Layered London Interiors by Kit Kemp : Charlotte Street Hotel

Kit Kemp, Design Director of Firmdale Hotels, is known for creating spaces that grab your attention and leave you longing to linger. She is the master of the quintessential boutique hotel, curating hyper-customized environments where contrast and layering are essential, and art and antiques have a strong presence. With eight hotels in London and a few spots in New York City, her unique vision continues to expand.

I had always wanted to visit a Kemp-designed hotel, so while visiting London we planned a high tea at Firmdale's Charlotte Street Hotel with my husband's aunt and uncle from Switzerland. His "tante", Michele, has great taste and has introduced me to some great designers like Sarah Lavoine, whom herself has designed gorgeous boutique hotels in Paris.

We enjoyed the tea service in Oscar Bar, a vibrant, mural-lined room that gives a nod to a time in English history when authors like Virginia Woolf were active. I was in awe of the attention to detail that went into the concept of the space, making it unique to this hotel alone.

Kit collaborated with Wedgewood for a series of tea cups, saucers and pots with motifs pulled from "Mythical Creatures," a pattern she originally designed for Chelsea Editions, a textile collection celebrating the rich tradition of English embroidery.  I appreciate her ability to see a clever motif and play with its application in new ways, from an embroidered cloth to a quaint tea cup. 

After tea, my husband's aunt and I introduced ourselves to the manager of the hotel and he kindly gave us a tour of the common areas and main suites. He generously spent over a half hour sharing insight into Kit's design philosophy and attention to detail and her low-key, friendly relationship with her employees. 


Kemp is committed to an awareness of where her products are made and contributes to the communities in which artisans reside. She is also focused on reviving skilled craft from local workshops in England. Her young daughters even jumped into the design of the Charlotte Street Hotel with the idea to take scraps from all of her projects and have a local studio make patchwork animals with them. We took home two adorable puppies for our children made from the remnants of some of my favorite fabrics. 

Galbraith & Paul's textiles, one of our favorite Philadelphia-based textile lines, were used on several chairs in their cozy den and library.  

The rooms we toured were just gorgeous and personally touching, as they featured many lines that I consistently use in projects; companies who are not just design partners, but also friends. For instance, the grand headboard in this room was covered in "Fathom" by Christopher Farr Cloth, a line that Kit has collaborated with for some of our go-to fabrics.

Each guest room showcased the power of layered graphics and textures, bound by a common thread of color. 

As the hotel manager continued our tour, I pointed out several appearances by Seema Krish textiles and told him of our close relationship with the phenomenally talented San Francisco-based designer. He told us he's preparing to move to New York to manage a new Kit Kemp designed hotel where Seema's fabric will also be featured! 

Upon our glimpse around the accommodations at Charlotte Street Hotel, it was clear that no two rooms are alike - each fabric finds a unique application in a layered conversation of color, texture and print. As Kit has so appropriately named her book, "Every Room Tells a Story." 

The contemporary cocoon: Hotel chavanel

Not far from the museum-flanked banks of the Seine lies the Madeleine quarter, a historic Parisian enclave known as a destination for exquisite accoutrements. Nestled in this busy thoroughfare is the Hotel Chavanel, which emerged from recent renovations with a fresh take on how comfort meets stylish design. The Lotus Bleu team made this cozy and alluring getaway our home away from home for a week this past January, and the story of the design details and considerations that went into this space are truly inspiring.

Passed down from her hotelier father, owner Sophie Charlet has successfully kept the momentum of this family-operated business. Lotus Bleu's principal, Jeannie Fraise, and her husband have a long history and deep friendship with Sophie and her brother, Jean-Claude, so our time at the hotel doubled as a cheery reunion with old friends.

"A haven of hushed tranquility and well-being - an island of blissful serenity."

"A haven of hushed tranquility and well-being - an island of blissful serenity."

