Step through the looking glass and take a magical tour around Pieter and Fran Hamman’s stunningly restored Georgian manor, Glazebrook House – a nine-bedroom boutique hotel in Devon inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Rosalind Mullen reports
Need to know
Glazebrook House, which is named for the babbling Glaze Brook in the three-acre grounds, dates back to 1650 and the original farmhouse is still evident in today’s vestibule, tasting room and library. The property, in South Brent, Devon, was converted into a Georgian-style manor house in 1865 and has seen a number of owners, including naval commander Algernon Edmund Penrice-Lyons, a relation of the Queen Mother.
The manor was sold and converted into a hotel in 1972, undergoing only minor renovations before it was purchased by the current owners Pieter and Fran Hamman in November 2013, who have transformed it into a nine-bedroom boutique hotel and restaurant.
The couple officially opened their doors to guests in September 2014. However, their first wedding was booked at the end of May 2014, which meant the renovation project had to be completed within a tight six-month period.
Pieter and Fran spent much of their lives in South Africa and San Francisco, but moved to the UK to be nearer family and to fulfil their dream of owning a “quintessentially British, country escape”. Glazebrook House, near attractions such as Dartmoor, Salcombe beach and South Hams, was perfect. But with competition from Garfield House, Turtley Corn Mill and many others, they knew they needed to stand out in an already busy local country house hotel market. Their vision was to create a hotel that offered guests a sense of escapism, yet preserved the stunning and rich heritage of the building and its grounds.
“The country-luxe hotel has already been done, particularly in this corner of the UK,” says Pieter. “We wanted something different. An eye-catching, unique homage to British eccentricity; a 19th-century collector’s home blended with a luxury manor house escape.”
The building works
The hotel’s exteriors and building were sound, but the interiors needed to be completely renovated. Every floor was replaced and more than 150 years’ worth of paint and wallpaper was removed and the walls repainted.
Even so, many historic details have been retained, including a Victorian lightwell in the reception, stained-glass windows in the stairwell, the original servants’ bell system in the restaurant and the 18th-century fireplace in the lobby, carved with the depiction of the 1649 trial and beheading of the Duke of Hamilton in Scotland.
The layout of the manor house has remained too, though several bedrooms were reconfigured to integrate en suite bathrooms. Luckily, no major obstructions or difficulties were encountered and, despite the extent of the renovations, the works were finished in time for the May wedding deadline.
The interiors are the vision of project designer Simon Laws and furnishing designer Timothy Oulton, though the Hammans took an active interest, with Pieter acting as project manager.
“We knew we wanted to create interiors that not only worked sympathetically alongside the building’s rich Georgian heritage, but a hotel that would delight and inspire our guests,” says Pieter. “Simon and Timothy envisaged a 19th-century collector’s home with a twist – an eye-catching spectacle that fused the classic with the extraordinary to create a space that felt like stepping back to the building’s Georgian origins, yet offered all of the contemporary benefits [of] a luxury hotel. Inspired by the name Glazebrook, we took the ‘GB’ and ran with it – deciding on a Rule Britannia theme that would be evident in every room.”
Laws and Oulton sourced recycled and repurposed materials to furnish every element of the interiors, from the restored parquet flooring from London through to the reclaimed pine mirrors from schoolhouses in Canada.
The result is a blend of more than 900 antiques, reclaimed designer and vintage pieces, eccentric artwork and original, handmade furnishings. Beautifully restored parquet flooring complements bright tartan carpets; deep navy walls are lit by giant crystal chandeliers; and cosy leather sofas sit alongside roaring fireplaces. Quirky nods to traditional British artefacts and curios adorn the walls – bowler hats line the hallway, for instance, and Darwinesque biological artwork fills the snug.
Each of the bedrooms has a Timothy Oulton handmade bed as its centrepiece and an eclectic Alice in Wonderland theme – inspired by Fran, who, when walking through Glazebrook’s gardens for the first time, said she felt that she had fallen down a rabbit hole into a different, beautiful world.
“This sat wonderfully with our 19th-century, GB-inspired theme for the hotel,” says Pieter.
