London’s Ham Yard Hotel, right in the middle of Soho and two minutes’ walk from Piccadilly Circus, wins the trophy for the English capital’s most-decorated hotel, 2018. The unforgettable property’s GM Laura Sharpe is rated by the leading trade magazine CATERER as best GM in the whole of UK: the owning company, Firmdale Hotels, is best hotel group, says the same publication. On top of this, the ten-hotel Firmdale, led by its founders, real estate genius Tim Kemp and his designer wife, Kit Kemp, has gained a highly prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise, International Trade, 2018. The gal obviously wanted to see if such accolades were justified, and if Ham Yard lived up to its reputation.
The quick answer is yes, repeated again and again. This is new-luxury, 2018 style and beyond. The new-build opened in 2014, anchoring the renewal of what had become a slum alleyway linking Denman Street and Windmill Street. The 90-room hotel comes with 24 letting apartments – minimum 90 days, full hotel services – and also in what is now a highly-desirable walkway are a Japanese restaurant, a traditional pub and six high-end retail (you can get your hair done and buy Brazilian swimwear without having to leave the campus, so to speak).
This was my first visit and I had no idea what to expect, though I already knew Kit Kemp’s unique eye for design detail. The light, glass-walled lobby looks through to an inner conservatory. I immediately fell in love with two high-backed armchairs, both a kaleidoscope patchwork of colour. One of the eager young ladies at front desk, in brightest blue, checked me in and handed me over to a Bulgarian man. We could walk round the C-shaped building inside, he said, but in this glorious weather it is best to go across the yard. This, it being a weekend, was filled with happy hipsters enjoying the sun, sitting having drinks and something to eat. The yard holds several trees and a 12-foot high bronze ‘collapsed roller-coaster’, Group, by Tony Cragg, 2014.
Up in Courtyard View Suite 127, I could look down on all this. Think satin-smooth oak or carpeted floors, big picture windows which open, and tweed-covered walls – and, in the bathroom, an electric rail for the Trada Linen towels, and Kit Kemp’s own Rikrak toiletries. The glass-fronted, non-automatic, minibar holds Krug and coconut water, and more. The simple Nespresso machine comes with exquisite whimsical china, Kit Kemp for Wedgwood. A unique plus here, for anyone who can read, is that the 50-foot entrance corridor has one entire wall filled with six bookshelves, ceiling high. Chosen by Philip Blackwell, all are hardbacks. There must be hundreds. I borrowed three adjacent titles, namely 1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half, Stephen R. Bown, St Martin’s Press, 2011; The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China, Julia Lovell, Picador, 2011; and George Washington: Gentleman Warrior, Stephen Brumwell, Quercus 2012. I was obviously in the ‘history’ section. Later, after heading down to the basement gym (Precor, 24/7 of course, and with perfect fruit available even at 5 a.m.,) I looked at a reception room off the lobby. This is a cosy meeting place, with two walls ceiling-high with books, and here they are categorized – Food & Drink, for instance, has a thick-thick book, What Chefs Eat. Leading off this lounge is a meeting place, table and chairs for three, and an honour bar, one of two that enables a cocktail lover to indulge at any hour. At which point, it is time, in this highly thoughtful and unusual hotel, to think about food and wine…NOW SEE COURTYARD SUITE 127