The latest offering from the Artist Residence Group is a pub and restaurant with rooms, designed for a cosy, bohemian retreat in the countryside
Artist Residence Oxfordshire is the fourth quirky, design-led project from husband and wife team Justin and Charlotte Salisbury, who since 2006 have opened sites in Brighton, Penzance and London. It's also their first business foray into the countryside.
The couple bought the rural 16th-century pub and restaurant, formerly known as the Mason Arms, with Justin's sister Lavender last year, after finding the property online.
"We just felt it would be fun to do something in the countryside. All three of us have history in Oxfordshire, whether it's being born there or going to school in the area," says Justin. "We saw it on a lovely summer's day and fell in love with it. At the time it didn't seem like it needed much work. When we got the keys, I took my mum round to show her and she was like, ‘what have you done?' It's amazing how blinding love can be."
It may have been blessed with original features, but the ancient property needed a full refurbishment, including rethatching the roof, running new electrics into the building, updating the plumbing and so on.
But they knew it had potential. Indeed, one of the factors that sealed the deal was the future opportunities the new owners saw in the surrounding land. Looking ahead, the trio envisaged that the outbuildings, with their vaulted ceilings, could be converted into further bedrooms with small outdoor terraces; and the land could offer potential for a café-events concept or support yurts.
Once they were on board, it took about five months to complete phase one: the pub and five bedrooms. "As the initial project wasn't that big, we felt confident we could manage it - and it turned out to be great fun," says Justin.
Justin and Charlotte describe Artist Residence Oxfordshire as "an eccentrically English inn". The couple, who also run Salisbury & Co â¨Interiors, have designed all the properties in the group and are hands-on: they find the building, create the concept and interior design, project manage the works, recruit the team and manage the launch.
While each Artist Residence property has a unique design, they all share the same quirky vibe and offer an eclectic mix of furniture handpicked from auction rooms, reclamation yards and even eBay. True to the group's original concept in Brighton, where local artists â¨decorated the bedrooms, artwork continues to be a big focus at the new pub. And so the wallsâ¨are decorated with works by British artists â¨such as the Connor Brothers, Harland Miller and Dan Hillier. There is also a bespoke piece in neon by Andy Doig.
The Salisburys were also careful to restore the original features, including the flagstone flooring, open fires, dark wooden panelling, rustic beams and exposed stone and brick.
"The interior design side of things has become a great passion of ours," says Justin. "We individually source every piece of furniture and artwork."
tin's description of the inn as a "bohemian English retreat with a comfy luxe feel" is particularly evident in the bedrooms. The largest is the Farmhouse Suite, which is in the oldest part of the building and makes a feature of its beautiful old beams and vaulted ceilings. As well as the antique furnishings and a super-king-sized bed, the Morris & Co fabrics, rich-blue upholstery and contemporary artwork add the signature Artist Residence pop of colour.
"We reused reclaimed boards that were hidden underneath old carpets once we did the soundproofing," says Justin. "And the sofa and armchairs were antiques that we reupholstered with fabric from the Cloth Shop in Notting Hill."
A dramatic feature of this open-plan room is the copper bath from Catchpole & Rye, although there is also an en suite bathroom with a rainfall shower and Bert & May tiles.
The smallest room is named the Rabbit Hole. It might be compact but it offers a king-sized bed and comfy armchair.
The three Farmhouse Loft rooms are light and spacious, with original pitched ceilings, leaded windows and wooden floorboards. Clever touches include the creative use of old crates to provide unfussy, rustic bedside tables.
All bedrooms have a Roberts radio, flat-screen TV, Wi-Fi, mini fridge and Egyptian â¨cotton linens.
e functional yet aesthetically pleasing en suite bathrooms continue the stripped-back style, and all have Burlington rainfall showers and roll-top bathtubs.
Justin and Charlotte collaborated with artists the Connor Brothers to create the dining room based around a fictional character: Mr Hanbury. It is intimate and cosy, with bold floral wallpapers, leather banquettes and bare wooden tables. It provides the perfect backdrop for head chef Leon Smith's menu of locally sourced ingredients, which draws on foraged mushrooms, flowers and herbs as well as home-grown fruit and vegetables.
Dinner dishes include Eynsham Park venison, its own sausage roll, barbecue radish, salt-baked celeriac and rainbow chard (£25). Smith has worked under several Michelin-starred chefs, including Tom Aikens and Josh Eggleton at the Pony and Trap at Chew Magna, Somerset.
e name of the pub, Mr Hanbury's Mason Arms, is a nod to its history. Formerly dubbed Gerry Stonhill's Individual Mason Arms, â¨the pub's flamboyant owner of 18 years was notable for building a helipad for his affluent customers and refusing to acknowledge the smoking ban.
Today, guests can snuggle in squashy leather armchairs by the open fire or sit at the mismatched wooden tables to order from the bar snacks menu. Intense blue walls offset the artworks and dusky rose velvet banquettes.
The bedrooms have got off to a brisk start, with 70% occupancy and a £115 average room rate. To date, gross turnover stands at £27,000.
Six bedrooms, including a two-bedroom â¨cottage, are being created in the outbuildings, â¨with completion on target for this year. â¨A planning application has been submitted for a café/bakery/events concept that Lavender will head up, and there is another application to add a small pool, village shop and courtyard garden.
The next Artist Residence project will be â¨the most ambitious to date: the creation of â¨a 29-bedroom hotel within a derelict Grade I-listed building on Portland Square in Bristol, set to open next year. The hotel will be named the Boot Factory to reflect the building's history.
CONTACTS AND DETAILS
ist Residence Oxfordshire, South Leigh, Oxfordshire OX29 6XN
- O1993 656 220
- Owners Justin, Charlotte and â¨Lavender Salisbury
- Investment in design and refurbishment £400,000
- Number of seats 35 in the bar, 36 in â¨the restaurant
- Bedrooms Five, with six more due by â¨the end of the year
- Opened May 2017
- Average bill for dinner £40
- Average room rate £115
- Staff 15
Fabrics and wallpaper
- Cloth Shop, www.theclothshop.net
- George Smith, www.georgesmith.com
- House of Hackney, www.houseofhackney.com
- Morris & Co, www.william-morris.co.uk
- Catchpole & Rye, www.catchpoleandrye.com
- Victorian Plumbing, www.victorianplumbing.co.uk
- Bert & May, www.bertandmay.com
- Ebay, www.ebay.co.uk
- Lots Road Auctions Chelsea, www.lotsroad.com
- Original House, www.original-house.co.uk