This article is part of a guide to london by FT Globetrotter
The best ways to explore London are on foot and by bike. I could wander the city for hours, along its small streets and alleys, marveling at the assortment of interesting architecture. The British capital is a collection of villages to discover, each with its own character. I particularly enjoy the city’s many specialty shops and interesting markets, and I love peeking through the windows of people’s homes: the facades that line our streets may be nearly identical, but each interior is unique and tells its own story. As a designer, a lot of my work involves breathing new life into old buildings or giving character to new ones, and my creative process depends a lot on my surroundings and my city.
I walk to work every day along Exhibition Road in South Kensington, with the Victoria and Albert Museum on one side and the Natural History Museum on the other. These two buildings give a lot of pleasure to so many people both architecturally and because of their amazing exhibits and educational lectures. The Natural History Museum, opposite our design studio, is Alfred Waterhouse’s Grade I listed terracotta masterpiece. It opened in 1881 and is renowned for its inspiring building design that celebrates the natural world. The creatures carved into the walls seem both mythical and real. My children used to play in the gardens when they were at school nearby. They accepted it as part of their childhood and I hope they will always be influenced by it.
I love to look up and see the beautiful architectural details that make London so special, from the stained glass windows to the statues and fountains. I am very inspired to do this by the work of a charity close to my heart, Heritage of London Trust (HOLT), of which I am a trustee. It is an independent heritage charity, established in 1980 by the Greater London Council to save historic buildings and monuments. The projects are in every borough of London and are varied. On HOLT expeditions, you often have access to places where you would normally never be allowed. I visited Alexander Pope’s cave on the banks of the Thames near Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. It is tucked away under a busy main road, where it would once have been nestled in beautiful countryside next to a now demolished house. It is undergoing essential renovation.
London is a haven of creativity. The best place to find cutting-edge design is at CAA (Contemporary Applied Arts), on Paddington Street in Marylebone, for artisans and a mix of different homewares. Calling on artists and designers to create bespoke pieces for my own home and the hotels I design is a luxury for me. I cherish pieces that are touched by someone’s hand and steeped in their heart, holding inherent meaning far beyond buying something off the shelf. It is essential that we maintain a sense of humanity in all that we do.
I love visiting The New Craftsmen at 34 North Row, Mayfair, for great pieces of British craftsmanship and individual design that you won’t find anywhere else. I also always try to go to the Royal Academy summer show every year; I particularly like seeing the work of the students and meeting the artists of tomorrow.
As a designer, my biggest inspiration is textiles – organic pieces, scraps, colored yarns, antique or contemporary, colored or monochromatic, linen, wool, dyed or natural. I love them all. I often go to The Cloth Shop on Portobello Road for interesting pieces of boiled wool.
One of my favorite parts of London are the green spaces that stretch across the city and come together like a necklace: Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park. I love looking at the summerhouses built each year by different architects outside the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens; previous designers have included Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry. They are erected every spring and there is always excitement when it is about to be opened in June. Everyone has a different opinion and extremely varied styles are created.
food and flowers
We’ve been longtime fans of the River Café, the Italian restaurant on the Thames that grows fresh produce on its terrace. It’s magical in summer and winter. Some of my favorite dishes are the Wild Mushroom Risotto and Dover Sole – and the Chocolate Nemesis Cake! Many of the world’s best-known chefs have spent time in the kitchen here with owners Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, so you always feel like you’ve discovered them first.
We love Japanese food and Engawa, which is part of Ham Yard Village and across from our Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, is traditional and authentic. We have their brilliant bento boxes, which are served with such elegance and art. They look and taste wonderful.
The Columbia Road Flower Market (Sundays) is packed with flowers on just one street. It’s a treat to absorb the buzz of the merchants. Flowers are a great way to instantly add color to a room. I also love visiting the wonderful art galleries in Shoreditch like the Blue Mountain School, a shop, gallery and amazing dining experience all rolled into one.
Kit Kemp is founder and creative director of Hotel in Firmdale and Kit Kemp Design Studio
What is your favorite London walk? Tell us in the comments
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