Saturday 3 December 2016

The Ham Yard Hotel: new rules of design flair to the London scene

It never ceases to amaze me how much history is steeped in almost every corner of London. Take Soho for example. Folk have been drawn here for many reasons over the years: sex, food, boozy company and music. In fact you could make a case for this central London area as the Ground Zero of rock music; the skiffle bands who plunked away in the area's clubs and coffee bars inspired The Beatles, who then inspired the world. That was then. Today, nestled in the bustling heart of effortlessly chic Soho, and a scant few steps from Mayfair, is my new favourite place. A little late to the party for me, but nonetheless, say hello to the Ham Yard Hotel.

It has been over twelve years since I first set eyes on a Firmdale hotel, the Covent Garden, and still every time I am fortunate to visit one of the ten London and New York venues, it feels like a secret little club when I walk in, light years away from corporate predictability. I fell in love with the prime-location boutique hotels so much I adopted the Covent Garden as my base whenever staying in the city as well as using the location as a prime PR event spot. It was the first London hotel to have a tiny screening room proving townhouse boutique chic had finally arrived in Britain. The Charlotte Street Hotel in Fitzrovia opened in 2000, followed by a handful of other hotels-as-neighbourhood-haunts. At a time when Britain's self-proclaimed boutique hotels were masculine spaces of black wenge wood and stark minimalism, Firmdale group owner and renowned designer Kit Kemp, ploughed her own uniquely stylish and feminine furrow. And oh how it has paid off. Fast-forward to October 2009 and the arrival of Crosby Street, the company's first in New York (and next on my list to visit in January, 2017) put the company on a global stage, paving the way for the magnum opus, Ham Yard Hotel, in June 2014.
The opening of the Ham Yard saw the area being opened to the public for the first time since the 1960s, and now this contemporary London space is home to 91 individually styled rooms and suites and 24 residential apartments, that have all been painstakingly designed by Kit herself. Surrounding a tree lined pedestrian thoroughfare filled with speciality stores and restaurants, the piece de resistance of the Ham Yard’s exterior is a specially commissioned bronze sculpture by Tony Cragg, which is at the centre of the walkway. The hotel itself is a living entity, not a stuffy institution, and offers a certain standard of excellence, boasting unique decor by Kit. No wonder it was the exclusive boutique venue to the 2016 Amara Interior Blog Awards in October this year for the second time.
The eclectically styled rooms give the hotel a distinctly boutique feel, aided by the numerous other areas of the hotel which include a library, drawing room, spa and gym, multiple drinking and dining areas and that's not the silver lining. The hotel houses an original 1950s bowling alley imported from Texas and rooftop garden with views over the London skyline; two exceptional areas of the hotel, which sets Ham Yard above the competition.
There’s something about Kit’s interior design style that effortlessly sees her fuse together a luxe feel with that intangible ‘homely’ feeling. The spacious deluxe rooms are all individually designed with their own vibrant and graphic mix of art, pattern and bright bursts of colour. Each is home to acres of terrific textiles and impressive and extravagant sized headboards upholstered in vivid prints (Firmdale hotels really know how to do a magnificent headboard) and Kit’s range of Rik Rak toiletries. Naturally.
Although colourful, the rooms feel calm and tranquil while still packing a punch of personality. The elegant, two-bedroom Terrace Suite has a vast living room (as well as its own compact kitchen, handily stocked with Sipsmith spirits). The Library and Drawing Room celebrate a combination of Kit’s own fabrics alongside collaborations with other artists to create an eclectic and vibrant interior. Like all the other hotels in the Firmdale Group, Kit has created a handcrafted, custom designed feel to the room designs – the ribbed glass and alabaster chandeliers that were custom made in India are just one of many design elements that join forces to create this stylish space. However, the star attraction for me? Vistas. The terrace with views of London’s chimneypots and distant church towers are not to be missed, so be sure to bring your binoculars for checking out those neighbouring rooftops.
The Ham Yard’s public spaces are so vast, you almost need a guided tour to take you from the French fireplace in reception, past walls covered in Kit Kemp's own fabric (she launched a range for Chelsea Textiles last year, as well as carpets for Christopher Farr) and stunning paintings by Shilo Engelbrecht, to the very rear of the darkly glimmering restaurant. Not to mention the Dive Bar – think neon, eclectic artwork and a giant orange juicer. The hotel is a marvel and stunning on every level. I could quite happily live here, taking my time exploring the rooms and hidden corners. 'People are jaded by travel - they've seen everything,' says Kemp. 'It's about an element of surprise. To draw you from room to room.' The Ham Yard certainly drew me in, and it does not disappoint.

Ham Yard Hotel
One Ham Yard


Wednesday 23 November 2016

A New York state of mind…and home

Celebrating the bare bones of a building is at the core of industrial-chic design, and its urban appeal has increased in popularity over the years. However, while it is one thing to go all hipster hangout in a disused factory in East London, it is quite another to try to introduce industrial elements in a new build or period house.

