My lightbulb moment: Firmdale Hotels co-founder Kit Kemp

My lightbulb moment: Firmdale Hotels co-founder Kit Kemp, reveals the inspiration behind her townhouse hotels

  • Kit Kemp, MBE, 61, was a graphic designer when she met her husband 
  • She told how they spotted a gap in the market for boutique hotels in London 
  • The pair now have ten townhouse hotels in both London and New York 

Interior designer Kit Kemp, MBE, 61, is the creative force behind Firmdale Hotels. She is married to its co-founder Tim, with whom she has three grown‑up daughters.

I was working as a graphic designer when I met my husband. Tim had a couple of short-lease student properties in South Kensington, then considered a rather unglamorous part of West London.

Becoming involved in the business was inevitable; Tim was always working, so I was never going to see him otherwise.

On Friday nights at the office, a guitar would come out — we were all like students together. Eventually we wanted to do something more grown-up, so we got permission to open a small boutique hotel.

Kit Kemp, MBE, 61, (pictured) co-founded Firmdale Hotels alongside her husband after spotting a gap in the market for boutique hotels in London 

At that time, they didn’t really exist in London. Most hotels offered a rather masculine, unfriendly experience. I thought, why have miles of identical furniture when, for not much more, it’s possible to get something far more individual? I wanted to design a hotel with a playful, colourful vibe. We had to approach 14 banks before we got the financing, but we were like Jack Russell terriers — nothing put us off.

We opened the Dorset Square Hotel in Marylebone in 1986 as the first country house hotel in London, and it was a hit.

A year later I had my first daughter, Tiffany. She was born very slightly disabled. So Tim and I had our goalposts redrawn.

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We were only ever going to have the best for her. I think it made us much more ambitious than we might have been otherwise. I never wanted to be reliant on anybody except ourselves.

We now have ten townhouse hotels in both London and New York. I don’t think there should be a huge difference between a hotel room and a bedroom at home: both should have a bit of drama, and both need to be comfortable. We have honesty bars where guests can have a drink as if it’s their own drawing room.

Tiff got married this year, which was lovely. My two younger daughters work for Firmdale.

My look is distinctive — some people love it and some people hate it. But that’s good because they have a point of view on it. And I just love it. This is me.

Sailor’s Farewell, Kit Kemp’s new china for Wedgwood, is available at and

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