The former home of media magnate and politician Lord Beaverbrook has seen guests ranging from Sir Winston Churchill to Elizabeth Taylor, but it has now been sympathetically restored and refurbished as a luxury country house hotel. Janet Harmer explores the House
Beaverbrook, nestled in the heart of the Surrey Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is one of the stand-out regional hotel openings this year. With links to one of the most illustrious and powerful families of the 20th century, the property oozes a history that is enjoying a new lease of life following a £90m investment.
Originally completed in 1870 for Birmingham wool manufacturer Abraham Dixon, the Grade II-listed French château-style mansion was rebuilt for him after a fire in 1893. It was then acquired by media magnate and politician Lord Beaverbrook in 1911.
During his ownership, the house was known as Cherkley Court and the great and the good from the world of politics, literature and entertainment were entertained there.
Sir Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling and Elizabeth Taylor were among the guests. In recent years it has been used as a venue for events, until its sale in 2011 to Joel Cadbury and Ollie Vigors of Longshot and Tim Edwards and Ian Todd. Longshot is the owner of the Bel & the Dragon country pub business, with seven properties across the south of England.
Shareholders include tennis players Andy Murray and Tim Henman. Longshot’s intention of turning the property into a world-class, luxury country house hotel and exclusive golf club was initially met with widespread opposition from local environmentalists.
Following a long legal battle, the development of the hotel eventually went ahead after a final appeal from protestors failed in the High Court in 2014. The first phase of the Beaverbrook project – the 11-bedroom Garden House along with an Anglo-Italian restaurant and cookery school – opened in October 2016. Also launched last year was the club house for the 18-hole golf course, which was co- designed by five-times Open winner Tom Watson and course architect David McLay Kidd.
August 2017 saw the opening of the 18-bedroom House, the Beaverbrook family home and the most significant phase of the transformation of the 380-acre estate.
Alongside the Japanese grill dining room, the property features the Parrot bar, a private dining room for 16 guests, a screening room and extensive terrace with views over the North Downs.
The hotel manager is Andrew Spearman, who joined the property from Domaine de Manville in Provence, southern France, where he was general manager for two and half years.
Chief operating officer Justin Pinchbeck, who was involved in the early stages of the transformation of the property, left in June.
The final phase of the business – the Coach House cottage and spa – will open later this year along with a deli, a further restaurant and six more bedrooms.
Despite Beaverbrook’s grandeur, the aim was to create a property with the feel of a home, rather than a hotel. Interior designer Susie Atkinson, who has worked on Soho House & Co’s Babington House and Dean Street Town House, explains: “My brief was to create a beautiful English country house hotel that reflected the characters of the people who stayed at the hotel during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, during the height of Lord Beaverbrook’s ownership.”
Atkinson initially designed the club house, which is for members only, before turning her attention to the House, which she describes as “foreboding”, with its unusual architecture, large rooms and high ceilings. Hence, the liberal use of colour throughout, with an abundance of squishy sofas, piles of books and framed photographs (some once owned by the Beaverbrook family), and an eclectic mix of paintings to create a domestic – albeit wellheeled – feel. Artistic flourishes, including some of the paintings and photography, were organised by advertising guru Sir Frank Lowe.
The extensive gardens have been redesigned by Richard Bisgrove, an expert on one of the UK’s most influential horticulturists, Gertrude Jekyll, while head gardener Elliot Beveridge oversees the day-to-day maintenance of the grounds, which include an extensive kitchen garden.
The grand entrance to Beaverbrook opens onto a foyer, where the reception desk is located, before going through to a glass-domed inner hall featuring soaring marble columns, a succession of arches and an impressive staircase. However, modern art injects fun and colour into the majestic space, with an abstract tapestry by German artist Gerhard Richter, owned by Sir Frank Lowe, providing a powerful presence along one wall.
The oak flooring here is original, but throughout the rest of the house the wood flooring has been replaced and treated to look as if it is from a similar period. A grand piano takes centre stage in the hall.
The morning room
This large, light-filled room, with windows on two sides, stretching from floor to ceiling, enjoys a sense of splendour with its grand marble fireplace and elaborate chandelier. Guests are invited to enjoy the space – and the extensive views across Mole Valley through the windows – from an eclectic mix of comfortable sofas and chairs. Some are covered in a plain duck-egg blue, others feature a contrasting hand-blocked print from Hazelton House.
Although the room is largely traditional in style, a contemporary edge is provided by the wing-back chair in a fabric called Josephine from John Stefanidis. Dominating one end of the room is a portrait of Lord Beaverbrook, belonging to the Beaverbrook Foundation, on one of the silk linen-lined walls.
