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  • Writer's pictureRuth Arad

Hotel Design Blog – My English Love Affair Part I

By: Ruth Arad | Architect and Interior Designer specializing in hotel design

Hotel design is a blend of spaces of commercial, personal and domestic character, which are both public and private at the same time. It’s a space in which a personal and distinctive story can be woven into a total hospitality experience and as such it is of interest to everybody, whether guest or host, and the chain of people involved in making every guest’s stay a perfect one.

This is the fifth blog in a series written in my travels around the world in the wake of hotels that excel through unusual design. Hotel and hospitality design has been my discipline and business for about a decade, and I invite you to come along to wonderful, faraway places. In each blog, we’ll take a short trip together toward extraordinary experiences that will be etched into your memory; each trip will be accompanied by professional explanations to add meaning to the hospitality experience.

I began my love affair with England at a relatively young age – while studying art history, my introduction to the artist William Turner changed my life. Turner, who was one of the greatest English landscape painters of the Romantic school of art, was known for the imaginative way in which he captured light and natural settings, arguably making him one of the forefathers of Impressionism.

The tradition of English art also aroused my curiosity because of the impressive castles that appeared as backdrop to many of Turner’s paintings. The stories of Robin Hood and the history of the kingdom also played their part. After completing my art studies, I went to England to seek out the castles of Wales, which were built in strategic positions on the side of hills, at the crest of hills, or at the foot of a source of water, locations that would make things difficult for invaders and provide a fortified defensive advantage.

Afterwards, once I’d turned to the study of architecture, I gained an additional viewpoint for understanding the magic and the narrative of castles – architecture and design that allow the creation of an experiential world of wonder. As one walks around their imposing spaces, they seem to transport us to a different time dimension, so that we disengage from the outside and undergo a new inner experience.

Since studying art and architecture, many years have gone by, during which I specialized in hotel design and worked in London for a firm that specializes in the field. As a result, I had opportunity to explore the hotel world, and found it to be a public space containing an entire world given that hotel design spans many different spaces – accommodation, restaurants, lobby, spa, shops and other facilities, all of which are contained in a single wrapping. The design of hotel spaces is based on a concept that is translated for each space, where optimal translation will give the guest a unique hospitality experience.

Now, as we face the hot summer months, and everyone is busy planning how to escape the heat, there is the option of a holiday in the cooler part of Europe, namely England’s green and pleasant land. In terms of hotel options, there is extra reward in staying in a hotel known for its unique design. For such design creates unforgettable experiences. It can detach us from the reality from which we’ve arrived, almost as if, for a moment, we transcend time, and feel a part of history.

In my next series of articles, I will review a few hotels that are worth a visit in the UK, hotels that are based on buildings from the past, as well as hotels of our era.

Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds

A long view of Cowley Manor on a bright summer’s day Credit: Cowley Manor

Modern and traditional features and furnishings create a fun fireside seating area Credit: Cowley Manor

The interior space is designed with highly colourful carpets of geometric design. The furniture chosen is modern, with the tones of the carpets being repeated in the sofas and cushions, and further enhanced by a touch of modern art in the shape of the bright BOO ‘graffiti’ on the wall above the fireplace, and a mobile of crystals flowing down from the stairwell, scattering light beams. In contrast, the staircase itself is of solid wood with decorative detail belonging to the original building and restored to an exceptionally high standard. Traditional artisanship is evident in the cornices that accentuate the approach to the stairs, creating an aesthetic finish and a gentle meeting of materials.

The solid-looking wooden stairs with the modern crystal mobile above them Credit: Cowley Manor

The lobby sets the tone for the rest of the design by using an especially large area carpet on the wooden floor, with the carpet’s colours repeating themselves in the furniture and cushions. The choice and placement of the pieces of furniture and the modern art create a freshness between old, and new and contemporary.

The overall palette both echoes and blends in with the medley of carpet colours Credit: Cowley Manor

The view seen from the lobby is stunning and combines the hospitality experience with the grandeur of the surrounding nature. The arched openings and the heavy curtains serve as reminder of the heritage and looking out at the green landscape creates a pastoral picture in its own right.

The beautiful grounds make their presence felt during the long summer evenings Credit: Ruth Arad

The most important place for locals is the bar, and every good hotel should have a list of fine wines and spirits. Here the design of the bar is full of humour. The walls are finished in wood, but are almost devoid of decoration and retain a decidedly modern feel. The “stuffed” animal heads are the only decoration and are in fact masks, which raise a smile and a chuckle. Overall, the mood is of a haven for hunters, but is in total contrast to the historical look of a space of this kind, which would normally be designed with a heavy feel to it, in keeping with the best British tradition.

