Juliet Kinsman is Editor-in-Chief of Mr and Mrs Smith – the travel company which handpicks the most stylish places to stay, around the world. As well as being an expert in luxury travel, Juliet is Mum to six-year-old Kitty and lives in North West London with her partner. The recently-launched Smith & Family is the go-to place for perfect family hotels, with a child-friendly attitude and grown-up features alike.
Which, for someone who is as posh-hotel-obsessed as I am, is the most exciting thing ever. Being the typical Mr & Mrs Smith customer during my 20s (tripping off to Babington House of a weekend or arranging my hen do at Calcot Manor) I now can’t wait to try out the hotels recommended by Smith & Family.
In the first of a new series of Work.Life.Mum interviews with inspiring women, I caught up with Juliet for a chat about her own travels, how she balances work and life and (naturally) to get some travel tips from her…
Juliet, you’re Editor-in-Chief of Smith Hotels, but you were pretty involved with the launch of Mr and Mrs Smith back in 2002, weren’t you?
Yes! I was the first person that James (Lohan) and Tamara (Heber-Percy, founders of Mr & Mrs Smith) spoke to about their idea to do a guide book, so I was very involved. I knew James and Tamara very well (I was on holiday with James when he first met Tamara!) so they got a small team together which included me.
So it was a book, before it was a website?
The first incarnation was as a guide book – one that was user-friendly but also had a different voice, for people who wanted to get the very best out of their weekends. Then it launched as a website in 2005 and we haven’t looked back!
How has Smith & Family evolved from that?
It was a natural progression. James and Tamara had their first child (Tom, now seven) and they recognised that there wasn’t anything in the market that helped them navigate to exactly the right kind of hotels. They wanted to help people with a child ensure they make the very most of their time away. Our Mr & Mrs Smith customers have grown with us too, and whilst we still want to appeal to people in their 20s an 30s who want stylish hotels with amazing interior design, we also realise a lot of them now have families. And as James says, “Naughty weekends and nappies don’t mix!” so we created a new site in Smith & Family.
So you’re appealing to families but also to parents who might want a child-free getaway too?
Absolutely. Child-free breaks are so important to parents. People take more holidays than we used to and we want very different things each time we go away – a holiday with your kids or a ‘reckless’ child-free break, drinking cocktails and doing all the things you used to do, before you had kids. And we cater for families with different ages of kids – we really are comprehensive in that we look for hotels that are fantastic for young babies but also those that are great for older kids. Those hotels that offer dinner at any time, for example, because when you have kids you don’t want to wait until 8pm for a restaurant to open! It can be a dealbreaker for parents.
You travelled a lot when you were young, didn’t you? What memories do you have of that?
My dad was a Canadian diplomat and we grew up in New York so we travelled around but it was funny because Dad stayed in hotels so often with his work, that it was the last thing he wanted to do with us, so we’d stay in a friend’s apartment in Paris or wherever we were. I think hotels felt quite special to me, from a young age, because we never stayed in them! I only had one package holiday as a child, with my mum, when we went to Tunisia. It was an awful experience!
So your daughter must have had a very different experience while growing up!
She has but I try to keep it balanced. I was in a beautiful hotel last weekend – Il Salviatino in Florence and I saw a family there with kids all there in tiny bathrobes which was very sweet, but I do think you have to remind kids that it is special – you don’t want them becoming a spoilt brat!
Do you balance it off by taking your daughter on low-key holidays?
Absolutely. I take her to small guest houses and actually, one she loved was Hotel Stelor in Gotland, Sweden. It was really rustic and one of her favourites. I like to show her the local area when we go away together, and not allow her to be distracted by the luxury!
What are your top three tips for travelling with a young child?
They change all the time! Something I do, is I try to research nice stories about the destination before we go away. So when we went to Sweden, I got Pippi Longstocking and that was something we read together. And when we went to Morocco, I actually found a story online about a child with a flying carpet and it has so many different words that I could explain, and it gave them all some context. And so we read something relevant to our destination and it helps her learn about the place we’re going to. I keep thinking I should do a book of great bedtime stories based on destinations!
