By Joanne Shurvell
“The highly anticipated tenth boutique hotel owned by British hoteliers Tim and Kit Kemp launched last year in New York. The Whitby Hotel in midtown Manhattan joins the Kemp’s popular Crosby Street Hotel in Soho which opened eight years ago. Their first hotel opened in 1985, the Dorset Square Hotel, in a glorious Regency townhouse in Marylebone, London. Over the past 30 years, the duo has been slowly and surely expanding under their brand Firmdale Hotels.
Kit Kemp oversees every aspect of each hotel’s design and her attention to detail is clear. She chooses all the furniture and fabrics and even designs some herself. Specially commissioned artwork also ensures that each space in the hotel is different. The Kemps’ philosophy is that “hotels should be living things not stuffy institutions.” In that vein, it’s fantastic to see bold, cheerful colors rather than the neutrals often used in hotels. A visit to the Whitby feels like a stay at a chic townhouse.
Contemporary art and generous use of patterns and textiles are key to Kit Kemp’s style. The art in the lobby includes a striking painting by Dutch artist Carla Kranendonk (and there’s another in the bar area). Also in the lobby are sculptor Stephen Cox’s alabaster plinths and a colorful woven piece by Hermione Skye above the reception desk.
Each of the 86 bedrooms has been individually designed and some have private terraces. In fact no two rooms in any of the Firmdale hotels are alike. One bedroom at the Whitby features a gorgeous green antique bureau and a brightly quilted dressmaker’s dummy while another has a blue fabric covered wall with blue willow pattern plates.
Bedrooms at the Whitby Hotel emanate an intimate, enveloping mood of comfort with fabric-lined walls, an enchanting mix of sumptuous textures and hues, and Kit’s signature touches such as oversized headboards some beautifully embroidered and embellished by artists such as Kumi. Her own fabric designs have been used throughout alongside elegant rugs, ceramics, artworks and cushions. And always key to my enjoyment of a hotel room are the quality of the linens; high thread count, soft and silky sheets are essential. The Whitby doesn’t disappoint with the choice of British company Tielle Love Luxury who’ve been providing linens to luxury hotels for years. In fact, after receiving frequent requests by hotel guests to buy the linens for their homes, the company now offer their linens on a retail basis online.
The Orangery is a light and airy space with a brasserie feel, a really lovely spot for breakfast. Inset along one wall sit forty hand-etched porcelain vessels by Martha Freud (great granddaughter of Sigmund) featuring New York landmark buildings and bridges. Overhead hang wrought iron chandeliers with glass shades, by Tyson Bennison specially commissioned by Kit Kemp. And as for the food, breakfast is alone worth visiting this hotel for. The menu choices are superb with dishes like burrata scrambled eggs with grilled tomato, arugula and truffle vinaigrette, an Egg white, crab, avocado, tofu and herb whole wheat wrap and, essential on any New York breakfast menu, the fluffiest of pancakes and berries.
The common areas include the restaurant and bar, a lovely drawing room for chilling out, a petite internal courtyard, a gym and a 130 seat cinema for their film club where they screen films every weekend. Over the bar is an installation of 52 traditional British baskets including a fishwife’s basket from Northern England and a London flower-seller’s basket.
Essential for any English hotel, afternoon tea is served daily with classics like cucumber sandwiches, scones and clotted cream and sticky toffee pudding. And of course, this being New York, there’s a healthier option too with an avocado and chickpea crostini and a fruit tart. And for Downton Abbey fans, the Whitby is currently offering a special themed tea plus VIP tickets to the Downton Abbey exhibition near the hotel (until 2 April 2018).
Midtown Manhattan has the reputation of being a tad boring. But the Whitby Hotel is ideally situated just two blocks from Central Park and major museums – MoMA, The Frick and The Met. The shop windows at Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue are second to none and who can resist a selfie with the armed guards outside of Trump Tower across the road.”