H owever dizzyingly packed Kit Kemp’s work schedule is, come the end of the week she will be found driving down to her home in the New Forest.
‘Whenever I open the door, I feel as if all the weight on my shoulders has lifted,’ recounts the creative director and co-founder of Firmdale Hotels. ‘Firstly, because there are six dogs wagging their tails and secondly, because I think of it as home – I was brought up around the Forest.’
With its glorious riverside location and garden that offers beguiling glimpses of boat masts bobbing in the distance, it isn’t hard to see the allure of the place Kit and Tim – her husband and fellow founder of the company – purchased over two decades ago, when their three daughters were growing up.
The house itself was built in the 1930s, ‘and not to a very high specification’, so before the family took occupancy, improvements were made: notably the addition of a new centre section incorporating a staircase, opening up the ground-floor rooms.
Several years later, extensions were added at either end of the house to create another bedroom and a conservatory-style dining room off the kitchen.
Just as Kit’s visions for their 10 boutique hotels display a deliciously lively approach to decorating, so this home reveals the same sharp eye that deftly combines colour and pattern in unexpected ways.
Kit gained permission from the late artist Breon O’Casey to adapt one of his paintings into this rug design, complementing her own large-scale ikat on the sofas.
‘My approach to the two is very similar, as I wouldn’t have anything in the hotels that I wouldn’t have in my own home,’ reveals Kit.
‘The big difference is that while I change the hotel schemes every few years, I get rather nostalgic about my own home. When you fall in love with a place, you do arrive at a point where you don’t want to keep changing it.’
Some exceptions to this rule are the sofas, which are much enjoyed by her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, resulting in inevitable wear and tear. Kit recently replaced the sofas in one of the two sitting rooms with her own Willow designs.
‘The previous sofas have been renovated and are now in The Soho Hotel – I like things to have longevity,’ she notes.
Textiles are undoubtedly Kit’s passion and her extensive collection comprises treasures from far-flung corners of the world.
A hoard of bold – and robust – Argentinian blankets has been used to upholster the chairs in the dining room, with some of the seats sporting velvets in equally punchy hues. Examples of her eye for craft abound, from hand-embroidered Indian throws to vast shields from Papua New Guinea.
‘I like work that has been done by hand – pieces that aren’t immaculate,’ she says.
The Kemps’ approach to collecting art is resolutely democratic: ‘We hang well-known artists right next door to artists who have just left school; I think that’s really fun, it gives a certain liveliness,’ Kit explains.
Where wall space is limited, she has hung paintings across bookshelves, including vibrant contemporary equestrian works that nod to another of her passions (Kit’s horses are stabled just down the road).
Contemporary fabrics and a mirror designed by Kit that incorporates thin strips of blue and pink Perspex contrast with traditional panelling.
The couple’s bedroom has also received an update, with an exquisite hand-embroidered Chelsea Textiles fabric now dressing the windows and the four-poster bed. ‘I wanted a strong red for the interior of the bed so I asked Mona (Perlhagen, co-founder of Chelsea Textiles) to dye the fabric for me.’
The garden now includes a thatched summer house and a shepherd’s hut whose tiny interior is adorned with uplifting folk art-style murals, hand painted by Melissa White.
‘My daughters tease me about all the mad things I have in my garden – they call it my Disneyland,’ Kit confides. ‘One of the real joys in summer is to wake up and wander around the garden in your nightie with a cup of tea.’
‘It doesn’t matter if I leave London at 11 o’clock on Friday night and arrive at one o’clock in the morning – it’s worth it just to do that.’