Worldwise: British Design Icon and Hotelier Kit Kemp’s Favourite Things
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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.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

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AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).


People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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