In the bustling, American neighbourhood of Upper Midtown Manhattan, you’ll find a touch of British coastal charm. It’s The Whitby, a hotel that opened in February, run by husband-wife duo Tim and Kit Kemp of Firmdale Hotels, a company that runs eight boutique hotels in London, including Knightsbridge Hotel and Charlotte Street Hotel, and now two in New York.
The Whitby’s limestone façade and massive steel-framed windows are hard to miss, especially if you have an eye for industrial cool design. On the inside and in utter contrast – a riot of colour, thoughtfully sourced artworks and eccentric design make the hotel an immersive space unlike any other.
Located a stone’s throw from Fifth Avenue, Central Park and luxury boutiques such as Tiffany & Co. and department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, the hotel stands 16 storeys tall and boasts 86 bedrooms and suites, all uniquely designed with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Manhattan skyline. What sets it apart is its distinctive character presenting a fresh take on modern design coupled with a handpicked selection of contemporary art by co-founder and interior designer Kit Kemp.
The Whitby Hotel lobby
You’ll find yourself taking a trip around the world through art as soon as you enter the hotel. The lobby is a visual treat on its own – so rich in artistic choice that it merits a good look before you make your way to the room. British sculptor Stephen Cox’s alabaster plinths and Dutch designer Maarten Baas’s ‘Real Time’ grandfather clock are among works that enhance the lobby’s grandeur, with the multi-coloured installation by British artist Hermione Skye commissioned by Kit among the space’s most striking features. These contrasting choices of design, pattern and texture offer “a sense of movement and engage all the senses,” said Kit in a statement.
Bedroom in the Whitby Suite
Among the highlights is the glorious, two-bedroom, three-bathroom Whitby Suite that is spread across an entire floor featuring two terraces that offer stunning views of both Uptown and Downtown Manhattan. The rooms are found in coastal tones such as blue and green with hints of vivid hues like bright red. The scalloped bed headboards showcase rich, bright patterns while the living room’s printed upholstery adds to the hotel’s overall appeal. Head to the bathroom and you’ll be further delighted by a space entirely in white marble exuding sumptuousness and serenity. Spaces such as these are dreamy, tranquil and artistically inspiring. The Whitby Suite also features a kitchenette, walk-in closet, a bespoke Whitby welcome gift, even unpacking service on arrival and packing service on departure, making it a real treat for guests.
The Whitby Bar
Art thrives in every corner of the hotel. At once decorative as well as descriptive, you’ll find everything from dainty realistic paintings to installation-like pieces, such as at the Whitby Bar, where a collection of 52 woven baskets hangs from the ceiling. The baskets are known to be used for collecting fish, gathered from around England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, each labelled with information about its origin – yet another detail to support the hotel’s British penchant.
Artworks on wall in Whitby Bar (L to R): 'Haircuts of Hackney' by Daniel Frost and 'Untitled' by Carla Kranendonk. Wallpaper: Travelling Light by Kit Kemp
The bar's delicious mix of artworks includes the delightful multimedia works of Dutch artist Carla Kranendonk, and the playful, diverse Haircuts of Hackney by British illustrator Daniel Frost. Such items enhance the hotel’s fun and charming character. Mirroring the artwork that fills the building, design items are similarly vibrant, exuding a bright mixture of colours. Leather bar stools in red, green and yellow; red and green printed chairs, and small marble tables handmade in India are each bold added to touches to the space. On the walls and pillars guests can behold Kit’s own Travelling Light wallpaper featuring an Aztec pattern – her greatest strength throughout the hotel is her generous use of pattern and texture.
Orangery at The Whitby Hotel
The Orangery, which provides a charming setting for breakfast or an intimate lunch or dinner, features handcrafted porcelain vessels by designer Martha Freud, depicting iconic landmarks and buildings in New York. The oversized wrought-iron chandelier rounded off with vintage brass parrots add to the space’s ethereal, classic British feel. Among The Whitby’s other offerings is a 130-seat cinema open for both private and public screenings.
The Whitby’s sister hotel in New York – Firmdale’s second hotel in the Big Apple – is the Crosby Street Hotel. It has a similar, uniquely charming, aesthetic. The first of the duo’s New York properties, it is also one of the first Leed Gold Certified hotels in the state. An archetypical SoHo loft, the 11-storey building, also designed by Stonehill & Taylor and decorated by Kit, is just a minute’s walk away from Spring Street and Prince Street – know for their assortment of eclectic multi-brand boutiques and trendy restaurants.
Crosby Street Hotel lobby featuring head sculpture by Jaume Plensa and dog sculptures by Justine Smith
Upon entry, guests can marvel at the 10-foot high steel sculpture of a human head done entirely in alphabets by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa. There’s also London-based artist Justine Smith’s dog sculptures that are some of the most appealing works on show. The aim seems to be surprise upon entrance and to amuse guests through artwork that one would expect to be placed in museums, private homes or galleries.
Crosby Street Hotel Deluxe Room
The hotel comprises 86 spacious, high ceiling rooms and suites – all bright and bold in colour and pattern but airy and unassuming in design. Each room features upholstery in vivid or muted colours, floor-to-ceiling windows and bathrooms in marble and granite with walk-in showers.
The Crosby Street Bar
The Crosby Bar is one of the most inviting spaces of the hotel, with grey oak floors in a brightly lit setting, colourful hanging lights coupled with upholstery, and warehouse-style windows overlooking Crosby Street on the front and Lafayette on the back.
Terrace at The Crosby Street
Make sure you experience the Crosby terrace – even if for a 30-minute break. Open all day, it is beautiful and rustic in design and surrounded by summer blooms making it the ideal space for your morning coffee or an intimate dinner. Inside, the Drawing Room is warm and cosy with a bespoke library collection, artworks and Honesty Bar – an achingly chic joint. Nearby is a quintessential 18-century style Greek fireplace, featuring garlands of leaves and acorns tied with a ribbon to accentuate the space’s classic splendour.
Drawing Room at The Crosby Street Hotel
Art and design marry in these two New York Firmdale hotels in a way that transfixes and amuses guests. There’s a wondrous world awaiting visitors inside – one that is luxurious and fantastical. Imaginative flair, lively colourings and a heartening ambiance come together in these two boutique hotels – creating a vibe that is very much like a home away from home.
Rooms start from Dhs2,920 and The Whitby Suite starts from Dhs44,075 at The Whitby Hotel. Rooms start from Dhs2,553 at The Crosby Street Hotel. firmdalehotels.com/hotels/new-york/
Photography by Simon Brown