I used my iPhone as a monitor while we were away for my birthday last week. I left my daughter in the room, watching a movie and she had my iPhone next to her, with FaceTime connected on the wifi. We went down to the lobby to have a cocktail and it meant I could watch her watching the movie (and make sure she wasn’t watching anything unsuitable) and she could just say ‘Mum!’ and I’d wave at her. It was enough just to have one cocktail on my birthday, rather than pay for a babysitter. Shes nearly seven, so she was happy to do it!
I always take my cashmere travel wrap away with us. I’ve been using it with my daughter since she was born, so even if the destination is unfamiliar, that smell and feel of the blanket will comfort her. And, even now, if she’s tired on the plane, she asks for the blanket.
You set up a blog, Park Life, for your local community – tell me about that…
I did it just to share all the great things that are going on in our neighbourhood, Kensal Rise and Queen’s Park. It’s not a comprehensive Time Out style site, you know, I have a full time job so it’s something I do on the side. I share things that I really want people to know about, things they’ll enjoy. It started off because our local independent cinema, the Lexi, which is a social enterprise with the money going to a charity in Africa, had an appeal and one of my local friends didn’t know the cinema existed so I created the Park Life blog to talk about that!
Local families must love it!
Well when you have a family, your world completely shrinks and time is at a premium and you don’t want to travel with children, so you want to make the most of your neighbourhood. There are so many lovely people in our area. I set up a local flea market too – Kensal Flea – to bring people together and support local businesses. I haven’t got one planned for a while, though because I’m so busy with work…
Yes, how do you fit it all in?!
I guess I’m not a lazy person. Some people probably enjoy just hanging out or creating elaborate dinner parties whereas I always have things to do and I enjoy working on my computer. But I think I reached a point where I wasn’t doing a great job of fitting it all in. So I think I’ve probably learnt to prioritise better and know that I can’t do everything. I don’t work full time at Smith, I do two or three days with them and freelance the rest of the week, and that way of working allows me to work at the weekend if I need to do something during the week with my daughter. I’m really lucky. My other half is so supportive, actually, he’s really brilliant, he has total OCD when it comes to housekeeping so he does all of that at home.
So he helps you stay balanced?
That was kind of the deal when I got pregnant. It hard for it to be exactly 50/50 but he’s really supportive. And I just wanted to carry on with who I am, I didn’t want to change and be labelled “Mum”. I’ve got friends who get a lot of fulfilment out of creating every meal, organic, from scratch, and that’s great but we all do it differently and you can’t judge each other for our decisions.
JULIET’S FAVOURITE HOTELS TO VISIT AS A FAMILY
Fellah Hotel, Morocco
This new stylish hotel gave us a wonderful taste of Moroccan culture in a hip family-friendly context just south of Marrakech… Arts and crafts sessions, tagine-making cookery demo, live gnaoua musicians… Ironically though having said that we got there and there were two other families from our West London neighbourhood! Read my review.
Petit Ermitage, Los Angeles
Such a sexy little hotel in West Hollywood and while it was definitely geared at grown-ups, we also had fun with our six year old and California is the perfect family destination in every sense. Read my review
JULIET’S FAVOURITE MR & MRS SMITH ESCAPES (as a twosome)
JK Place Capri, Italy
Italy wins my heart for romantic flings. I am very excited about a trip with my betrothed to JK Place Capri in September… Overlooking the Bay of Naples at Capri’s port, from its sophisticated private terrace above, is about as romantic a setting as I can imagine. Ori Kafri’s hotels are so elegant. (I don’t just love them because we share initials). We just had a glorious couple of nights, en famille, at the brand new JK Place Roma… This is where we managed to keep an eye on Kitty via FaceTime watching a movie from our four-poster bed while we enjoyed a quick cocktail in the bar for my birthday!
Brody House, Budapest
For a buzzing city break, Brody House won my affections so much I hope to organise our wedding in Budapest. Brody House is exactly my kind of look and feel for a hotel: original, arty upcycled decor plus cultural spirit and soul… So many creative, interesting characters associated with its studios and they’re opening their brand new hotel Kinscem next spring/summer, where the famous racehorse lived with his eccentric aristo owner. This will be even more glam but still in that not-polished-to-perfection way… I’d love to have our wedding party there.
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