Worldwise: British Design Icon and Hotelier Kit Kemp’s Favourite Things | Kanebridge News
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Worldwise: British Design Icon and Hotelier Kit Kemp’s Favourite Things

By Tracy Kaler
Thu, Apr 27, 2023 8:54amGrey Clock 3 min

“Cities are really just a series of villages sewn together,” says Kit Kemp, founder and creative director of Firmdale Hotels, an assortment of boutique luxury properties in London and New York, with an addition—Warren Street Hotel—opening in Tribeca in 2023. “We like to think of our hotels as part of that village feel.”

Kemp, along with her husband, Tim, also owns eight restaurants within the properties, and the Caribbean hideaway, Rossferry, on the prestigious Sandy Lane estate in St. James, Barbados. Each Firmdale hotel has a deep connection to its locale, with Kemp aiming to avoid the culture of sameness, she says. “In large hotels, you know what to expect, but if you know too much about what to expect, you don’t feel what it’s like to arrive.”

Kemp’s upbringing near Southampton, England—perusing street markets every Saturday—largely impacted her design sense and style. “Being a port, there were so many different nationalities,” she says of her hometown. “I used to find it exciting to see that vitality and street life.”

That liveliness carries into her design work. Her bold use of colour and pattern, impeccable attention to detail, and whimsy, readily seen in her vignettes and table settings, are signatures. “I have always been scared of beige,” she muses.

The designer has a keen eye for placing art; her properties feature impressive and sometimes avant-garde collections. Combing the galleries she visits on her travels, Kemp sometimes frames unusual objects, making art out of the unexpected. But textiles are perhaps her greatest influence. “Every textile tells the story of where it comes from, whether Guatemala, India, Mexico, or the Baltic countries,” she says. “That gets my creative juices going.”

Penta recently chatted with Kemp, who shared her favourite things.

The person who inspired me to do what I do is… Leszek Nowicki, a Polish architect I worked for. He had a very organic way of working and an unusual eye for design inside and out. He also loved vodka.

The one thing I can’t live without in my home is… Jugs of flowers and hopefully a garden I can pick them in. I find it very restful and fulfilling to collect flowers and put them into an assortment of jugs bought in junk shops.

If I were to buy a piece of art it would be… by Joe Tilson, who has an upcoming exhibit at Cristea Roberts Gallery in London. He was originally a pop artist in the 1960s and broke every rule in the book. He was also a great craftsman and carpenter, so he combined art and carpentry in his work. He loved mythology and was interested in harmony with the earth and sustainability way before anybody else.

What I love about London is… walking to my design office from my home every day down Exhibition Road, through Imperial College and past the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and Natural History Museum, seeing all the people about to visit the exhibitions. Every age group on a day out in London every season of the year, emerging from the Tube station or off a red bus. Every day is a holiday.

The restaurant in my hometown I love to take a visitor to is… Brumus Restaurant in the Haymarket Hotel in London. It is named after our dog Brumus. Also, the restaurants in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. We love to go to the ballet and eat in the intervals and take friends there.

A passion of mine few people know about is… I have taken piano lessons for the last 15 years and am still having trouble with “The Woodchopper’s Song.” No talent, but my granddaughter of 14 months is a great help and joins in when I play.

My favourite hotel in the world is… Il Convento in Puglia because you walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room, and there are sacks of apricots drying, Kilner jars of delicious things, and the best bread in the world. Athena McAlpine, the owner, sits in a deckchair in her bathing costume and a man-sized shirt overseeing the proceedings in the most elegant way. At night, there are a million candles. It is romantic.

If I could travel anywhere right now, it would be to… Bujera Fort in Udaipur, India, because Richard Hanlon, a friend, built it himself. It’s a cross between a fort and a palace. It is a masterpiece.

If I could have a meal anywhere with anyone, it would be… Salvador Dali. Maybe we could go up in a hot air balloon that had a huge mustache painted on the side with a pair of lips underneath. We would have lobster and land on Lord’s Cricket Ground to listen to the wonderful sound of the crack of the cricket ball on the willow cricket bat. All the players would be wearing old-fashioned caps and immaculate white baggy trousers and shirts with SD monogrammed on them.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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