The art and hotel worlds collide in Number One Bruton in Somerset, where eclectic art collections, vintage curios and a country house aesthetic create a feeling of relaxed luxury. Katherine Price checks in
Number One Bruton is the latest stylish addition to the Somerset hospitality scene. Owners Claudia Waddams and Aled Rees have transformed a Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse, medieval forge and row of cottages into a hotel with eight (soon to be 12) bedrooms, designed by Sarah Ellison of Frank & Faber.
Waddams is the daughter of retired diplomat Alan Waddams and former The Sunday Times fashion editor Brigid Keenan; while husband Rees is a third-generation hotelier who has been a part of the family business, the Ridgemount hotel in London's Bloomsbury, for the past 20 years.
While Number One Bruton has retained some of its Georgian features, it draws on a multitude of influences, such as the building's various guises through history and Waddams' well-connected family. The result is an inviting space full of personality, with secondhand and vintage furniture, bold colours, layered textiles, and artwork from some of Somerset's best artists, much of which is for sale.
From house to home
Recalling how they ended up buying the property, Waddams jokes: "It was basically Aled's fault." She is from the area and has known the property since it was Mr Windmill's hardware store. Rees had the background in hospitality, although she rightly points out that a central London hotel is "an entirely different kettle of fish".
After Rees had a health scare, the couple relocated to Somerset with the intention of "doing something for ourselves". They knew the owner of At the Chapel, a restaurant with rooms further down the high street, who complained that she did not have enough accommodation to satisfy demand, when Number One Bruton caught their eye. It went to auction twice and both times it was too expensive. However, after the second auction process failed, the vendor invited them to make an offer. They bought the property in 2016 for £450,000.
"We were really naïve," admits Waddams, "We thought we could come in and paint it and start a business. And then we realised there was loads more to do than we originally thought."
For instance, one surprise was finding a long-dead, mummified cat hidden in one of the walls. According to folklore cats were entombed in such a way to ward off evil spirits, and Waddams' superstitious side saw it returned to where it was found following the renovation.
Other even less welcome discoveries included rotten joints on the floorboards, four roofs that needed replacing, and learning that the structure of the house was unsound and needed to be underpinned.
"It's cost us everything – financially and emotionally," says Waddams. "But I have fulfilled the dream... I don't think we ever could sell it. I think we're stuck with it for the rest of our lives."
Number One Bruton was Ellison's first hotel design project – the majority of her previous experience has been in residential properties. This was an advantage, however, as the brief was to make it feel like the ‘eclectic stately home of an elderly great-aunt'. The guests in mind were interested in art and food, had probably already been to the Newt or Babington House nearby, and therefore had similar high expectations.
"Claudia and Aled were great clients because they were willing to take a risk on things that might not be to everyone's taste," says Ellison.
Guests enter Number One Bruton's unmistakable bright yellow door and walk through the corridor to the Osip restaurant, a bright reception area, and the lounge, a pink room with striped curtains featuring a collection of black and white photographs by Don McCullin – including one of Waddams' mother.
The five townhouse bedrooms (from £130) are found up the curlicue staircase – the original metal leaf-adorned bannister was forged on-site. The leaf mural is repeated along the stairs in Brabin & Fitz lighting and in a mural painted by artist Kaffe Fassett.
"He just swung by and painted it as a present to my mum. My mum – who seems to be the most well-connected person in the world – has been responsible for quite a lot of the interior," laughs Waddams.
The individually designed rooms have been decorated in greens, pinks and yellows, restoring the palette from the property's days as Mr Windmill's hardware store. The largest room, Townhouse One (£200), overlooks the town, and its plain sage green walls are offset with bold striped and flower-printed cushions and curtains, an original fireplace and vintage furniture.
"We wanted to give this room a feeling of grandeur. It warrants it, because of the space and the proportions," says Ellison.
Waddams adds: "Everything in the room is quite tactile. Obviously there are precious things, but everything is functional."
When the couple bought the property, the now yellow Townhouse Two (£160) was full of posters of Prince Charles. They decided to use the theme and the room now features a coronation mirror and cushions made by Waddams' godmother, artist Candace Bahouth.
The smaller bedrooms (£130) have been designed like attic rooms, with floral Morris & Co wallpapers alongside antiques and vintage pieces selected to look as if they belong to a well-travelled collector.
All bathrooms are decorated with pastel-striped, hand-painted Italian tiles from Balineum and feature organic toiletries from Frome-based Great Elm Physick Garden, which are available to buy.
Although the design of the restaurant has links to the hotel, it has been adapted to suit head chef Merlin Labron-Johnson's farm-to-table offering. The walls are decorated with dried herbs and pickling jars, while the menu is written on a faded vintage mirror.
"He wanted a simple aesthetic," says Ellison, who describes the look created in the old ironmonger's shop as "French bistro meets Somerset".
"In a lot of ways Merlin's approach suits ours because the spaces we design are those that people feel comfortable in, and we use natural materials when we can," she explains.
Overnight guests have a farmhouse breakfast in the restaurant that includes rice pudding, granola, freshly baked brioche and local cheeses. Labron-Johnson's lunch and dinner menus feature dishes such as new season onions, smoked cod's roe and chervil; oca root, crème fraîche and raw trout; and ewes' milk pudding with rhubarb and frozen biscuit.
The three cottages (£175) are connected to the main house by an internal courtyard developed by renowned garden expert Penelope Hobhouse. Each cottage has a rustic feel with muted colours, exposed beams, stone walls and oak or quarry-tiled floors softened by jute and wool rugs as well as arts and crafts-style patterned textiles.
"Each of the spaces are quite different, so each has a bespoke design," says Ellison.
Two of the cottages have wooden bedframes Ellison had made after seeing a similar design on American television show Gilmore Girls. In contrast to the colourful bathrooms in the main house, the cottage bathrooms are all white with Claybrook Studio tiles to add textural interest to the otherwise plain space.
Four ‘forge' bedrooms are due to be added when construction can restart, the timeline of which has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Contact and details
1 High Street, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0AB
Opened December 2019
Owners Claudia Waddams and Aled Rees
General manager Frankie Philo
Interior design Frank & Faber
Bedrooms Eight (to be expanded to 12)
While the businesses are closed due to coronavirus, Osip has become a farm shop selling produce to support the suppliers whose ingredients would normally be used by the restaurant. The team is also producing 50 free meals every Sunday for vulnerable people in the community and delivering to those who are self-isolating.
Wallpaper and fabrics
Morris & Co www.stylelibrary.com
Pierre Frey www.pierrefrey.com
House of Hackney www.houseofhackney.com
Curtain and upholstery trim
Samuel & Sons www.samuelandsons.com
Upholstery and cushions
Tissus d'Helene tissusdhelene.co.uk
Curtain and cushion fabrics
Ian Sanderson www.iansanderson.co.uk
Nicholas Haslam www.nicholashaslam.com
Zimmer & Rohde www.zimmer-rohde.com
Osborne & Little www.osborneandlittle.com
Vintage Willy Daro lighting
The Odd Company www.oddmattress.co.uk
Great Elm Physick Garden www.great-elm.com
Photography by Emma Lewis; Frank & Faber
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