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Kit Kemp Talks How to Bring Color, Calm and Mythical Creatures into Your Room

On the heels of her pop-up opening at Bergdorf Goodman, the Firmdale Hotels co-owner and creative director tells all.

Designer Kit Kemp at her pop-up space on the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman. Photo: Courtesy of Kit Kemp
Kit Kemp at her pop-up space on the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman.

Kit Kemp sits on a basil green sofa, surrounded by fabric and furniture of her own design: A wool headboard depicting mythical creatures stands behind her and embroidered, 16th-century-inspired cushions abound. “I don’t like timid rooms, actually,” she says. “I like to have fun. I like a bit of whimsy.” It’s clear the designer isn’t just talk.

Kemp is best known for her work as co-owner and creative director of Firmdale Hotels, where she crafts lobbies, rooms, common areas and everything in between. In the process, she made a reputation, penned a book (or three) and, just recently, received a call from Bergdorf Goodman to curate a pop-up.

Which brings Kemp to where she is today: perched on a luxe couch on the seventh floor of Bergdorf, where her work will reside—all available for purchase—until August. We caught up with the designer and discussed her inspirations, as well as the all-important issue of how to properly hang a dinner plate from a wall. (It involves black felt and may or may not have something to do with Picasso.)

You recently started a blog, Design Thread, where you share design advice with your readers. How is your pop-up the next step?

Over time, organically, I’ve done so many collections. If it’s not carpets, then it’s furniture. If it’s not furniture, it’s fabrics, lighting, homeware or fragrance. But we’ve never put them all together. And I’m asked so much of the time, “where did you get this,” or “where can I buy that,” and I’d never really thought about it seriously. Finally, we just thought, why not do it now? Bergdorf’s asked us, which is such a wonderful, exclusive store. So we thought, let’s give this a try!

The drawing room area of Kemp's Bergdorf Goodman pop-up.

The drawing-room area of Kemp’s Bergdorf Goodman pop-up.  Photo: Courtesy of Kit Kemp

Tell us more about the pop-up at Bergdorf. What ties it all together?

We have three distinct spaces, each with its own character and color story. I’ve worked with so many different people and created collections with them over the years. So actually, there is a point of view, and there is a thread that runs throughout the space. It doesn’t matter how I do it—it has a natural cohesion.

Many are scared of or don’t know how to add color to a room. How do you approach it?

If you’re a little worried about color, you can always add a statement chair. For example, you can have a statement wing chair, and you can pair it with another one by the fireplace. Then, suddenly, you’re getting cushions to match; just like that, you’re bringing color into the room.  And if you add color, it shouldn’t be a riot. It should always add calm.

The bedroom nook. The wool headboard is designed by Japanese artist Kumi, who uses her mother's old kimonos to sew each design.

The bedroom: The wool headboard is designed by Japanese artist Kumi, who uses her mother’s old kimonos to craft her designs.  Photo: Courtesy of Kit Kemp

What are some quick and easy design tips to bring a space to life?

I love plates. Ours are hand-painted by Robina Jack. And the secret is to hang them up with a bit of black felt behind them—they then become an artwork. It’s so simple, but so few people have thought of it. But I think Picasso did it, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me!

How do you bring light into a room?

Think of light as a sculpture. Using a fabric on a lamp shade, for instance, can change the focal point of a space completely. And you don’t need many focal points in a room.

What inspires you?

Folk art, really. That draws it all together.

The dining room. The tableware is a collaboration between Kemp and Wedgwood. Called "Sailor's Farewell," each piece depicts a sailor's loved one waving goodbye.

The dining room: The tableware is a collaboration between Kemp and Wedgwood. Called “Sailor’s Farewell,” each piece depicts a sailor’s loved one waving goodbye.  Photo: Courtesy of Kit Kemp

How do you discover emerging artists?

Oh, I’m just naturally curious. I always want to be there, I want to see it. I never get tired of that. Instagram, I mean, it’s great—but there’s nothing like touching something.

What are some of your favorite pieces in your pop-up?

I love our little candlesticks that we’ve had made. And Mimi made these fabulous bird baths. They were too good for the garden, so we brought them in.

Check out more images of Kemp’s world of color and whimsy, below:

One of the many "nooks" in Kemp's pop-up. This one features plates on display by xxx.

One of the many “nooks” in Kemp’s pop-up. This one features plates on display by Robina Jack.  Photo: Courtesy of Kit Kemp

Another nook featuring a bespoke "Pippa sofa" inspired by fabric sourced on Kit's travels.

Another nook featuring a bespoke “Pippa sofa” inspired by fabric sourced on Kit’s travels, as well as one of Kit’s unicorn candlesticks, a collaboration with Art Knacky.  Photo: Courtesy of Kit Kemp

A display featuring pencils, keychains and other gifts, all boasting Kit's signature style.

A display featuring pencils, keychains and other gifts, all boasting Kit’s signature style.  Photo: Courtesy of Kit Kemp

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