In one of the cosiest corners of the House is the library, featuring original bookcases from Lord Beaverbrook’s days. The historical aspect of the room highlights one of the key challenges faced by Atkinson and her team. “There were a number of things the planners wouldn’t allow us to do – one of which was to extend the bookcases in the library,” she says.
Despite this, the space enjoys a lived-in feel, with a plethora of books, family photographs and paintings displayed on easels.
Guests can visit the cinema room to watch movies selected by film directors Sir Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson. The room is lined with a beautifully grained oak, channeling an art deco vibe, but Atkinson doesn’t believe the wood is from that period: “We have a photograph that shows fabric on the walls, which was something that I wanted to recreate, but unfortunately the planners wouldn’t allow us to,” she says.
Sumptuous velvet seating designed by Atkinson is probably more comfortable than the original chairs, ensuring a luxurious viewing experience for guests.
The Dining Room
The Dining Room in the House offers no visual clue that the space is a cutting-edge Japanese restaurant. Atkinson says she was only told what the focus of the food would be at the 11th hour, but adds that it would have made little difference. “I may have altered the design slightly if I had known it was going to be a Japanese restaurant, but I think the aim was always to create an English country house dining room,” she explains.
And that is exactly what it is, with the chairs covered in a floral fabric from Nicholas Haslam (Aurora on Nivelles Oyster) inspired by a visit to Churchill’s home in Chartwell in Westerham, Kent. This is matched with velvet-covered sofas and banquette seating in Cantabria from Nina Campbell. The tables were designed by Atkinson’s in-house team.
The head chef is Taiji Maruyama, who worked in Nobu in London and Monaco, before launching Kiru restaurant in London’s Mayfair as executive chef-patron.
His menu includes the likes of koji halibut with watercress, pink pepper, yuzu soy and sesame oil (£23); Beaverbrook black cod marinated in den miso with yuzu miso and pickled daikon (£35); and smoked Josper-grilled lamb cutlets with sweet onion, sesame soy and chilli (£13). The dessert menu has been created by the estate’s pastry chef, Chris Underwood, who has worked in Fera at Claridge’s in London and most recently as executive pastry chef at the Devonshire Club. His dishes include tea-poached apricots, beurre noisette sponge, raspberries, lemon balm and apricot sherbet (£8); and hibiscus chocolate fondant with toasted rice ice-cream (£7). Two eight-course set menus are priced at £55 or £75 per head.
The Parrot bar
Originally the drawing room, the Parrot bar was named after and inspired by the painting that occupies pride of place in the room. “We were not allowed by the planners to touch the painting,” explains Atkinson. “I had sleepless nights about what I was going to do with it, as I initially found it to be a bit brash and not very fashionable, but then decided I had to embrace it and create a slightly Victorian vibe to the room.”
Her use of vibrant colours in the bar stools and seating reflects a parrot’s plumage, against a backdrop of walls painted in Ointment Pink from Farrow & Ball.
Atkinson created the concept for the bar, which was designed by Rupert Bevan and frames the parrot painting. Head barman Rafael Sanchez, who worked at the Marbella Club golf resort and spa in Spain, provides an extensive cocktail menu.
The long list of the powerful and the great who once frequented the property as a guest of Lord Beaverbrook is highlighted by the interiors of the 18 bedrooms, where each one is individually designed with a former visitor in mind, such as Ian Fleming, David Lloyd George and Wallis Simpson. Atkinson says it was very easy to create the designs around such “charismatic and interesting visitors”.
References to each personality are largely subtle, although a large photograph of Roger Moore as James Bond, which hangs above the bath in the Ian Fleming studio suite, can hardly be ignored.
Original drawings by Sir Alan, reflecting some aspect of the lives of each former guest, provide a nice touch just outside the entrance to each bedroom.
The Dowager suite – the grandest in the House and formerly Lady Beaverbrook’s bedroom – is filled with antiques and quirky touches, such as a shell-covered cabinet designed by Tess Morley, which Atkinson sourced and believes the room’s former occupant (an avid shell collector) would have enjoyed.
Reigate Road, Leatherhead,
Surrey KT22 8QX
Owner Joel Cadbury and Ollie Vigors of Longshot, and Tim Edwards and Ian Todd
Bedrooms 29 (18 in the House and 11 in the Garden House), with a further six opening in the Coach House cottage later this year
Rates From £225 for a classic room to £950 for the Dowager suite, across five room categories
Red chairs in the private dining room
Soane Britain www.soane.co.uk
Farrow & Ball www.farrow-ball.com
Rupert Bevan www.rupertbevan.com
Shell cabinet in the Dowager suite
Tess Morley www.tessmorley.co.uk