Martin Kemp is no stranger to designing for the high-net-worth individual.
Having started his career at luxury furnishing house Barbara Barry, the British interior designer and founder of Martin Kemp Design has had an illustrious career curating spaces for an affluent clientele in buildings such as One Hyde Park, 77 Mayfair, and currently, Clarges Mayfair. A ten-storey building in one of London's most premier residential areas, 22 of its 34 apartments have sold for a whopping £259 million. Right smack on Picadilly Street and overlooking Green Park, it's for the resident who's seen it all — but you probably couldn't tell from looking at the understated, predominantly stone building.
I first met Kemp in Coya, a Peruvian restaurant along Picadilly Street. It has the markings of a trendsetter — muralled walls, a sharing plates menu and an underground location — showcasing a delicious slice of Mayfair's real estate pie. As a borough, you're spoilt by choice at the diversity of food and beverage, retail and art options in Mayfair: From classic tailoring and independent craftsmen to world class galleries, this famous Monopoly address is as covetable as it gets.
Through the course of our South American culinary adventure, talking points were raised between Kemp and I — well, as much as they could over a few rounds of cocktails. He then leads me through Clarges Mayfair's marketing suite, where it's evident that his work leaves space for a resident's individualistic design to breathe. With a choice between either a warm or cool palette, residents discover the cleverly curated space through textured walls reminscent of the location's heritage: Motifs bearing Elizabethan collars, watch movements and gentleman's tailoring.
We caught up again recently over the phone — Kemp halfway across the globe on a comparably wet London morning, and myself, in humid Singapore.
How would you describe yourself as a person, and how does that transcend into your work as an interior designer?
I'm drama-free. I'm sure you can imagine interior designers can have a reputation as being a bit arrogant and melodramatic. I'm very calm, easy-going, and relaxed. Put those things together and it makes me an attractive choice for my clients. I'm very open and flexible, and I think those things have helped me to create the business that I have.
How would you describe your design style?
Contemporary, timeless and beautifully detailed. We have an eye for proportion, embellishment, which helps to create an illusion of modern deco. We get both men and women who have different tastes. Ladies want something light, chic, and organic. Men want something that's very angular, dark and dramatic. It's interesting how men and women can be so different — something so corny can be true.
What was in the mood boards that you presented to British Land that won you the bid to design the interiors of Clarges Mayfair?
Until we're appointed, we're given limited information — so a lot of it is guess work. We like to use our instincts as to what we think that particular architect will design in that location. We did a series of boards from the very beginning, which set the tone for the location of the building.
Then we do a few boards on Mayfair: What is it like as a borough, who it attracts, and what the shopping and lifestyles are like. Then we do a page on who we think is likely to be buying — the car they drive and the clothes they wear.
How detailed were these moodboards?
Very. We take clients on the journey from the front door all the way through the apartment. What the doorman looks like: His uniform, cufflinks and gloves, whether he's wearing any of them. What car is the client arriving in? A Rolls-Royce, a Bentley, or a Mercedes-Benz? All these things are very powerful ways of expressing lifestyle. If you arrive in a white Rolls-Royce, it says 30 different things than if you arrive in a black Bentley.
What should the key look like? What should the flowers looks like, what music plays, what does it smell like? This sets us apart from the competition, and that was what won us the project.
What made up these specific details, then? What inspired you?
I'd like to think we're original thinkers who draw inspiration from something we haven't yet explored. We realised that the history of manufacturing and tailoring is an obvious one — with Savile Row and Bond Street — as well as jewellery, watchmaking and craft. Details of the building are taken from the park. The bark of the tree, the reference to the Elizabethan ruffled collar... all those things come together.
How do you go about finding out what the affluent want in their homes?
How do you accommodate perfection? If you were a high-net-worth individual, you would put your handbag in a special little shelf somewhere, and your keys in a special little bowl. Where do they put on their shoes? How do they dress? What time do they get up? Which side of the bed do they sleep? Whether they sit on the right or left side of the couch when they watch TV? I've been on holidays with clients for two weeks on a boat — getting to know them, understanding what they like and dislike, what they read and eat, and where they go on holiday. Those things influence how we shape and design a home.
How did these living specifications take shape in Clarges Mayfair?
In the penthouse suite, we work on the his and hers closets and bathrooms before anything. Her bathroom has a bath and shower — his, funnily enough, doesn't. There's also a formal and informal living room: For pizza and pyjamas in the informal room, and cocktails and evening dress in the formal room.
Who are some of the new artists and craftsmen you're working with?
We found Gordon W Robertson, a pewterist, at an art fair with his jewellery on display. He does metal and silver work, and he's doing all the metal details and patterns that are inspired from watchmaking and the leaves of the tree.
When I was in New York at a furniture dealer, I saw a painting and thought, "That's going to look amazing in Clarges." We came back to London, showed the client, and bought three paintings from Jean de Merry. The one in the marketing suite is called '7 Horses'.
What's the most unusual request you've ever received from a client?
I've had clients who wanted to bring their car up the elevator into their bedroom. That's an unusual one, which I always quote!
Clarges Mayfair's office element will complete in mid-2016, with the residential element completing in 2017. Now off-market, remaining units will be marketed closer to completion. For more information, visit British Land.