In Jabberwocky, a superior double room, the British revivalist feel of the reception and stairway is continued with the deep-green Farrow & Ball painted walls and tartan carpet. A sense of luxury is created with the hanging pendant chandeliers that act as the bedside lighting, and to celebrate British aviation history, there are two brushed-steel aircraft engine mirrors above the bedstead and a vintage brass searchlight in the corner.
The Mad Hatter luxury double room really brings the Alice in Wonderland theme to life. A burnt-red Timothy Oulton bed with a quilted leather headboard takes centre stage, framed by cubed granite bedside tables and a vintage aluminium storage trunk, with billowing navy velvet curtains adding plush luxury. The Mad Hatter element comes to life when guests lie on the bed and look up to spot topsy-turvy doll’s houses hanging from the wall above the bed.
Each of the en suite bathrooms are distinctive, with individually sourced items by Laws and Oulton, but they are tied together with a classic black, white and grey palette.
“In contrast to the bedrooms, we wanted each bathroom to be sleek and contemporary, with metro-style tiling, mosaic-tiled floors, black granite sinks, large mirrors and chrome fixtures and fittings,” says Pieter. “Several also have standalone bathtubs for understated opulence.”
Elegant and intimate, the restaurant also has eclectic design details, while retaining original features such as the servant’s bells and stone fireplace. The team used repurposed parquet flooring and reclaimed British oak tables to give an authentic feel, and hung vintage blue and white British-made china on the walls to add texture and life. Cushioned leather dining chairs ensure guests are comfortable.
“We want them to feel as though they’re with us for the evening. Comfort was a hugely important factor in this,” says Pieter.
Executive chef and restaurant manager Ben Palmer is a former MasterChef: The Professionals quarter-finalist, and his seasonally changing menus reflect the ethos of Glazebrook House with a focus on authentic, robust tastes and beautifully presented dishes.
Here, there is a “gentlemen’s club meets modern speakeasy” feel, with sumptuous leather lounge chairs, tufted leather walls, chandelier coffee tables and a striking marble bar. The aim was to create a space that guests could enjoy throughout the day, so it needed to offer comfort with a refined edge.
This is one of Pieter and Fran’s favourite spaces and as it is the first stop for guests, it sets the tone. “In here, we really wanted to pique our guests’ curiosity, giving them something new to spot every time they stepped through the space,” says Pieter. “There’s an emu skeleton at the foot of the staircase, a bulldog in a bowler hat, a reception desk shaped like a spitfire wing and a stuffed flamingo, to name just a few elements. Each is a nod to classic British artefacts, music, sports, hobbies and anthropology; a theme tied together with a large draped Union Jack flag behind the reception desk.”
Since opening, revenue has increased eight-fold, and the hotel now runs at about 70% occupancy. The team has also won a number of industry awards, including being named Visit England’s Best Boutique Hotel 2017, Sawday’s British Hotel of the Year 2017, Trencherman’s Best Dine & Stay Experience 2018 and Condé Nast Johansens Wine List Finalist 2018.
“Our hotel design has been paramount to the success that we’ve enjoyed since opening our doors to guests,” says Pieter. “Our interiors offer something completely different to guests, a sense of escapism, and we see the same guests returning time and again as they love the variety; we’re simply not your average boutique hotel.”
There are plans to make use of the grounds to increase the bedroom count.
Contact and details
Glazebrook House, South Brent, Devon
Owners Pieter and Fran Hamman
Designer/architects Timothy Oulton and Simon Laws
Opened September 2014
Investment In excess of £3m
Covers 45 in the restaurant and up to 20 seats in the bar
Staff 15 full-time, 10 part-time
Key staff Executive chef: Ben Palmer; head chef: Josh Ackland; host manager: Chloe Bradley
Starting room rates Standard double rooms from £159 per night B&B based on two sharing
Average bill for dinner £42.50 per head for three courses
Key furnishings, antiques and design elements sourced by Timothy Oulton and Simon Wells through Timothy Oulton Studio
Farrow & Ball www.farrow-ball.com
The White Company www.thewhitecompany.com
DS Developments www.dsdevelopments.co.uk
JAH Electrical www.jahelectrical.co.uk