The Whitby Hotel, New York
The hotel occupies an enviable spot between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in midtown Manhattan, three blocks south of Central Park.
This is the second Firmdale property in New York by husband-and-wife hoteliers Tim and Kit Kemp and their 10th worldwide. Much has been written about Kit's bold use of colours, textures and patterns and she's upped the ante again here, covering almost every surface of the hotel with an astonishing array of contemporary art (some of which she designed herself). In the lobby alone, there's a ceiling-mounted multi-coloured loom by up-and-coming artist Hermione Skye, a video installation of a man inside a grandfather clock by designer Maarten Baas and three striking alabaster sculptures by Stephen Cox. The whimsical theme continues next door in The Drawing Room, where a violin case plays sounds from the English seaside town of Whitby, and downstairs in the book-lined library and 130-seat private cinema, whose adjoining bar features a towering wooden bear. All in all, it's a delightful assault on the senses and a refreshing respite from the predictable palette of greys, browns and beiges found in so many upscale hotels.
All of the property's 86 rooms and suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows, marble-swathed bathrooms and sumptuous beds with colourful, oversized headboards. My junior suite also has a private terrace, a well-stocked library and a lavish standalone bathtub. Once again, there's a riot of colours and patterns at work (think gold fabric-lined walls, a coral pink sofa and bold contemporary artworks), but the space still feels inviting and homely. Needless to say there's all the expected gadgetry, including a Samsung flat screen TV, Bose speaker, Blu-ray player (with free movie rentals) and USB charging points.
The Whitby Bar offers dining all day and is headed up by chef Anthony Paris, who previously worked at the Crosby Street Hotel, Firmdale's first New York property. The Mediterranean-influenced menu is on the safe side but highlights include a delicious creamy burrata with crispy prosciutto and a perfectly cooked aged rib eye steak. Guests can also dine in the adjoining Orangery, a sun-drenched space by day that transforms into a romantic candlelit den at night. Both rooms feature a distracting array of art, from the bar's dramatic installation of 52 hanging baskets sourced from around the UK to the Orangery's collection of 40 porcelain vessels hand-etched with New York landmarks.
Should you get tired of admiring the hotel's art collection (ask reception for a catalogue), you're only two blocks from the Museum of Modern Art. Retail therapy is half a block away on Fifth Avenue and the neon glitz of Times Square is but a 15-minute stroll. For many guests, however, the real treat is being just three blocks from Central Park.
Another interior design master class from the Kemps with a contemporary art gallery thrown in for good measure. A bold, brave, beautiful property.
18 West 56th Street, New York. Rooms start from $US695. Phone +1 212 586 5656. See firmdalehotels.com
A bottle of lavender and eucalyptus pillow mist left during turndown. Part of Kit Kemp's exclusive Rik Rak toiletries range, the scent is so heavenly I've been using it nightly ever since.
An underwhelming latte in The Whitby Bar.
Rob McFarland was a guest of United, Brand USA and The Whitby Hotel.