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


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