The lobby of Hotel Chavanel is a dichotomous environment that directly links the busy street scene to the calm sanctuary of the hotel. The rumble and noise is cut-off as the doors close behind you, though you are still visually aware of the buzzing world beyond the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Once inside, you are met with a mirrored wall lined with white birch trees, smooth and undulating check-in areas and several nests of playful seating to rest your bones and page through a compelling book or magazine.

Beyond the calm of the front desk, we begin to see where the renovation really takes off. As owner Sophie Charlet explains, "It's new exquisitely elegant appointments offer a stylishly refined palette of fabrics and materials, as the backdrop to a superbly mellow setting, which affords true peace and quiet."

The guest rooms at Hotel Chavanel are thoughtful, detail-rich compositions, each layer telling a story. Self-described as a "contemporary cocoon," these rooms provide the womb-like buffer from the hectic surroundings. As a visual reminder, Sophie cleverly commissioned a series of bedside and floor lamps made from the cocoons of the silkworm which provide textural intrigue and a soft glow.

Paying homage to the haute-couture roots of the Madeleine quarter, the hotel concept pulls inspiration from lacework. From the sheer lace drapes, the scaled-up carpet pattern to the backlit custom carved headboards, this element's impression is omnipresent, but thoughtfully applied so that it never overwhelms. 

Hotel Chavanel is a shining example of the ways that considered furnishings, textiles and finishes can add to "the art of living". Fabrics commonly found in tailoring, like heavy-weight wool, are used in window treatments. Heavy-gauge knitted cashmere throws grace the beds. Graphic, embellished pillows dot the seating. Desks are topped in durable saddle-leather and curved coffee tables made from natural oak pull together lounge areas. Walls, like those in the bath, are covered in carved ceramic or dimensional wall-coverings and a few lucky guest on the top floor are treated to rustic heavy timber beams overhead. A confident balance between feminine and masculine elements emerges in each unique room. 


Beyond the comforts of the guest room, Hotel Chavanel invites vitality and well-being. A trip down to the basement level revels a stone-paved room of bygone days. As you take a seat in the antique arched surroundings, illuminated with cool white light, an elaborate spread of delicious organic foods awaits - fresh pastries and fruit, muesli with every topping imaginable and jams and spreads galore. Our team couldn't make it down to breakfast fast enough!

From the island-like calm to the amenities that deeply comforted our bodies and lifted our minds and spirits, we loved our experience at this charming oasis. Merci, Sophie and the friendly and helpful Hotel Chavanel staff!

Creative Retail: the Paris Edition

Various chairs at Conran Shop on display along an undulating, color-charged wall.

Various chairs at Conran Shop on display along an undulating, color-charged wall.

While attending several design-specific events last month in Paris, we took some time to explore various must-see retail shops as we made our way across town. Though our San Francisco studio concentrates mostly on the home, we appreciate the ways residential and retail design can inform one another, especially from a global perspective. From big and bold concepts to subtle details, the range of creative design direction we observed in Paris left us filled to the brim with ideas and inspiration.


While grassy green was omnipresent, deep peacock blues shared the stage. We loved how this hue set the backdrop for a handprinted wallpaper at Le Monde Sauvage, and bled ever-so-slightly into the lighter overlay for a less polished, more unconstrained feel (right). Like a pair of great jeans, an assortment of patterns and textures were effortlessly layered along the blue wall. In another scenario at Maison Sarah Lavoine (below), the hue showed up bold and confident in a series of resin tabletops, grounding the multiple textures and patterns encasing the space and providing a colorful counterpart to the surrounding classic cafe chairs. 

While industrial interiors are inherently minimal and stark, we loved the way these spaces were transformed to exude warmth and character. From the cocoa-hued chocolatier Alain Ducasse, to the vibrant Roseanna showroom, both spaces harnessed the blank-slate appeal of an industrial space and worked the canvas in such a way to give their products, process and vibe a true presence. 

Playing with scale is one way to bring attention and intrigue to otherwise empty or unconsidered parts of a space. The rattan, basket-like lighting fixtures floating throughout Sessun highlighted the expansive vertical space available and, in turn, created an open and light-filled environment. What a vast improvement over boring, run-of-the-mill overhead lighting!