Two-seater benches set into the window openings have been created, while the colours in the carpet carry on a dialogue with the leather chairs covered in shades of burgundy. A mobile of renowned artist Alexander Calder hangs from the ceiling. During my stay at the hotel in general, and my time spent in the bar in particular, I thoroughly enjoyed and felt great respect for the well thought-out artistic choices made.

The all-important bar does not disappoint Credit: Cowley Manor

The restaurant has a more traditional look Credit: Cowley Manor

The restaurant has retained a more traditional character – the walls are of wood with bas-relief, but at the same time they have a lacquer finish that takes away any heaviness. Modern dining tables have been chosen and the seats of the chairs come various hues. The Moooi lighting elements are wonderful and fresh and we will encounter them again in other hotels as we get closer to London, the capital. The curtains in the space match the language of the carpets seen in previous spaces and serve as a reminder of the overall design.

The guest rooms faithfully continue the modern and simple design concept, while making use of a wide palette of colours. The fireplace and the cornices serve as a subtle reminder of the original architecture.

View of a bedroom – a calm mix of muted tones and wonderful woodwork Credit: Cowley Manor

And when one heads outdoors to experience nature, the delightful choice of colours we’ve grown accustomed to indoors, reveals itself again in the garden furniture.

The vibrant colour palette stands out against the green of the grounds Credit: Cowley Manor

Barnsley House in the Cotswolds

A view of Barnsley House, in its quintessential English garden setting Credit: Barnsley House

Strolling through the lush gardens (R) and a view of the temple and pool (L)

Credit: Ruth Arad

Today Barnsley House serves as a boutique hotel, with its bedrooms extending over two floors. Each luxurious bedroom is of different design, but all offer an indulgent regal experience amplified by a spa and stunning gardens.

The key to our room already hints at the experience awaiting us – its caption: ‘I’ve got my feet up!’ reminds us that we are here to relax.

At the entrance to the Hotel there are a lot of boots that form a sort of performance art, but to talk about the boots would require a whole article in its own right. In a nutshell, the Hotel boots remind us to head out to explore the Cotswolds on foot, as the areas has so much to offer nature lovers.

Boots abound as performance art and invitation to explore the grounds and area

Credit: Ruth Arad

From my point of view, the guest bedrooms are the biggest attraction. I’m always interested in seeing where much of my stay will be spent, and I was fortunate to be able to take a look at several of the Barnsley rooms a moment before the guests were due.

In one of the attic rooms, for example, the design is low key to allow the architecture to speak for itself and guests to experience it. Here the ceiling beams are at steep angles and the cuckoo’s nest windows and furniture, such as bedside tables and other accessories in transparent glass, create a calm and peaceful ambience.

Bathing is very much much part of the design experience Credit: Barnsley House

The bathroom fittings particularly stole my heart, with bath and basin cleverly positioned to overcome structural challenges.

As a result, you can enjoy the view from a window behind a double basin, or gaze into the ‘his and her’ mirrors on either side. A freestanding bath takes pride of position in the space, with water fed to it from a low wall that supplies the shower too. A clear glass shower divider allows you to feel part of the architectural space even as you enjoy your shower, so that the design experience continues in what is ordinarily the most intimate of spaces.

A bathroom with a view (L) and the shower in the eaves (R) Credit: Barnsley House

The bathroom I liked most of all allows a couple to each have their own bath, while enjoying a joint experience as the baths are located side by side and face out onto the garden. If you prefer, you can watch a film on the media screen placed just below the line of the window.

In one of the rooms, twin baths offer one of the most indulgent of experiences Credit: Barnsley House

There are many other surprises just waiting to be discovered, including the Hotel restaurant, which provides a culinary and cultural experience. I suggest booking a table in advance as the restaurant is a regular stop for many of the people travelling around the Cotswolds. Given the heavy demand, you might otherwise be politely turned away when the restaurant is full. Also, and always important to remember, is that in Europe meal times are restricted and the restaurant is not open throughout the day, as it is in our tiny, hot country.

The understated, almost traditional restaurant focuses on good food Credit: Barnsley House

All that remains is for you to make plans for a stay there.... and there is no better time than the present, when here we are experiencing peak temperatures, while cooler temperatures are guaranteed in the English countryside.

Further articles in the series will be published shortly.

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