Exclusive Interviews With the Designers Behind the CDW Landmark Installations: Minnie Kemp, Design Director at Kit Kemp Design Studio

Clerkenwell Design Week (CDW) stands as a premier highlight in the UK’s commercial design landscape, annually transforming London’s Clerkenwell into a vibrant hub of creativity and innovation. The festival, which attracts designers, architects, and enthusiasts worldwide, features an array of showroom events, exhibitions, and engaging activities.

Central to the festival’s allure are the commissioned installations, strategically placed throughout the event; these installations not only challenge and expand perceptions of design but also act as landmarks which tie the sprawling event together. Crafted to inspire and entertain, these installations transform the streets of Clerkenwell into a dynamic, immersive design journey.

As Clerkenwell Design Week unfolds, Design Insider is thrilled to lead the conversation with exclusive, in-depth interviews with four of the talented designers commissioned to create these landmark installations. Our series continues with a fascinating interview with Minnie Kemp, Design Director at Kit Kemp Design Studio.

Can you introduce the Kit Kemp Design Studio and share the essence of your studio’s design philosophy?

Colourful and detailed storytelling which celebrates craft and captures the imagination. Colour, Craft, Character, Comfort and Curation.

This collaboration features Schotten & Hansen, renowned for their wood craftsmanship. Could you tell us more about their work and what makes their approach unique?

Schotten & Hansen is world renown for the highest quality flooring. It’s a family business that distributes worldwide, they have a focus on sustainability and are always pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with wood.

We visited the Schotten & Hansen factory in Peiting, Bavaria to build up the Mythical Forest Salon together and work on the pieces. It’s a vast factory, very contemporary, with large rooms where the floors are laid out with maps of boats, giant machinery and I have to say delicious meat snacks and of course craft beer! Torben Hansen is a joy to work with and a creative genius, his in-depth knowledge of traditional craftsmanship matched with harnessing modern technology made this the dream collaboration.

We have worked on one of a kind sculptural pieces like ‘Kit’s Kissing Bench’ hand carved from a single tree trunk and coloured to look like lichen growing on a tree as well as pieces that can be made to order like the bespoke Douglas Fir Veneer collection and the ‘PIT-A PAT’ table.

The new magnetic flooring technique that Shotten & Hansen has created is revolutionary in our business, it will open up a whole new world for flooring. It’s also better for the environment as you can bring the flooring with you when you move, there isn’t as much waste and there is far more scope with the designs and colours you can create.

The PIT-A-PAT table is an obvious evolution of this magnetic technique and we have absolutely loved working on the different inserts. The table frame has a bronze finish and is really like nothing on the market today. In New York at Kips Bay townhouse we have displayed the table as our centre piece and it’s utterly striking. It’s very easy to assemble like a giant puzzle for your home!

What sparked the excitement for this collaboration, and how do your specialties complement each other?

Firmdale Hotels and Schotten & Hansen have been working together for over thirty years across generations. Walk into any of our Hotels in London or New York and you will notice the stunning signature floors. The Kit Kemp Design Studio was honoured to be asked to work on the Mythical Forest Salon to celebrate Schotten & Hansen’s 40th anniversary as we already felt like family!

We have the same respect for smooth organic shapes, colour and nature. When we put our heads together anything is possible and we think big!

Clerkenwell Design Week is an industry leading event for the design community. How do you perceive its significance, and what role does it play in the annual agenda of your studio?

It’s our first time actually exhibiting at Clerkenwell so we are excited to experience the fair when the shoe is on the other foot. Our studio has visited the fair consecutively for the last three years and have found it a great source of inspiration particularly for bespoke finishes and architectural details. Clerkenwell feels like such a historic part of London and to explore all the showroom events nestled in its cobbled streets is very special.

We’re eager to hear about the Mythical Forest Salon installation. Could you give us an overview of your design and its inspiration?

The Kit Kemp Design Studio has been working on new colourways of Mythical land wallpaper available to buy through Andrew Martin and we wanted to showcase our new Sky blue colourway for the stand. We also wanted to showcase Kit’s new GP & J Baker upholstery fabric “Bunty” this became the start of our colour pallet. Generally this is how our studio works, once the colour scheme is confirmed and the concept we can start getting really creative but it’s essential to have that foundation (like scaffolding for a building). From there we worked on the magnetic flooring design and the PIT-A-PAT table design, this design is geometric and made up of many different shades of blues, pinks, mustards, greens and reds. We wanted to make sure that we were using soft colour, shades and textures that emulated the forest ground with all its flora and fauna, wildflowers and mossy patches. It was important not to use strong colours on the flooring or the table as this shouldn’t be aggressive and bounce up at your eyes – it should blend into the scheme creating an extra layer of texture.

At our new hotel Warren Street in Tribeca we have worked with Schotten & Hansen to clad the bottom of the bar with different natural wood finishes it looks FABULOUS… so we wanted to emulate this in our Mythical Forest Salon but using a bespoke colour collection of Douglas Fir Veneers that have been inspired by our colour palette. The texture of the veneers is so dramatic and really adds to the magic of the space.

Talking of magic, there are two giant totems that are one-of-a-kind pieces hand carved in Peiting that show the colours featured in the Douglas Fir Veneer collection. Totems represent the guardian Spirit representing different dynasties or clans warding off danger and evil, we have created one that represents Schotten & Hansen and one for the Kit Kemp Design Studio.

Given your extensive background in hospitality design, how do you envision this installation influencing the visitor’s feelings and overall experience within the space?

We want people to feel a sense of escape and wonderment when they enter our Mythical Forest Salon. It’s a place to sit around the table and celebrate with friends, discuss ideas, debate argue, make up, dance! That’s what life is all about.

This installation is a testament to your design identity. What message or narrative do you believe this work conveys about Kit Kemp Design Studio as innovators in design?

It’s funny; when we presented the concept to Schotten & Hansen we had two ideas: one was very contemporary inspired by a trip to Dia Beacon in upstate New York. Sol LeWitt was an artist working in the 1960’s who believed that “the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work.”

He began to use these ideas as guidelines for two-dimensional works drawn directly on the wall. LeWitt’s outlook and practice inaugurated a new genre that he would explore for the remainder of his career. We thought it could be fun to showcase Schotten & Hansen’s new veneers in Sol LeWitt inspired shapes on the walls, we also wanted to create sculpture that related to these drawings inspired by David Nash. Our second proposal was the more traditional Mythical Forest Salon that we went ahead with. The two concepts are so different, but they are both a testament to our identity as designers and artists. We are inspired by nature and our landscape but also by artist’s, museums, architecture and what’s going on around us in Cities. We strive to stay open minded, so we don’t get pigeonholed into one category.

Looking ahead, what exciting projects or directions can we anticipate from Kit Kemp Design Studio in the near future?

We are always scheming! There are lots of exciting new projects on the horizon including a number of residential projects and a monumental project on the French Riviera. The property has been designed around a tree that grows through the middle of the house up and out the roof. One thing is for sure, we do like trees.


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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