Sweet Sixteen: Delightful Charm in South Kensington
Kit Kemp’s done it again. Or more accurately, she’s re-done it again. The woman who brought modern elegance and a great night’s sleep to London with the Haymarket and Charlotte Street Hotels, and who persuaded New York to at least rest its head comfortably in the Crosby Street Hotel, has returned to splash some more cash and more taste on her original venture, ‘Number Sixteen’, in London’s South Kensington. If you are not yet a fan of Kit’s operation, Firmdale Hotels, then this is the best place to start.
The Crosby Street Hotel finds favour with the 40-something metrosexual man who’s happy to admit that is indeed 40-something. And the Charlotte Street Hotel is for the 40-something ad-man who refuses to admit he’s even hit 30.
But Number Sixteen is dislocated from the achingly hip. It’s the emotional and physical opposite of Shoreditch and the website points out it’s just steps away from the Victoria & Albert Museum. It sits plain-faced, a run of three or four white-fronted Victorian terraced houses in SW7. It’s the perfect feint for the colourful and eclectic, but never quite bonkers styling that sits inside. Kit’s charm is in being able to position two unconnected and unglamorous pieces together to produce a more delightful whole. Like a well-run dinner party of the senses.
The ground floor includes a pair of lounges, both soft and welcoming, with chairs that threaten to take you hostage for the rest of the evening. The best is a library-cum-late night bar in monochrome wallpaper (which on closer inspection reveals Elizabethan fun and games) where a couple of lemon-yellow low chairs hit the back of the eyes like the third martini.
Breakfast is served in a conservatory overlooking a typical South Kensington garden – if the typical South Ken garden has large wooden African sculptures. You can sit either at a table for two or at a family style long wooden table. Food is simple and fresh enough to inspire you to return home and make your own granola. Our breakfast crowd consisted of me, one person who lived in London but was treating herself to a night of recuperation, and a French actress getting a quiet night’s sleep before the big audition.
The bedrooms aren’t huge, but they’re not New York pinchy either. LUSSO’s room had candy pink and school uniform-grey stripes, a tailor’s dummy tacked up in floral prints, and walls hung with hunting prints in a white wooden frame next to 19th Century French impressionism in heavy wood. There’s a walk-in mini-bar which doubles as a closet if you’re that way inclined.
Throughout Number Sixteen, grandeur is sacrificed for quirky cosiness. When you pass someone in the corridor, you’ll both smile because one of you will have to pause and bow your head under an eave to let the other pass comfortably.
It all translates into a tickling of the senses and a warming of the soul. Completely Kit Kemp.