The acclaimed interior designer Martin Kemp caters for every whim of the super-wealthy elite
Martin Kemp has a way with homes. The interior designer takes a bare shell and transforms it into a living space that any homeowner would desire. How? “I start by sitting on a cardboard box in an empty room and imagine living there,” Kemp says.
The difference between Kemp and other interior designers is his clientele. He designs homes for the ultra-wealthy; the type of people who don’t have the time or inclination to do their own shopping, let alone DIY. These clients want not only a decorated home but a complete lifestyle — with everything from artwork to underwear provided for them. “I have to supply everything in some of the homes we work on: toilet rolls, underwear, cars, jewellery, wine, a dinner service, cutlery, even nose clippers,” he says. “These homes are more like serviced hotel suites, which [the owners] will stay in for a couple of months at a time. That’s how ultra-high-net-worth people live,” he says. “If I design a piece of furniture, I then have to think, ‘What would I want in the drawers?’ The clients want to feel pampered.”
Kemp’s service doesn’t stop at home interiors, but extends to private jets, helicopters and yachts. Each has specific considerations — for example, the 44.8m-long Logica 147 yacht (built by Logica and Riccardo Benetti) could not have sharp angles or swinging chandeliers for when the yacht pitched — generally, the brief is for a classic, neutral palette that is reminiscent of luxury hotels. And everything must be bespoke.
To help to determine his clients’ needs, Kemp spends a lot of time with them, observing how they live. Unsurprisingly, he has had some unusual requests. Kemp says one client wanted an elevator installed in his home so he could display his car in the master bedroom on the upper level. Another client, a polo club-owner, requested a cryotherapy unit for the club’s players.
Kemp, a softly spoken Welshman, says: “It took me a long time to appreciate wealth and the wealthy,” he says, “but that wealth does go back into the system and that is important. It keeps people in employment.”
Kemp trained at the Welsh School of Art and Design and École des Beaux Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg. He learnt about residential design while working for Barbara Barry, the acclaimed interior designer in Los Angeles.
Kemp launched his business about four years ago and employs 17 people. His services start at about £10 million.
While this might seem a world away from most people’s lifestyles, Kemp’s work, which appears in the showrooms of high-end luxury developments, is infiltrating mainstream design.
Before setting up his own practice, Kemp was the creative director at Candy & Candy and worked on a variety of high-profile projects, including One Hyde Park. “Candy & Candy let us push the boundaries and we became known for brave, bold design. Metallised lacquer finishes, which you see everywhere now, hadn’t been seen when we first did it,” he says. “There is a trend that I pioneered — a rich, dark look. I feel arrogant saying that but you see it everywhere” — including in the boardroom of his offices in southwest London.
“We are changing that, though, and starting to look at being lighter and whiter — more rounded details, rather than hard angles. If there is a trend that emerges in the next year then I predict it will be light and cheerful. The mood of the times is quite dark and people want to be cheered up,” Kemp says.
His latest project is the showroom for The Residences at Four Seasons in Reignwood’s Ten Trinity Square development, which overlooks the Tower of London. It demonstrates this trend for a lighter style (prices from £5 million). “Reignwood wanted something safe but with broad appeal,” Kemp says. The design is “classic with a twist”, he adds with a smile. “It sounds like such a cliché but I can’t think of a better way to describe it. We didn’t want classical or very modern, just somewhere in the middle.”
Reignwood’s brochure describes the design as “elegant”, adding, “it draws inspiration from the building’s origins in the 1920s, a time of refined luxury, prosperity and glamour”. There are hints of art deco design paired with a neutral colour palette in dark and light contrasts. I sit on the sofa — where Kemp once sat on a cardboard box — to admire the view across the Tower of London to Tower Bridge and beyond.
If you look closely there is a lot of art, which, Kemp says, is on loan. “We often loan from galleries. They are happy to get pieces out on show,” he says. Often clients will buy the apartments as seen, including all the artwork.
A flat such as the one at Ten Trinity can take up to a year for Kemp and his team to complete.
His next challenge is to get clients to embrace florals. “I like chintz. I think that it gets a bad rap,” he laughs.
Kemp’s new projects include designing the show homes and communal areas for Clarges on Piccadilly and 77 Mayfair in South Audley Street, London. Look out for a lighter, brighter style, but not a return to chintz just yet.
MARTIN KEMP’S TIPS FOR CREATING THE SHOW-HOME LOOK
- Declutter “Simplify how a room is presented; remove the detritus in favour of a few key items.”
- Focus “Create one or two focal points in a room — for instance, two or three vases grouped together on a coffee table.”
- Cushions “Cushions make a big difference to a bed or sofa. They are like jewellery for a room.”
- Depersonalise “Remove personal photographs and objects.”
- Colours “Simplify the colours and look for ways to harmonise the colours you have. You want delicate hints of colour here and there rather than blocks of bold colour.”
Get the look
Eporta, the members-only website for interior designers, shares some of the key pieces that have caught the eye of designers this year, plus where you can buy them.
FOYA cabinet, £7,000
Sarah Christensen Design
Moroccan pendant light, from £175
Hyde stacking stool, £426
Hatton tub chair in Flores brocade, £1,140
A Rum Fellow
Kaya rug, from £800
A Rum Fellow
Pion cardboard sidetable by Andrea Brugnera, £70.40