An opinionated interior designer in the UK

In the latest of an occasional series, interior designer David Bentheim reflects on the sympathetic and profitable makeovers of a brace of English hotels.

Rather than criticise others this month I thought I thought I might blow my own trumpet.

I have in the last couple of years worked on a quite few small projects which were fun to do and profitable for me and the owners. Their businesses make more profit and their happier guests help to encourage happier staff. I enjoy challenges and in fact it is often more satisfying to tightly create beautiful experiences from previously dead environments.

Hotel maestro Robin Sheppard, whom I have known for years, and with whom I still manage a friendship, often presents me with such dilemmas. I don’t get carte blanche on these and we work together closely with the team to upgrade within budgetary constraints. It’s a question of balance and from my experience some radical surgery will resuscitate the patient. We come up with cohesive experiences to delight the punters which ultimately staunch complaints, demands for refunds and the threat of writing vile things on Trip Advisor.

First up for the paint job plus was the perfectly situated Lugger at Portloe in Cornwall. This perfect hideaway for Famous Five romantics nestles in a tiny one-fishing-boat rocky cove. It was in very very, very poor nick and business was flailing. Once the favoured escape for Jaguar and “Roller” weekenders of the 70s and 80s, it had become a bottom bargain price weekend and it was not only storms at sea that caused the business to slide alarmingly.

To restore the hotel’s fortunes, I did start off quite ruthlessly and  chucked out all of the furniture on the ground floor. It was dated, ghastly and cheap, as well as being out of sympathy with the architecture. I replaced it with a measured selection of mid-price classic and fun pieces that sketched summer holiday dreams and cosy winter evenings. This was backed by a carefully selected palette of Cornish friendly colours which appear bright and cheerful in summer but somehow are very cosy in winter. Art and photography help a great deal and I mixed my own photographs with a carefully curated selection of prints. Good lighting, an essential, completed the ambiance to general acclaim.

The bedrooms were mainly a colour and textile job. By applying Farrow and Ball-ish rules but creating my own colours, the bedrooms were majorly freshened up. We retained and painted the furniture in tone with the walls and used crisp striped and checked textiles that are both sophisticated and welcoming – it is amazing what the right colours (in the hands of an expert) can do. The views from the rooms are in many cases terrific and it was my job to amplify those whilst bringing extra charm to the less well-placed and thus avoid guest disappointment.

Go and eat great, great food, snuggle with a book, forget about the world’s stresses and strains and get down to Cornwall and see what can be done! The hotel has just been granted five stars and I am dead chuffed.

At Cotswold House the interior previously had no relationship with the mellow exterior, with touches of a seedy night club – bizarrely!   Bad choices, ugly colours and an imposed low-grade modernity disappointed guests and requests for extra discounts was rife. Since its makeover turnover has increased by around 25 per cent and it is up for Bespoke’s best hotel of 2018.

Most of the ground floor furniture as well as the art was either sold off or reused elsewhere. I replaced it with Cotswold-centric art and furnishings reflecting the elegance of the building and above all what guests would expect from such a beautiful building.  A general tidy – always a help plus a much mellower palette of rich but country colours helped to nail it. I always try to give our interiors quite a bit of a twist a to give individual presence to each and every project. We work closely with the hotel team to change the way rooms can be used  and here for example a very unattractive reception room has become  a super-elegant restaurant.  By replacing the truly awful reception suite carpets with broad oak floors, brides and businessmen have been made happier. The old bar – empty of custom- has become packed out on most days of the week. This is the trick of colour, order and also of course a better menu!

Newer versions of traditional furniture were sought from bright young manufacturers and crisp cottons and linens (obtained cheaply enough to fireproof) replaced shiny unsympathetic fabrics – touch matters! We generally created that perfect Cotswold ambiance with a dash of theatrical extravagance.  I do work where I can down to the last details and in this case pushed the florist to supply country flowers in jam jars rather than stiff exotic arrangements.  Orchids were banished.

Mildly, to my chagrin, I am now fielding frequent requests of “what is the paint colour in room 23” and “where do we find that chair/sofa/bedside lamp” from now contented hotel guests. So, successful job done – clients, investors, managers, staff, and even Robin are now happy and thus few complaints. 

Please note that I would like to do it for you – right up to super luxury!

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