Ham Yard, a vibrant new addition to the London hotel scene from Kit and Tim Kemp of Firmdale Hotels, offers laid-back luxury combined with urban cool right in the middle of Soho. Janet Harmer checks in
Built on a three-quarter-acre parcel of land, which previously stood derelict for nearly 40 years, the new 91-bedroom hotel with 24 apartments is just a stone's throw from Piccadilly Circus with easy access to the capital's theatre, shopping and entertainment districts.
Yet despite the nearby crowds, Kit and Tim Kemp, the owners of Firmdale, have managed to create something of an oasis in the midst of pulsating city life. For a start, they have cleverly instilled a pastoral feel for arriving guests via five 30-foot oak trees, which surround a bronze statue by Tony Cragg. This is located on the newly created thoroughfare linking Great Windmill Street and Denman Street. A rooftop garden planted with wild flowers also provides a verdant space in which to escape.
"The hotel is in a little hidden pocket between Soho and Regent Street, and it is really our secret gem," explains Kit, who as the group's design director has been responsible for the look throughout the entire hotel.
Following on from the creation of some of London's most eye-catching hotel designs in recent years, Firmdale's nveiling of Ham Yard has more than lived up to what has gone before. Indeed, the new-build property, which has been developed at a cost of £88m, is the Kemps' most ambitious project to date and now stands as the group's flagship hotel in London, alongside Number Sixteen, Knightsbridge, Charlotte Street, Covent Garden, Haymarket, Dorset Square and Soho.
In New York Firmdale also owns the Crosby Street hotel, with a second set to open in 2016. As the developer, owner and operator of the hotel, Firmdale has total control over the look of the property - and it shows. The vibrancy of Kit's design, which in this hotel is inspired by the fabrics and artwork she came across on her travels to India and South Africa, hit you the moment you walk through the door. Her love of colour and textures, in particular, are dominant throughout, with a weaver's loom installation by artist Hermione Skye O'Hea providing a dramatic introduction to the hotel.
"The flow of the building between the spaces is very important," says Kit. "The key is to have a length of view that makes you feel curious to see what is just around the corner. The whole hotel should be an adventure for all of the senses, especially the eyes."
The images on these pages show that Kit has clearly succeeded in not only providing a striking visual impression, but also one that will stimulate sound, smell, taste, touch and fun - none more so than in the Dive Bar, a double-height space where a hand-painted wall installation called Rick Rack features a neon diver taking off from a great height.
The hotel, though, cannot hope to be successful on looks alone. Carrie Wicks, the group's director of operations, oversaw the launch of Firmdale's Charlotte Street, Knightsbridge, Soho, Haymarket and Crosby Street hotels, and now, along with hotel manager Laura Sharpe, is ensuring service standards are in place at Ham Yard.
The marketing department is hoping that a newly launched website, featuring extensive photography, will attract the majority of bookings.
This will be backed up with representation from global consortium Design Hotels and independent travel agents in the US.
As chairman and managing director of the company, Tim Kemp has secured a sound financial footing for the group with £188m from Barclays Corporate to fund the development of Ham Yard and the second hotel in New York, located on 56th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
The most recent published results for Firmdale, for 2012, recorded an underlying group operating profit before depreciation, interest, tax and development costs of £13.4m on an annual turnover of £78.4m. Average room rate across its London hotels was an enviable £322.
With Ham Yard set to be a hotel that not only faithful Firmdale followers will flock to, but one that many a hotelier will be checking out for design inspiration, these figures can only grow and grow.
ABOUT HAM YARD
1 Ham Yard, London W1D 7DT
Owner and operator Firmdale Hotels
General manager Laura Sharpe
Executive chef Robin Reid
Bedrooms and suites 91 Apartments 24, which will be available to acquire on long-term leases
Facilities Ham Yard Bar & Restaurant with outdoor space, library, drawing room, Croc Bowling Alley, Scholastic Spa, Ham Yard Theatre seating
190, and 12 retail stores
Starting rate £310
Number of staff 250
The traditionally panelled library is decorated with old Turkish rugs. The collection of books and journals, spanning London, its history, art, literature, culture and politics, has been curated by literary expert Philip Blackwell. It is a space that Kit describes as providing "a great sense of comfort and warmth".
The wallpaper is Ozone by Kit Kemp for Christopher Farr, with hand-embroidered Suzani curtains from Kit Kemp's Chelsea Textiles collection. A fabric from interior design company Mrs Monro covers the sofa and fireside chairs.
CROC BOWLING ALLEY
With an original 1950s Brunswick bowling alley imported from Texas as its centrepiece, Croc is a multi-purpose function space that also features a silver grand piano and a dancefloor.
Kit's intention was to create "a vibrant and visually exciting space", having never previously been in a bowling alley that she wanted to stay in for more than five minutes. The alley floor is made of solid maple - a rare occurrence today - while a large-scale artwork, As Time Goes By by Howard Hodgkin, provides the backdrop
to the sofas, which are covered in South African prints.
Vintage bowling shoes, hung on the wall behind Perspex, were collected by Kit from eBay. The name Croc comes from three driftwood crocodiles (not shown),
suspended above the dancefloor.
LUXURY JUNIOR SUITE
All the bedrooms have floor-to-ceiling warehouse windows and are individually designed. As in all other Firmdale hotels, oversized headboards and tailors' dummies
feature throughout. Bathrooms in granite and oak have double basins. In the luxury junior suite, the headboard fabric is Trees Pixel by Edit, and the wall fabric is Brera Largo at Designers Guild.
The headboard fabric is by Dedar Milano.
The headboard fabric is Alcazar by Christian Lacroix; the wall fabric is Jean in Denim Brut by Pierre Frey; the footstool fabric is Acri - Denim by William Yeoward at Designers Guild; and the chair fabric is Marese in Woad by Designers Guild.
THE DRAWING ROOM
A large French fireplace takes centre stage in the drawing room, which is designed in vibrant, warm tones and features a collection of folk art from around the world. The multi-coloured sofa fabric is from South Africa, the bureaus from Scandinavia and the bespoke rugs are designed by Breon O'Casey.
"The restaurant and bar is such a light-filled space, so I was able to play with the light bouncing off the walls," says Kit. Willow fabric by Kit Kemp for Christopher Farr lines the walls and pillars, and one wall is covered in an art installation created by Martha Freud featuring 33 niches holding porcelain pots that are lit from within. The menu features Dorset crab, poached duck egg and watercress (£8); slow-roasted porchetta, Gorgonzola polenta and crispy kale (£15); and blueberry meringue, lemon curd and
poached lemon segments (£5).
A collection of old wooden boxes painted with abstract patterns provides a backdrop to the pewter bar. "It's a very eclectic mix and it'll be interesting to see what our guests think," says Kit.