced. I’m not a purist, and there will be certain things at certain times that take my interest and that I long to use, but as I’m naturally curious, things will change.
As a designer, you do have to have your own handwriting at the end of the day. Sometimes you can get too diverse, and when that happens, you have to go back to your core, and return to things that you’ve always loved. When you commission artists, as I do, I don’t think you can hold them in an armlock. They need to feel free, so you have to decide that you like somebody’s work, tell them about the space, and then give them free rein. I think that’s when you get the best work.
Most of the time, when I’m commissioning artists and craftsmen, my main thing is to get the best of their work, and that, in itself, is a talent—by talking to them, but at the same time, allowing them to use that part of their brain that gives them their freedom.
Often artists are not used to being commissioned, or working to a brief, and they can be quite difficult. Telling them that it’s got to go with a green carpet, and that I don’t like the color purple, that can be very tricky. I’ve been to rooms that have art in them, and where it runs into squillions of pounds, and yet they look terrible.
I do think you can have too many ideas in a room. It’s like a large oak tree: It needs space around it, so if you have a beautiful piece of art, let it breathe. If you have one really strong oil painting, don’t smother it with others, but use much lighter weight watercolors, or etchings, or drawings, or something from a different culture.
At the same time, I don’t want my public rooms to look like a gallery. It’s vitally important to have a sense of things working together in a room, in that it makes one feel more comfortable. Otherwise, you’ll be in a room where you don’t want to sit down. You might want to look at the art on the walls, but it doesn’t make you want to stay in it; and for me, I want to see people using the room, putting their feet up, showing their friends, and entertaining in it.
If you think that you know how a room will be in advance as an end product, then that’s not right, because interior design is an organic process, and there should be things evolving along the way, so that you have to think on your feet and be versatile.
A large piece of furniture or a painting that you feel is going to look marvelous on that wall, suddenly, when it comes in, doesn’t look quite right, so you have to be able to fiddle, and actually, that’s part of my joy of doing things. I love having to suddenly think again. It really puts me on my mettle, and gives me the element of surprise. I don’t think that rooms should be too predictable; there should always be some kind of quirkiness that makes you smile, or some strange scale that makes you think again, some color scheme that doesn’t quite match, but nearly does.