We've all dreamt at one point of living it up in the Big Apple - skyscrapers, coffee in hand and endless possibilities. The next best thing however is to recreate that cool, city look inside your own home. The classic New York style works brilliantly in all living spaces and it is incredibly easy to achieve, especially on a budget. Here are a few simple tricks to help create your own NYC haven.

New York apartments are known for their stripped back, industrial feel. Plenty of wooden flooring, exposed brick walls and lots of metal furniture work well to create that cool, cosmopolitan look. Try adding some antique pieces like steel filing cabinets, worn rustic radiators or even vintage photo frames and warm rooms up with rugs, plush cushions and plenty of lamps. When it comes to the living room, the most social room of the house, New Yorker's favour the modern look but never skimp on comfort.
Utilise Light
Large windows are usually the main feature to New York homes and it's easy to see why with a city view like that. Embrace the amount of light you have and create a sense of open plan (even if your room isn't) by painting the walls white and keeping everything centred. To contrast the simplicity of the exposed space, dark wood flooring looks great and means you can play with textures like faux fur and woollen rugs to create an inviting atmosphere which is bold, laid back but seriously sleek.
Bare Brick
Bare brick is a staple feature in industrial schemes and is usually paired with equally unadorned windows and minimal soft furnishings. If the thought of all that bare concrete and exposed pipework puts you off this rough and ready vibe, how about a softer version of the aesthetic? For a warmer take on the trend, combine with floor-sweeping curtains and a relaxed, cushion-filled sofa. Black and burgundy accents and dark grey column radiators  help punctuate otherwise neutral living rooms.
Oversized Art
Make a statement with oversized artwork. Bold prints can dominate spacious rooms, providing an appropriate sense of scale whilst smaller paintings can be grouped together in table top displays for emphasis.
Embrace the dark side and create a colour scheme that is full of blues, blacks and browns. By investing in large, good quality leather sofas, and a coffee table as a centrepiece to the room, you can create the perfect New York look allowing you to be minimalist when it comes to accessorising with a few books, cushions, a vase and a painting here and there. With less comes more drama.
Townhouse Boho
For that downtown, townhouse look, place a fun statement rug in the middle of the room and match key colours with art prints, lamps and seating. Burnt orange and yellow can look extremely stylish against woods and leathers.
So if you’re hoping to confidently curate a mix of New York into your home that won't leave you (or your living space) cold, then follow these simple tricks that hopefully inspire you to get creative and gives your current décor a dose of NYC.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Trends to try: Layering

A/W 2016's top-line fashion trends have been wildly different from each other, but each individually supercharged with one major element - creative electricity. That may sound obvious. Of course designers switch things up each and every season to offer new and exciting things, but there's something about the industry right now that's pushing boundaries and offering up new sartorial ground to be stomped upon.

The fashion world is in a major state of flux: the concept of see now, buy now, is increasingly important (well, you don't want to wait, do you?), and many designers and super-brands are also rethinking not only how they present their collections but when and to whom. The old-school fashion calendar or idea of the runway show is being pinched and tweaked into new forms, and this overdue disruption has sparked an inventive energy - one that results in seriously covetable clothes, whether outré and bold or honed to perfection for everyday wear, without scrimping on luxe detailing or points of difference.

That said, all fashion editors are in agreement that now is the time to be you - take A/W 16's trends and make them your own. Mix and match if you want to. Wear them head to toe if you want to. If you've always harboured a love for dramatic costuming, now is your time. Or major purists out there who only wear white and black? That's entirely cool too. Individualism is seriously on trend.
I think us Brits always manage to look good for the autumn and winter, but lately there has been a problem with keeping warm. Since we want to wear transparent looks, it only makes sense to wear something underneath as well. At DKNY, layers are full and sometimes even absurd, throwing a transparent lace dress over a bandeau top and masculine pants, a lace turtleneck appearing under the velvet brocade at the chest. It looks as if three different looks have been thrown together, worn one on top of the others, and presented as the latest trend. But hey, if the shoe fits…
So fancy taking the layering trend for a spin but need some inspo? We all know everyone can wear a skirt over pants or double up on tops, but these style-savvy women have figured out how to completely transform classic layering, taking an outfit to a whole new level with unconventional layers. Complex, interesting and ideal for those in-between days when it’s impossible to predict what the temperature’s going to do next, check out these layered looks before you decide what to throw on next. You just might have to throw something else on top of it.

Healthy Pumpkin Brownies

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup almond flour
3 tablespoons coconut flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup chocolate chips

For the topping (optional):
2 tablespoons chocolate chips
1 teaspoon coconut oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C). Line a 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, maple syrup, eggs, vanilla extract until smooth. 

Mix in the dry ingredients: almond flour, coconut flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder until smooth. 

Fold in 1/4 cup chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and spread to the edges. Smooth top with a spatula. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes until knife comes out clean. Brownies will not look completely cooked but as soon as the knife comes out clean, they will be done. 

Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Make the topping by melting chocolate chips and coconut oil in a small saucepan over very low heat. 

Drizzle over the top of the brownies then cut into 12 squares.
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